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Glossary of Dramatic Terms
Terms in this set (63)
A major division in a play. An act can be sub-divided into scenes. (See scene). Greek plays were not divided into acts. The five act structure was originally introduced in Roman times and became the convention in Shakespeare's period. In the 19th century this was reduced to four acts and 20th century drama tends to favour three acts.
A character or force against which another character struggles.
The part of a proscenium stage that sticks out into the audience in front of the proscenium arch.
Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience, but not "heard" by the other characters on stage during a play.
Movement patterns of actors on the stage. Usually planned by the director to create meaningful stage pictures.
A set built behind a proscenium arch to represent three walls of a room. The absent fourth wall on the proscenium line allows spectators to witness the domestic scene. First used in the early nineteenth century.
The purging of the feelings of pity and fear. According to Aristotle the audience should experiences catharsis at the end of a tragedy.
An imaginary person that inhabits a literary work. Dramatic characters may be major or minor, static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change).
A traditional chorus in Greek tragedy is a group of characters who comment on the action of a play without participating in it. A modern chorus (any time after the Greek period) serves a similar function but has taken a different form; it consists of a character/narrator coming on stage and giving a prologue or explicit background information or themes.
The turning point of the action in the plot of a play and the point of greatest tension in the work.
A dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. (Taken from: http://dictionary.reference.com). Comedy can be divided into visual comedy or verbal comedy. Within these 2 divisions there are further sub- divisions. For example visual comedy includes farce and slapstick. Verbal Comedy includes satire, black comedy and comedy of manners.
Comic relief does not relate to the genre of comedy. Comic relief serves a specific purpose: it gives the spectator a moment of "relief " with a light-hearted scene, after a succession of intensely tragic dramatic moments. Typically these scenes parallel the tragic action that they interrupt. Comic relief is lacking in Greek tragedy, but occurs regularly in Shakespeare's tragedies.
There is no drama without conflict. The conflict between opposing forces in a play can be external (between characters) or internal (within a character) and is usually resolved by the end of the play.
An intensification of the conflict in a play
Literary conventions are defining features or common agreement upon strategies and/or attributes of a particular literary genres.
Denouement / Resolution
Literally the action of untying. A denouement (or resolution) is the final outcome of the main complication in a play. Usually the denouement occurs AFTER the climax (the turning point or "crisis"). It is sometimes referred to as the explanation or outcome of a drama that reveals all the secrets and misunderstandings connected to the plot.
Deus Ex Machina
When an external source resolves the entanglements of a play by supernatural intervention. The Latin phrase means, literally, "a god from the machine." The phrase refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play.
The conversation of characters in a literary work. In plays, characters' speech is preceded by their names.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, diction is "the manner in which words are pronounced."
Diction, however, is more than that: it is a style of speaking. In drama diction can (1) reveal character, (2) imply attitudes, (3) convey action, (4) identify themes, and (5) suggest values. We can speak of the diction particular to a character.
A device in which a character holds a position or has an expectation reversed or fulfilled in a way that the character did not expect but that the audience or readers have anticipated because their knowledge of events or individuals is more complete than the character's.
Undergoes an important change in the course of the play- not changes in circumstances, but changes in some sense within the character in question -- changes in insight or understanding or changes in commitment, or values.
The final scene and exit of the characters and chorus in a classical Greek play.
"The first stage of a fictional or dramatic plot, in which necessary background information is provided" (highered.mcgraw-hill.com). (See Appendix 1: Freytag's Pyramid). In most drama the characters have to expose the background to the action indirectly while talking in the most natural way. What any person says must be consistent with his character and what he knows generally. Exposition frequently employs devices such as gestures, glances, "asides" etc. (See Prologue for explicit exposition).
This is when the events and complications begin to resolve themselves and tension is released. We learn whether the conflict has or been resolved or not.
An interruption of a play's chronology (timeline) to describe or present an incident that occurred prior to the main time-frame of the play's action.
Flat characters in a play are often, but not always, relatively simple minor characters. They tend to be presented though particular and limited traits; hence they become stereotypes. For example, the selfish son, the pure woman, the lazy child, the dumb blonde, etc. These characters do not change in the course of a play.
A secondary character whose situation often parallels that of the main character while his behavior or response or character contrasts with that of the main character, throwing light on that particular character's specific temperament.
Anton Chekhov best explained the term in a letter in 1889: "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Chekhov's gun, or foreshadowing is a literary technique that introduces an apparently irrelevant element is introduced early in the story; its significance becomes clear later in the play.
The imaginary wall that separates the spectator/audience from the action taking place on stage. In a traditional theatre setting (as opposed to a theatre in the round) this imaginary wall has been removed so that the spectator can "peep" into the fictional world and see what is going on. If the audience is addressed directly, this is referred to as "breaking the fourth wall."
The physical movement of a character during a play. Gesture is used to reveal character, and may include facial expressions as well as movements of other parts of an actor's body.
