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Flashcards in Drama Deck (49)
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The basics of a play (3)

  1. characters are always caught up in some sort of crisis, dilemma or confusion or faced with some sort of problem.
    • Greek drama and medieval drama (miracle and morality plays) = question/problem was always concerned with people's relationship to the gods or God
    • late 16th C emphasis shifts from religion to society and focuses on question of social and political morality (til this day)
  2. It is less concerned with the individual characters, than with questions about the whole basis and nature of social organisation and order = play as a public debate!
  3. all plays are about the tension of social-order created by society and chaotic-disorder that threatens it (during the 'complication' part) = general frame to keep in mind that incorporates the distinctive public quality of all plays and then look at how the details bring this structure alive 


difference between play, poems and novels

poems: we encounter personal feelings of the poet as he/she faces life's problems

novels: explore the intricate relationship between individuals and their society

plays: are public things acted on a public stage, focusing on public questions of the social and political organisation of society. The 'complication' (middle section of the play) questions this social order in which people live and how close we are to disorder. 




Two dominant modes of drama

  1. comedy
  2. tragedy





  1. the disorder that threatens the characters' lives and social order is overcome
  2. most comedies end with marriage or a dance (the traditional signs of harmony and order in society)





  1.  generally a play which ends with the protagonist's death
  2. important is how a tragedy conveys how chaotic life becomes when the established order is destroyed
  3. it (esp Shakespearean tragedy) shows the most extreme forms of disorder (madness, murder, states collapsing, family bonds torn apart) but in itself remains very patterned and ordered




Act and scene

  1. a play is divided into acts and different scenes within that act
    • most plays have 5 acts
    • 19th and 20th C plays favour 3 acts
  2. as all plays deal with disruption/threat to an established order, individual scenes reveal the specific problems and thematic issues (through characters, see 3), but we also have to look at the complex texture (aka details) of the scene to see in which way the themes and issues are represented (e.g. through imagery, certain language, stage lights creating darkness and isolation, etc.)  
  3. dramatist is not interested in a character's personality, but uses his character to question social and political morality!
  4. many modern plays are not divided into scenes, which allows you to select dramatically interesting moments 





  1. people in the play are referred to as the dramatic characters
  2. they are fictional devices and we only assess them on the basis of what they say and do AND what the other characters say about them
  3. we always need to relate the characters the broader themes of the play


What is the main character called in a play

the hero or protagonist 


(note: 'hero' does not mean someone brave or noble, they can be good or evil, low- or high-born + the hero himself can be the villain of antagonist too, i.e. Shakespeare's Macbeth)


What character opposes the hero or protagonist in a play

the villain or antagonist

(hero can also be the villain, but all villains have in common that their evil disrupts the social order)


How to analyse character's speech in a play

  1. how does the speech relate to the larger action of the play (e.g. good-evil, order-disorder)
  2. what are the details of the speech as they really bring both the character and themes to life and make them substantial 
    • however, comedies rely more on familiar types acting out familiar roles = characters are very clearly a means for the dramatist to express the theme of the play (so details of individuals often less than in tragedy, altough theme and characters are always intertwined regardless of mode)





Comedy: basic use (7) + shift

  1. traditional comedy's theme is looking at social life as an elaborate charade, disrupted by people's folly
  2. it laughs at people's irrational impulses (love and greed) or their absurd, self-importance which contrasts with society's claim to be a rational, civilised order
  3. comedy ends with marriage or a dance when the disorer is almost always overcome
  4. aim of a comic dramatist is not to correct behaviour as the folly is irreversable 
  5. people are types acting out familiar roles
  6. it is illustrative and exaggerates how humans take themselves too seriously (>< tragedy presents how complex problems are)


shift occurs in 19th C comedy - earlier dramatists knew they were exaggerating the comedy of a fragile social order, BUT in the late 19th C that confidence dissapears and the focus becomes characters who cling to a certain role as their secure world crumbles (e.g. Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

  • leads to a more naturalistic form of comedy (esp Chekhov) in which it is not the human absurdity as focus, but the absurdity of a world with little interest in human beings.
  • these more plausible characters are also found in 20th C
  • modern comic dramatists shift again as social order is an illusion and the world absurd again, leading to the theatre of the absurd and black comedy




comedy: main types (3)

several types of dramatic comedy (main: romantic/tragicomedy, satiric comedy, comedy of manners)




Romantic comedy

  1. usually deals with how young people take love too seriously and how foolish it makes them behave 
  2. gentle form of comedy
  3. darker version is called tragicomedy as disaster and death threatens the characters
  4. most often associated with Shakespeare






  1. a darker version of romantic comedy as death and disaster threatens the characters
  2. complicates the basic pattern of comedy:
    • it shows how unsympathetic society reacts towards excesses of love
    • more realistic effect than in pure romantic comedy as it focuses on society's actions against folly rather than human's




Satiric comedy

  1. similar to all comedy, it discusses the folly of people
  2. but it uses caricature, characters are presented as grotesquely ludicrous (e.g. bestial version of huan beings) or as eccentric and unbalanced
  3. crazy world where moral values are overturned and we get a sense that people are too corrupt or foolish ever to reform
  4. most often associated with Ben Jonson




