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Elements of Stage Drama

Stage Drama (all mixed-up at the moment)

Stage drama is written to be performed on stage. The abiding challenge in reading a script is to constantly frame all elements contained within this script in terms of PERFORMANCE.

Conventions of  plot, theme, setting and character, with which we are more familiar in narrative forms of fiction, non-fiction, and even film and television, are realised differently in stage drama.

These conventions are conveyed in stage drama via :

  • VERBAL TECHNIQUES: essentially what we learn through the dialogue,  what characters say.
  • NON-VERBAL TECHNIQUES;
    • STRUCTURE of the play - Acts and Scenes
    • DIRECTIONS of the playwright (NB correct spelling here)
    • SETS
    • COSTUME
    • MUSIC and sound, sound fx
    • LIGHTING
    • PROPS
    • CHARACTER movement, gestures, body-language, interaction

The non-verbal aspects of a text can be just as important as the words  in shaping its meaning and effects.

 

 

AristotleÕs Theories of Tragedy


In the century after Sophocles, the philosopher Aristotle analyzed tragedy. His definition:

Tragedy then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

 

Aristotle identified six basic elements: (1) plot; (2) character; (3) diction (the choice of style, imagery, etc.); (4) thought (the character's thoughts and the author's meaning); (5) spectacle (all the visual effects; Aristotle considered this to be the least important element); (6) song.

 

According to Aristotle, the central character of a tragedy must not be so virtuous that instead of feeling pity or fear at his or her downfall, we are simply outraged. Also the character cannot be so evil that for the sake of justice we desire his or her misfortune. Instead, best is someone "who is neither outstanding in virtue and righteousness; nor is it through badness or villainy of his own that he falls into misfortune, but rather through some flaw [hamartia]". The character should be famous or prosperous, like Oedipus or Medea.

 

What Aristotle meant by hamartia cannot be established. In each play we read you should particularly consider the following possibilities. (1) A hamartia may be simply an intellectual mistake or an error in judgement. For example when a character has the facts wrong or doesn't know when to stop trying to get dangerous information. (2) Hamartia may be a moral weakness, especially hubris, as when a character is moral in every way except for being prideful enough to insult a god. (Of course you are free to decide that the tragic hero of any play, ancient or modern, does not have a hamartia at all). The terms hamartia and hubris should become basic tools of your critical apparatus.

 

Aristotle's Poetics: Basic Concepts

 

a. Tragedies should not be episodic. That is, the episodes in the plot must have a clearly probable or inevitable connection with each other. This connection is best when it is believable but unexpected.

 

b. Complex plots are better than simple plots. Complex plots have recognitions and reversals. A recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, especially when the new knowledge identifies some unknown relative or dear one whom the hero should cherish but was about to harm or has just harmed. 'Recognition' (anagnorisis) is now commonly applied to any self-knowledge the hero gains as well as to insight to the whole nature or condition of mankind, provided that that knowledge is associated, as Aristotle said it should be, with the hero's 'reversal of fortune' (Greek: peripeteia). A reversal is a change of a situation to its opposite. Consider Oedipus at the beginning and end of Oedipus the King. Also consider in that play how a man comes to free Oedipus of his fear about his mother, but actually does the opposite. Recognitions are also supposed to be clearly connected with all the rest of the action of the plot.

 

c. Suffering (some fatal or painful action) is also to be included in a tragic plot which, preferably, should end unhappily.

 

d. The pity and fear which a tragedy evokes, should come from the events, the action, not from the mere sight of something on stage.

 

e. Catharsis ('purification' or 'purgation') of pity and fear was a part of Aristotle's definition of tragedy. The meaning of this phrase is extremely debatable. Among the many interpretations possible, consider how well the following apply to our plays:

 

1) Purification of the audience's feelings of pity and fear so that in real life we understand better whether we should feel them.

 

2) Purgation of our pity and fear so that we can face life with less of these emotions or more control over them.

 

3) Purification of the events of the plot, so that the central character's errors or transgressions become 'cleansed' by his or her recognitions and suffering.Ó


(http://www.aug.edu/langlitcom/humanitiesHBK/handbook_htm/aristotle_tragedy.htm)

 

 

The Concept of Tragedy:

 

The word tragedy can be applied to a genre of literature. It can mean 'any serious and dignified drama that describes a conflict between the hero (protagonist) and a superior force (destiny, chance, society, god) and reaches a sorrowful conclusion that arouses pity or fear in the audience.' From this genre comes the concept of tragedy, a concept which is based on the possibility that a person may be destroyed precisely because of attempting to be good and is much better than most people, but not perfect. (Irony, therefore, is essential and it is not surprising that dramatic irony, which can so neatly emphasize irony, is common in tragedies.)