The Greek term hubris is difficult to translate directly into English. This negative term implies both arrogant, excessive self-pride or self-confidence, and a lack of some important perception or insight due to pride in one's abilities. This overwhelming pride inevitably leads to a downfall.
A traditional plot sequence in which the incidents in the drama progress chronologically; in other words, all of the events build upon one another and there are no flashbacks. Linear plots are usually based on causality (that is, one event "causes" another to happen) occur more commonly in comedy than in other forms.
A speech by a single character without another character's response. The character however, is speaking to someone else or even a group of people.
The thought(s) or desire(s) that drives a character to actively pursue a want or need. This want or need is called the objective . A character generally has an overall objective or long-term goal in a drama but may change his or her objective, and hence motivation, from scene to scene when confronted with various obstacles.
Point of attack
The point in the story at which the playwright chooses to start dramatizing the action.
The sequence of events that make up a story. According to Aristotle, "The plot must be 'a whole' with a beginning, middle, and end" (Poetics, Part VII). A plot needs a motivating purpose to drive the story to its resolution, and a connection between these events.
An architectural element separating the performance area from the auditorium in a theatre. The arch functions to mask stage machinery and helps create a "frame" for the stage action. First used in Europe during the Renaissance, the arch developed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries into the "picture frame" stage of the late 19th century.
(1) In original Greek tragedy, the prologue is either the action or a set of introductory speeches before the first entry of the chorus. Here, a single actor's monologue or a dialogue between two actors would establish the play's background events. (2) In later literature, the prologue serves as explicit exposition introducing material before the first scene begins. (Taken from and adapted: http://web.cn.edu). The prologue is performed/delivered by the chorus. (See Chorus)
Articles or objects that appear on stage during a play. Props can also take on a significant or even symbolic meaning.
The main character of a literary work.
A system of producing plays in which a company of actors is assembled to stage a number of plays during a specific period of time. The repertory company included actors, each of whom played roles in several plays throughout a theatrical season and who often specialized in a specific type of role
The sorting out or unraveling of a plot at the end of a play, novel, or story.
Reversal or Peripeteia
The point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the protagonist- from failure to success or success to failure.
An event, conflict or crisis or set of conflicts and crises that constitute the part of a play's plot leading up to the climax.
A round character is depicted with such psychological depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real" person. The round character contrasts with the flat character who serves a specific or minor literary function in a text, and who may be a stock character or simplified stereotype. If the round character changes or evolves over the course of a narrative or appears to have the capacity for such change, the character is also dynamic. In longer plays, there may be several round characters.
A literary work that criticizes human misconduct and ridicules vices, stupidities, and follies.
A traditional segment in a play. Scenes are used to indicate (1) a change in time (2) a change in location, (3) provides a jump from one subplot to another, (4) introduces new characters (5) rearrange the actors on the stage. Traditionally plays are composed of acts, broken down into scenes.
The physical representation of the play's setting (location and time period). It also emphasizes the aesthetic concept or atmosphere of the play.
Strophe (& Antistrophe)
A portion of a choral ode in Greek tragedy followed by a metrically similar portion, the antistrophe. The words mean "turn" and "counter-turn," suggesting contrasting movements of the chorus while the ode was being sung. These two parts are sometimes followed by an epode, during which the chorus may have remained stationary
A speech meant to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on the stage (as opposed to a monologue which addresses someone who does not respond). In a soliloquy only the audience can hear the private thoughts of the characters.
A playwright's descriptive or interpretive comments that provide readers (as well as actors and directors) with information about the dialogue, setting, and action of a play. Modern playwrights tend to include substantial stage directions, while earlier playwrights typically use them more sparsely, implicitly, or not at all.
The spectacle a play presents in performance, including the position of actors on stage, the scenic background, the props and costumes, and the lighting and sound effects.
A literary or dramatic character who undergoes little or no inner change; a character who does not grow or develop.
Suspension of Disbelief
Samuel Taylor Coleridge first used the term in 1817. Basically the term means that you accept something as real or representing the real when it obviously is not real. In drama this is a crucial condition, as "you have to put aside put aside your disbelief and accept the premise as being real for the duration of the story
A recognizable character type found in many plays. Comedies have traditionally relied on such stock characters as the miserly father, the beautiful but naïve girl, the trickster servant.
A subsidiary or subordinate or parallel plot that coexists with the main plot.
Theatre of the Absurd
A type of drama and performance that conveys a sense of life as devoid of meaning and purpose. The term was coined by the critic Martin Esslin, who described and analyzed a group of mid-twentieth-century play in his book, The Theatre of the Absurd, including the work of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco.
A type of drama in which the characters experience reversal of fortune, usually for the worse. In tragedy, suffering awaits many of the characters, especially the hero.
A weakness or limitation of character, resulting in the fall of the tragic hero.
A privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and/or fate, suffers a fall from a higher station in life into suffering.
Unity of time, place, and action ("the unities")
limiting the time, place, and action of a play to a single spot and a single action over the period of 24 hours.
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