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Drama: Understanding the Text (Elements of Drama)
Terms in this set (6)
- A character is an imaginary person who takes part in the action of a play.
- Drama tends to compress and simplify the personalities of characters, often relying on types to quickly sketch out and draw contrasts among characters.
- Unlike fiction, plays do not usually have narrators who provide the reader or viewer with background information on characters. We receive all of our information about them through dialogue.
- The main character, or leading role, of a dramatic text is called the protagonist.
- The antagonist is the counterpart or opponent of the protagonist.
- In more traditional or popular dramatic texts, the protagonist may be called a hero or heroine, and the antagonist may be called the villain.
- Some supporting characters are foils, characters designed to highlight qualities in other characters by contrast.
- Playwrights may use shortcuts like stereotypes to convey character. Consciously or unconsciously, we all rely on stereotypes at times to understand characters.
- Sometimes playwrights, directors, and actors overturn or modify expectations or conventions of characterization in order to surprise the audience.
Plot and Structure
- In drama, plot is the invention, selection, and arrangement of action, unified by a sense of purpose that joins character, story line, and theme.
- Conflict shapes the dramatic structure of a play. In dramatic conflict, each of the opposing forces must at some point seem likely to triumph or be worthy of triumph.
- The typical structure of a dramatic plot involves five stages in the progression of the conflict: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.
- Many plays have formal divisions, such as acts and scenes, that emphasize the different phases of the plot.
- Many older plays, such as William Shakespeare's, have five acts, but modern plays tend to have two or three acts.
- Most plays are structured to leave time for a break, or intermission, in the performance.
Stages, Sets, and Setting
-There are many types of modern stages, including the traditional proscenium stage, the thrust stage (where an audience sits around three sides of the major acting area), and the arena stage (where an audience sits all the way around the acting area). Most plays are performed on proscenium stages.
-Older theatrical traditions made use of other kinds of stages, including the amphitheater of Greek theater, in which the audience sat in a raised semicircle around a circular orchestra and recessed stage area, and the stage of Shakespeare's age, which was something like a thrust stage.
- Before the modern period, plays were performed outdoors in the daylight and involved few pieces of scenery and little furniture or costume design.
- When watching a play performance, audiences must imagine that the stage set is actually a particular place or setting somewhere else.
- Sets consist of the design, decoration, and scenery on stage during a play performance.
- Props are articles or objects used on stage.
- In modern theater, sets and props may be realistic or may suggest abstract ideas.
- The conventions of ancient Greek drama stipulated that playwrights adhere to the classical unities, or the unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action. Plays were supposed to represent a unified action that occurred over a short span of time (sometimes as short as the actual performance time) in a single location.
- Modern plays often make use of multiple settings and jumps in time. Gaps in time and changes in setting are often indicated by dialogue, scene breaks, changes in scenery, sound effects, stage directions, or notes in the program.
Tone, Language, and Symbol
- A play's tone is its style or manner of expression.
- Readers must infer from the written language how a line should be read and what tone of voice it demands.
- Tone can be affected by dramatic irony, in which a character's knowledge or expectation is contradicted by what the audience knows
- Situational irony occurs when the outcome of the action contradicts the characters' and audience's expectations.
- Verbal irony occurs when speech and action don't match or the audience recognizes meaning the speaker doesn't realize.
- Monologues, or extended speeches by one character, often contain important images, metaphors, and other figures of speech.
- Actions, objects, and character names can hold symbolic significance.
- Effective plays often use props as metaphors, allowing objects to carry symbolic weight and convey key thematic points.
- Theme is usually defined as a statement or assertion about the subject of a work and about the comprehensive impact of an entire work.
- Since theme is abstracted from a text through the interpretive work of the reader or audience, people may disagree in their ideas about any particular work's theme.
- To arrive at your own statement of a theme, consider all the elements of a play together: character, structure, setting, tone, and other aspects of style or potential staging that create the entire effect.
- Tastes and preferences in drama change over time. Your position as a twenty-first-century reader will influence your interpretation of and reaction to a play.
- It can be useful to place each work historically and to try to approach it in the spirit in which it was first created.
- Writing about drama can be a sustained, shared way of expressing your personal response to reading or seeing a performance of a play.
Tragedy and Comedy
- Drama, like other genres of literature, has various subgenres, including pastoral plays, farces, and satires.
- Two of the oldest forms of drama are tragedy and comedy. In tragedy, values are universal and beyond human control. Tragedies tend to focus on a person of high rank with some sort of character flaw or limitation.
- Tragedies end in the character's enlightenment and acceptance of punishment, often death.
- In comedy, values are determined by the general opinion of society, and characters are defined primarily by their social roles.
- Comedies end when the main character or characters accept a proper social role, often through marriage.
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