The opening portion of a narrative or drama in which the scene is set, the protagonist is introduced, and the author discloses any other background information necessary for the audience to understand the events that are to follow.
The technique of arranging events and information in such a way that later events are prepared for beforehand, whether through specific words, images, or actions.
Also called subplot. A second story or plotline that is complete and interesting in its own right, often doubling or inverting the main plot.
The central struggle between two or more forces. Conflict generally occurs when some person or thing prevents the protagonist from achieving his or her goal.
A point when a crucial action, decision or realization must be made, often marking a turning point or reversal of the protagonist’s fortunes.
The moment of greatest intensity, which almost inevitably occurs toward the end of the work. The climax often takes the form of a decisive confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist.
The final part of a narrative, the concluding action or actions that follow the climax.
Unity of time, place, and action, the three formal qualities recommended by Renaissance critics to give a theatrical plot cohesion and integrity. According to this theory, a play should depict the causes and effects of a single action unfolding in one day in one place.
In drama, a speech by a character alone onstage in which he or she utters his or her thoughts aloud.
A speech that a character addresses directly to the audience, unheard by the other characters on stage, as when the villain in a melodrama chortles: “Heh! Heh! Now she’s in my power!”
Nonverbal action that engages the attention of an audience.
A play that portrays a serious conflict between human beings and some superior, overwhelming force. It ends sorrowfully and disastrously, an outcome that seems inevitable.
A literary work aimed at amusing an audience. In traditional comedy, the protagonist often faces obstacles and complications that threaten disaster but are overturned at the last moment to produce a happy ending.
A comic genre evoking thoughtful laughter from an audience in response to the play’s depiction of the folly, pretense, and hypocrisy of human behavior.
A genre using derisive humor to ridicule human weakness and folly or attack political injustices and incompetence. Satiric comedy often focuses on ridiculing overly serious characters who resist the festive mood of comedy.
Comedy of manners
A realistic form of high comic drama. It deals with the social relations and romantic intrigues of sophisticated upper-class men and women, whose verbal fencing and witty repartee produce the principal comic effects.
A form of comic drama in which the plot focuses on one or more pairs of young lovers who overcome difficulties to achieve a happy ending (usually marriage).
A comic style arousing laughter through jokes, slapstick antics, sight gags, boisterous clowning, and vulgar humor.
A broadly humorous parody or travesty of another play or kind of play.
A broadly humorous play whose action is usually fast-moving and improbable.
A kind of farce featuring pratfalls, pie-throwing, fisticuffs, and other violent action. It takes its name from a circus clown’s prop — a bat with two boards that loudly clap together when one clown swats another.
The canvas or wooden stage building in which actors changed masks and costumes when changing roles. Its facade, with double center doors and possibly two side doors, served as the setting for action taking place before a palace, temple, cave or other interior space.
“The place for dancing”; a circular, level performance space at the base of a horseshoe-shaped ampitheater, where twelve, then later (in Sophacles’s plays), fifteen masked young male chorus members sang and danced the odes interspersed between dramatic episodes in a play. (Today the term orchestra refers to the ground-floor seats in a theater or concert hall.)
Deus ex machina
(Latin for “god out of the machine.”) Originally, the phrase referred to the Greek playwrights’ frequent use of a god, mechanically lowered to the stage from the skene roof to resolve the human conflict. Today, “deus ex machina” refers to any forced or improbable device used to resolve a plot.
(In Latin, “personae.”) Classical Greek theater masks covered an actor’s entire head. Large, recognizable masks allowed far-away spectators to distinguish the conventional characters of tragedy and comedy.
High, thick-soled elevator boots worn by tragic actors in late classical times to make them appear taller than ordinary men. (Earlier, in the fifth-century classical Athenian theater, actors wore soft shoes or boots or went barefoot.)
(Greek for “error.”) An offense committed in ignorance of some material fact; a great mistake made as a result of an error by a morally good person.
A fatal weakness or moral flaw in the protagonist that brings him or her to a bad end. Sometimes offered as an alternative understanding of “hamartia,” in contrast to the idea that the tragic hero’s catastrophe is caused by an error in judgment.
Overweening (overconfident) pride, outrageous behavior, or the insolence (insolence: rude or disrespectful behavior) that leads to ruin, the antithesis of moderation or rectitude (rectitude: righteousness, or morally right behavior).
(Anglicized as “peripety”; Greek for “sudden change.”) A reversal of fortune, a sudden change of circumstance affecting the protagonist. According to Aristotle, the play’s peripety occurs when a certain result is expected and instead its opposite effect is produced. In a tragedy, the reversal takes the protagonist from good fortune to catastrophe.
In tragic plotting, the moment of recognition occurs when ignorance gives way to knowledge, illusion to disillusion.
(Often translated from Greek as purgation or purification.) The feeling of emotional release or calm the spectator feels at the end of tragedy. The term is drawn from Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, relating to the final cause or purpose of tragic art. Some feel that through katharsis, drama taught the audience compassion for the vulnerabilities of others and schooled it in justice and other civic virtues.