 

Tragedy implies a conflict between human goodness and reality. Many scholars feel that if God rewards goodness either on earth or in heaven there can be no tragedy. If in the end each person gets what he or she deserves, tragedy is impossible. Tragedy assumes that this universe is rotten or askew. Christians believe that God is good and just, hence, for certain scholars tragedy is logically impossible. Of course a possible variation of the tragic concept would allow a character to have a fault which leads to consequences far more dire than he deserves. But tragic literature is not intended to make people sad. It may arouse pity and fear for the suffering protagonist, or for all humanity, especially ourselves. But usually it also is intended to inspire admiration for the central character, and by analogy for all mankind. In the tragic hero's fall there is the glory in his or her misfortune; there is the joy which only virtue can supply. Floods, automobile accidents, children's deaths, though terribly pathetic can never be tragic in the dramatic sense because they do not occur as a result of an individual man's grandeur and virtue. (Incidentally, although some plays we read are certainly tragic in all scholars' opinions, many Greek plays produced as tragedies are not tragic by anyone's definition, including Aristotles'.)

CHARACTERISATION IN DRAMA

 

You can only learn about a character from the words in the play.

 

When discussing the characters you must be able to:

  • Say what he/she is like
  • Show how he/she changes
  • Discuss in what ways they are different
  • Judge the importance of each in the play as a whole

 

Your sources of information are limited.  When we look at the words of the play we can see that characters are created by:

  • The way they speak
  • What they say about themselves
  • What they say about each other
  • How they are contrasted
  • Stage directions.

 

SPEECH

What makes a character distinctive is the way he/she speaks.  For instance, characters may speak with a n accent, may use very short sentences, may repeat words, they may speak formally or colloquially etc.  Assess and describe how Frank and Rita speak.

 

CHARACTERS ON THEMSELVES

Sometimes a character says something about himself.  This is called DRAMATIC SELF DISCLOSURE.  For example Rita describes her school experiences.  What do these add to our understanding of her?  What other examples can you find?  Does Frank self-disclose?  What do we learn about him from these disclosures?

 

CHARACTERS SPEAKING ABOUT EACH OTHER

Do characters make comments about the other characters?  Assess what each has to say about the other.  What attitudes are revealed in these comments?  Always question to what extent other characters’ comments are accurate!

 

CHARACTERS CONTRASTED

Some playwrights deliberately contrast one character with another in order to bring out what each is like and usually the contrast points to something important about the meaning of the play.

When you write about the contrasts between Frank and Rita you should examine how the play’s meaning is partially developed through the contrast.

 

STAGE DIRECTIONS

In modern plays the stage directions may indicate costume, appearance, age etc. of a character.  They may also indicate changes in these which are of importance in analysing the growth in a character.

 

The main focus for this essay is on the representation of issues in The Dreamers.  Remember that issues are not always the same as themes, although in some cases they may be very similar, or even identical.  In discussing how an issue is represented in the play, you might want to include comments on:

 

  • Stage instructions
  • Actions which represent duties which the world of the play treats as normal, objectionable or bizarre.
  • Set & setting
  • Lighting
  • Characterisation
  • Positioning
  • Use of non-standard English
  • Tone/irony
  • Structure (not to be confused with plot)
  • Humour
  • Symbolism
  • Representation of values through symbolism

 

1.     Discuss the treatment of the issue of racism in Jack Davis’ play The Dreamers.  Among the aspects of the play which you should consider will be the non-verbal elements.

 

2.     Discuss the treatment of the issue of alcohol abuse in Jack Davis’ play The Dreamers.  Among the aspects of the play which you should consider will be the non-verbal elements.

 

3.     Discuss the treatment of the issue of injustice in the legal system in Jack Davis’ play The Dreamers.  Among the aspects of the play which you should consider will be the non-verbal elements.

 

4.     Discuss the prominent issues raised in Jack Davis’ play The Dreamers.  In your response discuss how non-verbal elements reinforce your understanding of these issues

 

 

 

 

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