Elements of Drama – A Brief Introduction

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.

2. Character

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.

Tragedy

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.

 

Types of Drama / Plays: Comedy

Types of Drama / Plays: Comedy

 

Komos” — Greek — revelry at end of comedies based on some deviation from normality in action, character, thought, or speech “in fun” (tho’ can still have serious purpose)

Henri Bergson (1917) “On Laughter.” — “anesthesia of the heart” –audiences view objectively — the banana peel fall is funny, as long as it is not us and if not hurt (cartoons).

Aristotle’s book of comedy, if there was one ever, is not extant. In tragedy, people are better than they really are; in comedy, people are worse that they really are.

Often: if a happy ending, therefore a comedy. A kind of catharsis through laughter and amusement — helps remind us of our frailties and helps keep us sane.

Wilson, p. 200 — Characteristics of comedy — a way of looking at the world in which basic values are asserted but natural laws suspended — to underscore human follies and foolishness — sometimes wry, rueful, hilarious.

  • suspension of natural laws
  • contrast between social order and individual
  • comic premise:

the idea or concept that turns the accepted notion of things upside down and makes it the basis of the play — provides structural and thematic unity and can be a springboard for comic dialog, characters, and situations.

involves exaggeration and incongruity and contradictions–

Incongruity — illogical, out of place surprise.

{Top of Page}

 

Comic techniques

verbal humor

puns

malapropisms–LINK to malaprop page or here –misusing wrong words in such a way that they sound similar but usually are strikingly different from the word intended.

The Rugrats, for example, use a number of malapropisms: Angelica said once that there was a “whole world to deplore” out there (the best are like this–the word sounds similar but means something strikingly different).

Justin Wilson, the “cajun cook,” was famous for his malapropisms: he called himself “a half-bleed cajun” who “granulated high school.”


(Wilson, pp. 204-205, has some nice examples).

epigrams (or go here)

Characterizations

incongruity between the way characters see themselves or pretend to be, as opposed to the way they really are

lot complications — especially in farce

coincidences —

mistaken identities — Comedy of Errors, The School for Scandal

 

Shakespeare — uses comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy and different kinds of comedies –difficult to categorize.{Top of Page}

 

Kinds of Comedy: “High” and “Low”

1. Farce: often considered a separate form (Plautus, Charley’s Aunt).

often considered to be “low comedy” (versus “high comedy”).

physical comedy : “slapstick” — physical action provokes the thought.

Very high incongruity (surprise, something out of place or unexpected).

Comedy of situation, but extreme incongruity — buffoonery, accidents, mistaken identities, ludicrous situations.

[H., P., &L: "the average human being as an undeserving, universal victim of circumstance..."]

Often stylized: “aside” “take” `”mugging”

2. Burlesques– lampooning other works of art, including theatre pieces.

3. Satire – ridicule of public institutions and figures.

4. Domestic Comedy –home and hearth.

5. Comedy of Manners / Wit: similar to character and situation aristocratic and witty characters .

6. Comedy of Ideas

Additional forms not mentioned in Wilson:

a. Comedy of situation:

character and ideas are minor hidden identities, discoveries, reversals, etc. similar to farce, but less unrealistic

b. Comedy of character: eccentricities of the protagonist (Moliere)

c. Romantic comedy struggles of love, sympathetic characters, ludicrous devices lovers use (Sh. Midsummer, 12th Night)

Restoration Drama (School for Scandal)

Concept or thought is essential.

Shaw (prostitution, English class system), Aristophanes (Birds, Lysistrata) {Top of Page}

Ladder of Comedy:

“Pure Comedy” –”High Comedy”

Satire — biting humor — criticism of life

[Sporre, 100] highly complex, embracing a wide range of approaches–from intellectual wit to slapstick

Incongruity — surprise, out of place

 

Verbal Wit

“Low Comedy”

Plot devices — misunderstandings, mistaken identities

comedy that depends on action and situation, usually involving trivial theme [Sporre, 100]

in all farce

inopportune arrivals

 

embarrassing occurrences

Lightness of touch —

elements of story can be serious, but most is funny, or humor plays a significant part.

