Elements of Drama – A Brief Introduction
1. Plot – the sequence of events or incidents of which the story is composed.
A. Conflict is a clash of actions, ideas, desires or wills.
a. person against person.
b. person against environment – external force, physical nature, society, or “fate.”
c. person against herself/himself – conflict with some element in her/his own nature; maybe physical, mental, emotional, or moral.
B. Protagonist and Antagonist – the protagonist is the central character, sympathetic or unsympathetic. The forces working against her/him, whether persons, things, conventions of society, or traits of their own character, are the antagonists.
C. Artistic Unity – essential to a good plot; nothing irrelevant; good arrangement.
D. Plot Manipulation – a good plot should not have any unjustified or unexpected turns or twists; no false leads; no deliberate and misleading information.
A. Direct Presentation – author tells us straight out, by exposition or analysis, or through another character.
B. Indirect Presentation – author shows us the character in action; the reader infers what a character is like from what she/he thinks, or says, or does. These are also called dramatized characters and they are generally consistent (in behaviour), motivated (convincing), and plausible (lifelike).
C. Character Types – a Flat character is known by one or two traits; a Round character is complex and many-sided; a Stock character is a stereotyped character (a mad scientist, the absent-minded professor, the cruel mother-in-law); a Static character remains the same from the beginning of the plot to the end; and a Dynamic (developing) character undergoes permanent change. This change must be a. within the possibilities of the character; b. sufficiently motivated; and c. allowed sufficient time for change.
Theme – the controlling idea or central insight. It can be 1. a revelation of human character; 2. may be stated briefly or at great length; and 3. a theme is not the “moral” of the story.
A. A theme must be expressible in the form of a statement – not “motherhood” but “Motherhood sometimes has more frustration than reward.”
B. A theme must be stated as a generalization about life; names of characters or specific situations in the plot are not to be used when stating a theme.
C. A theme must not be a generalization larger than is justified by the terms of the story.
D. A theme is the central and unifying concept of the story. It must adhere to the following requirements: 1. It must account for all the major details of the story. 2. It must not be contradicted by any detail of the story. 3. It must not rely on supposed facts – facts not actually stated or clearly implied by the story.
E. There is no one way of stating the theme of a story.
F. Any statement that reduces a theme to some familiar saying, aphorism, or cliché should be avoided. Do not use “A stitch in time saves nine,” “You can’t judge a book by its cover, ” “Fish and guests smell in three days,” and so on.
4. Points Of View
A. Omniscient – a story told by the author, using the third person; her/his knowledge, control, and prerogatives are unlimited; authorial subjectivity.
B. Limited Omniscient – a story in which the author associates with a major or minor character; this character serves as the author’s spokesperson or mouthpiece.
C. First Person – the author identifies with or disappears in a major or minor character; the story is told using the first person “I”.
D. Objective or Dramatic – the opposite of the omniscient; displays authorial objectivity; compared a roving sound camera. Very little of the past or the future is given; the story is set in the present.
5. Symbol – a literary symbol means more than what it is. It has layers of meanings. Whereas an image has one meaning, a symbol has many.
A. Names used as symbols. B. Use of objects as symbols. C. Use of actions as symbols.
Note: The ability to recognize and interpret symbols requires experience in literary readings, perception, and tact. It is easy to “run wild” with symbols – to find symbols everywhere. The ability to interpret symbols is essential to the full understanding and enjoyment of literature. Given below are helpful suggestions for identifying literary symbols:
1. The story itself must furnish a clue that a detail is to be taken symbolically – symbols nearly always signal their existence by emphasis, repetition, or position. 2. The meaning of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire context of the story. A symbol has its meaning inside not outside a story. 3. To be called a symbol, an item must suggest a meaning different in kind from its literal meaning. 4. A symbol has a cluster of meanings.
6. Irony – a term with a range of meanings, all of them involving some sort of discrepancy or incongruity. It should not be confused with sarcasm which is simply language designed to cause pain. Irony is used to suggest the difference between appearance and reality, between expectation and fulfillment, the complexity of experience, to furnish indirectly an evaluation of the author’s material, and at the same time to achieve compression.
A. Verbal irony – the opposite is said from what is intended.
B. Dramatic irony – the contrast between what a character says and what the reader knows to true.
C. Irony of situation – discrepancy between appearance and reality, or between expectation and fulfillment, or between what is and what would seem appropriate.
Drama has one characteristic peculiar to itself – it is written primarily to be performed, not read. It is a presentation of action a. through actors (the impact is direct and immediate), b. on a stage (a captive audience), and c. before an audience (suggesting a communal experience). Of the four major points of view, the dramatist is limited to only one – the objective or dramatic. The playwright cannot directly comment on the action or the character and cannot directly enter the minds of characters and tell us what is going on there. But there are ways to get around this limitation through the use of 1. soliloquy (a character speaking directly to the audience), 2. chorus ( a group on stage commenting on characters and actions), and 3. one character commenting on another.
Aristotle’s definition of tragedy: A tragedy is the imitation in dramatic form of an action that is serious and complete, with incidents arousing pity and fear wherewith it effects a catharsis of such emotions. The language used is pleasurable and throughout appropriate to the situation in which it is used. The chief characters are noble personages (“better than ourselves,” says Aristotle) and the actions they perform are noble actions.
Central features of the Aristotelian archetype:
1. The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness. If the hero’s fall is to arouse in us the emotions of pity and fear, it must be a fall from a great height.
2. Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect. Tragic flaw, hubris (excessive pride or passion), and hamartia (some error) lead to the hero’s downfall.
3. The hero’s downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of one’s own free choice, not the result of pure accident or villainy, or some overriding malignant fate.
4. Nevertheless, the hero’s misfortune is not wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime. The hero remains admirable.
5. Yet the tragic fall is not pure loss – though it may result in the hero’s death, before it, there is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge or, as Aristotle puts it, some “discovery.”
6. Though it arouses solemn emotion – pity and fear, says Aristotle, but compassion and awe might be better terms – tragedy, when well performed, does not leave its audience in a state of depression. It produces a catharsis or an emotional release at the end, one shared as a common experience by the audience.
Comedy, Northrop Frye has said, lies between satire and romance. Is the comic mask laughing or smiling? We usually laugh at someone, but smile with someone. Laughter expresses recognition of some absurdity in human behavior; smile expresses pleasure in one’s company or good fortune. The essential difference between tragedy and comedy is in the depiction of human nature: tragedy shows greatness in human nature and human freedom whereas comedy shows human weakness and human limitation. The norms of comedy are primarily social; the protagonist is always in a group or emphasizes commonness. A tragic hero possesses overpowering individuality – so that the play is often named after her/him (Antigone, Othello); the comic protagonist tends to be a type and the play is often named for the type (The Misanthrope, The Alchemist, The Brute). Comic plots do not exhibit the high degree of organic unity as tragic plots do. Plausibility is not usually the central characteristic (cause-effect progression) but coincidences, improbable disguises, mistaken identities make up the plot. The purpose of comedy is to make us laugh and at the same time, help to illuminate human nature and human weaknesses. Conventionally comedies have a happy ending. Accidental discovery, act of divine intervention (deus ex machina), sudden reform are common comedic devises. “Comedy is the thinking person’s response to experience; tragedy records the reactions of the person with feeling.” – Charles B. Hands
Melodrama – arouses pity and fear through cruder means. Good and evil are clearly depicted in white and black motifs. Plot is emphasized over character development.
Farce – aimed at arousing explosive laughter using crude means. Conflicts are violent, practical jokes are common, and the wit is coarse. Psychologically farce may boost the reader’s spirit and purge hostility and aggression.