Comedy of Manners

  1. set in polite society
  2. comedy through the gap between the character's attempts to preserve the standards of polite behaviour and their actual behaviour 
  3. focus more on their morals and manners in society than just the absurdity of their behaviour




20th C drama: Theatre of the absurd (6)

  1. a post–World War II theatre written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s (e.g. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot)
  2. focuse largely on the idea of existentialism and what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down, alerting their audiences to pursue the opposite. 
  3. Logical construction and argument is replaced by irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence. 
  4. bizarre characters in bizarre situations (e.g. Beckett - two men waiting for Godot who never comes, their existence is meaningless and absurd and their dialogue gets nowhere)
  5. grimmer form of comedy including violence, sick jokes and farce
  6. a world without causes, hopes, convictions or beliefs (extreme form as a response to the chaotic postwar life) 




Black or dark comedy (// theatre of the absurd)

  1. is a comic style that makes light of subjectmatter that is generally considered taboo.
  2. grimmer comedy including violence, sick jokes and farce






A light dramatic work in which humour is created through:

  1. highly improbable, intricate plot situations
  2. exaggerated characters
  3. and often slapstickelements 

in modern comedy, the farce is often about people being absurd pawns in a meaningless universe, life devoid of deeper meaning


The basic structure of a play

all plays employ the same structure

  1. exposition: prepares the ground, an alteration in the established pattern of life occurs and hints at a future confusion about the social order of the play, plays thus begin with a collapse of a certain order 
  2. complication: ensues from this alteration, sense of disorder as characters are removed from their secure roles (e.g. tragedy: king gives up his thrown, comedy: characters who hated love are now absurdly in love)
  3. resolution: social order is usually re-established, however plays do not offer a message or a resolution to society's problems. A closed ending is satisfying, but the audience will mostly remember the crisis and questions it asked 


the complext themes, characters, plot, language within this framework creates the sense of life's complexity and is called the dramatic form


The dramatic form

This refers to how the material (language, characters, plot, themes) are presented within the basic structure (exposition, complication, resolution) of a play


so approach a scene through the basic structure of a play, but when looking at the details and their significance we are considering the dramatic form




Elizabethan and Jacobean drama examples of writers

Examples: Kyd, Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Middleton, Shakespeare


Elizabethan and Jacobean drama 

  1. period from 1558 - 1625
  2. time of enormous social change
    1. medieval society (Christian ordered universe) shifts to a secular society (court, money and politics become important rather than the church)
    2. did not happen overnight, so great variety among plays having a medieval stance in which people are fallen creatures and saved or damned by God vs. individuals caught between their own consciences and desires


Revenge Tragedy (3)

  1. A submode of the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama (period 1558-1625)
  2. focus on a specific aspect of disorder in society = justice and questions how to act towards these contradictions of:
    • justice (like God) should be perfect, but earthly justice is corrupt and imperfect
    • taking justice into one's own hands is risking damnation
  3. revenge tragedies often use devices such as a ghost, play within a play, scenes of violent mider, a mad hero, blood bath


Two basic types of medieval drama + century

14th - 15th C

  1. miracle plays
  2. morality plays


Miracle Plays (5)

Type of medieval drama (14th-15th C)

  1. deals with the Christian history of the world from the Creation to the Last Judgement
  2. each play focuses on 1 major event from the Bible (e.g. the fall of Adam and Eve, birth of Christ)
  3. each play is part of a series or cycle of plays named after the tow where they were performed (e.g. York plays, Chester, Wakefield, Towneley)
  4. plays are a form of didactic drama intented to explain Christianity
  5. still a gap between the ideal of God's order and the violent, often grotesque, comic actions of the characters


Morality plays (4)

Type of medieval drama (14th-15th C)

  1. focus on the moral dilemmas that confront mankind from birth to death
  2. always a male character at the centre of the play
  3. allegorical plays in which both the plot and character are used to illustrate an abstract moral lesson (good-evil, heaven-hell battle for people's souls)
  4. as it takes place in the middle ages, God's order is still very much felt (>< secular world of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama were order is already more uncertain)




melodramatic plays - well-made plays

  1. most popular form of 19th C drama
  2. a sensational romantic play
  3. full of imposible events where the good is always rewarded and the wicked always punished
  4. main focus is the plot which depends on a secret only revealed in the last act
  5. also called well-made play under the French dramatist Eugène Scribe
  6. caused reaction by subsequent playwriters Ibsen, Shaw, Wilde and Chekhov creating problem plays 




Problem plays (4)

  1. reaction on well-made plays/melodramatic plays
  2. e.g. Ibsen and Shaw use the ordered format of the well-made play with its melodramatic plot, but only to react against its boring morality by shifting the emphasis on to contemporary social or moral questions (marriage, prostitution, etc.)
  3. they are thus concerned with a specific social problem (esp in early works, more subtle and varied on life's complexity later on) 
  4. although stemming from a melodramatic formula, they are naturalistic




Naturalism (naturalistic)

  1. narrow form of realism at the end of 19th C
  2. can be found in problem plays
  3. offers an almost photographic image of life and stresses how heredity and environment shape people's lives (nurture)
  4. continues through 20th C in which characters are trapped by society unable to change or influence their surroundings