 

Types of Drama / Plays: Comedy

Types of Drama / Plays: Comedy

 

Komos” — Greek — revelry at end of comedies based on some deviation from normality in action, character, thought, or speech “in fun” (though can still have serious purpose)

Henri Bergson (1917) “On Laughter.” — “anaesthesia of the heart” –audiences view objectively — the banana peel fall is funny, as long as it is not us and if not hurt (cartoons).

Aristotle’s book of comedy, if there was one ever, is not extant. In tragedy, people are better than they really are; in comedy, people are worse that they really are.

Often: if a happy ending, therefore a comedy. A kind of catharsis through laughter and amusement — helps remind us of our frailties and helps keep us sane.

Characteristics of comedy — a way of looking at the world in which basic values are asserted but natural laws suspended — to underscore human follies and foolishness — sometimes wry, rueful, hilarious.

  • suspension of natural laws
  • contrast between social order and individual
  • comic premise:

The idea or concept that turns the accepted notion of things upside down and makes it the basis of the play — provides structural and thematic unity and can be a springboard for comic dialog, characters, and situations.

involves exaggeration and incongruity and contradictions–

Incongruity — illogical, out of place surprise.

 

Comic techniques

verbal humour

puns

malapropisms– –misusing wrong words in such a way that they sound similar but usually are strikingly different from the word intended.

The Rugrats, for example, use a number of malapropisms: Angelica said once that there was a “whole world to deplore” out there (the best are like this–the word sounds similar but means something strikingly different).

Justin Wilson, the “Cajun cook,” was famous for his malapropisms: he called himself “a half-bleed Cajun” who “granulated high school.”

Characterizations

Incongruity between the way characters see themselves or pretend to be, as opposed to the way they really are

lot complications — especially in farce

coincidences —

mistaken identities — Comedy of Errors, The School for Scandal

 

Shakespeare — uses comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy and different kinds of comedies –difficult to categorize.

 

Kinds of Comedy: “High” and “Low”

1. Farce: often considered a separate form (Plautus, Charley’s Aunt).

often considered to be “low comedy” (versus “high comedy”).

physical comedy: “slapstick” — physical action provokes the thought.

Very high incongruity (surprise, something out of place or unexpected).

Comedy of situation, but extreme incongruity — buffoonery, accidents, mistaken identities, ludicrous situations.

[H., P., &L: "the average human being as an undeserving, universal victim of circumstance..."]

Often stylised: “aside” “take” `”mugging”

2. Burlesques– lampooning other works of art, including theatre pieces.

3. Satire – ridicule of public institutions and figures.

4. Domestic Comedy –home and hearth.

5. Comedy of Manners / Wit: similar to character and situation aristocratic and witty characters.

6. Comedy of Ideas

Additional forms not mentioned in Wilson:

a. Comedy of situation:

character and ideas are minor hidden identities, discoveries, reversals, etc. similar to farce, but less unrealistic

b. Comedy of character: eccentricities of the protagonist (Moliere)

c. Romantic comedy struggles of love, sympathetic characters, ludicrous devices lovers use (Sh. Midsummer, 12th Night)

Restoration Drama (School for Scandal)

Concept or thought is essential.

Shaw (prostitution, English class system), Aristophanes (Birds, Lysistrata)

Ladder of Comedy:

“Pure Comedy” –”High Comedy”

Satire — biting humour — criticism of life

[Sporre, 100] highly complex, embracing a wide range of approaches–from intellectual wit to slapstick

Incongruity — surprise, out of place

 

Verbal Wit

“Low Comedy”

Plot devices — misunderstandings, mistaken identities

comedy that depends on action and situation, usually involving trivial theme [Sporre, 100]

in all farce

inopportune arrivals

 

embarrassing occurrences

Lightness of touch —

elements of story can be serious, but most is funny, or humour plays a significant part.