Definitions and examples from Laurence Perrine,
LITERATURE: Structure, Sound, and Sense;
and Beum, A Prosody Handbook; Miller Williams, Patterns of Poetry;
and Lawrence Zillman, The Art and Craft of Poetry.
of Drama - A Brief Introduction
Plot - the sequence of events or incidents of which the story
A. Conflict is a clash of actions,
ideas, desires or wills.
a. human against human.
b. human against environment - external force, physical nature,
society, or "fate."
c. human 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
A. Direct Presentation - author
tells us straight out, by exposition or analysis, or through another
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 behavior), 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: a revelation of human character, may be stated briefly or at
great length. 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
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 clich³ 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.
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.
Symbol - a literary symbol means more than what it is. It has
layers of meanings. Whereas an image has one meaning, a symbol
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
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.
Irony - a term with a range of meanings, all of them involving some sort
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.
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
b. on a stage (a captive audience), and
c. before an audience (suggesting a communal
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
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
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 where with it
effects a catharsis (emotional outpouring) 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.
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
4. Nevertheless, the hero's misfortune is not
wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime. The hero remains
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.
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
- arouses pity and fear through cruder means. Good
and evil are
clearly depicted in white and black motifs. Plot is emphasized
- aimed at arousing explosive laughter using crude
means. Conflicts are
violent, practical jokes are common, and the wit is coarse. Psychologically
may boost the reader's spirit and purge hostility and aggression.
Contrasting views of
humans in Shakespeare:
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
How infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
How express and admirable in action, how like
In apprehension, how like a god -" Hamlet (Act II, Sc. ii, l. 315)
Puck says: Captain of our fairy band
Helena is here at hand, And the youth,
mistook by me, Pleading for a lover's
fee. Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Act III, Sc. ii, l. 115)