An attempt to reproduce faithfully on the stage the surface appearance of life, especially that of ordinary people in everyday situations. In a historical sense, Realism (usually capitalized) refers to a movement in nineteenth-century European theater. Realist drama customarily focused on the middle class (and occasionally the working class) rather than the aristocracy.
A type of drama in which the characters are presented as products or victims of environment and heredity. Naturalism, considered an extreme form of Realism, customarily depicts the social, psychological, and economic milieu of the primary characters.
A style of drama that avoids direct statement and exposition for powerful evocation and suggestion. In place of realistic stage settings and actions, Symbolist drama uses lighting, music, and dialogue to create a mystical atmosphere.
A dramatic style developed between 1910 and 1924 in Germany in reaction against Realism’s focus on surface details and external reality. Expressionist style used episodic plots, distorted lines, exaggerated shapes, abnormally intense coloring, mechanical physical movement, and telegraphic speech to create a dreamlike subjective realm.
Theater of the absurd
Postwar European genre depicting the grotesquely comic plight of human beings thrown by accident into an irrational and meaningless world. The critic Martin Esslin coined the term to characterize plays by writers such as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Eugene Ionesco.
A type of drama that combines elements of both tragedy and comedy. Usually it creates potentially tragic situations that bring the protagonists to the brink of disaster but then ends happily.
The appearance of a comic situation or character, or clownish humor in the midst of a serious action, introducing a sharp contrast in mood.
A protagonist who is lacking in one or more of the conventional qualities attributed to a hero. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, for instance, the antihero may be buffoonish, cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The antihero is often considered an essentially modern form of characterization, a satiric or realistic commentary on traditional portrayals of idealized characters.
An architectural picture frame or gateway “standing in front of the scenery” (as the name proscenium indicates) that separates the auditorium from the raised stage and the world of the play.
A stage that holds the action within a proscenium arch, with painted scene panels (receding into the middle distance) designed to give the illusion of three-dimensional perspective. Picture-frame stages became the norm throughout Europe and England into the twentieth century.
A stage set consisting of three walls joined in two corners and a ceiling that tilts, as if seen in perspective, to provide the illusion of scenic realism for interior rooms.
Introduction to the Study of Drama
One must make a special effort to visualize scenes, persons, and actions in reading drama.
Sometimes there are no outright descriptions, so one infers from dialogue what is to happen.
Suggestions for studying narrative
Ask if the story represents life as it has been or is at present or if it is unrealistic.
What is the function of each of the important characters, and what is the value of each in the plot?
What levels of characterization are there?
Characters may be: a) only names; b) abstractions like good deeds in “Everyman,” the morality play; c) stock types repeated in the drama of a period, such as the mother in melodrama or the villain in Elizabethan tragedy; d) caricatures: characters with one superficial trait, exaggeration; e) great conceived figures, with either one or two traits that are made effective by the author’s imagination.
Shakespeare’s characters are highly developed
Shakespeare’s characters are the most highly developed that one can find anywhere. He is known for his immortal characters. They still live today.
As Shakespeare matured, he learned to develop a character and outward circumstance. A good example of this is Othello, the main character in the play by Shakespeare that is found in the textbook.
Othello is known as honest, open, sincere, and trusting.
Shakespeare’s characters are influenced by Aristotle’s concept of the tragic hero.
Aristotle, the Greek critic, said that a tragic hero must:
Be a nobleman, prince, or person of high estate
What happens in the play
What is the setting in time and place?
Introduction to Classical Drama
The origin of Greek drama
Ancient drama grew out of the religious ceremonies of the ancient Greeks (cf. [cf. = compare] Modern drama grows out of the liturgical drama of the Medieval church.)
The influence of religion upon Greek drama
Greek theater remained until its dissolution as religious entity.
Music and dancing
Greek drama combined drama with music and dancing.
The Greek stage was limited in the use of props and scenery.
The Greek audience
Almost the entire free population of the city would attend.
Greek theater was limited to three actors.
Eccyclema: a device for rolling out onto the stage the evidence of actions which could not be depicted on stage.
The actor must address the chorus before addressing the actors.
Place — the scene seldom changed due to the difficulty of changing a scene with the chorus remaining on stage.
A sketch of Sophocles’ life and work
Sophocles made his way to the top as a dramatist and poet. He received several prizes at dramatic festivals and once won over his teacher, Aeschylus.
An explanation of the style and organization of Greek drama
For the most part, only two players were allowed on the stage at the same time. Sophocles made it possible to have three.
A picture of the Greek theater and stage
It was an outdoor ampitheater, fan shaped with stone seats cut out of a hillside.
Functions of the chorus
To interpret the play
A discussion of plot
Moral standards are emphasized. (The Greeks had theirs, too.)
Why is this an unusual classical plot?
To show how a man might react in the worst circumstances
A discussion of the preface and the play itself
Learning the characters
The message of the chorus
Note the irony of Oedipus’ words.
Introduction to English Medieval Morality Drama
The birth of English drama
With the decline and fall of Rome, drama — either as an institution or a literature — ceased to exist.