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.
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.
conventions are conveyed in stage drama via :
essentially what we learn through the dialogue, what
of the play - Acts and Scenes
of the playwright (NB correct spelling here)
and sound, sound fx
movement, gestures, body-language, interaction
non-verbal aspects of a text can be just as important
as the words in shaping its meaning and effects.
the century after Sophocles, the philosopher Aristotle analyzed tragedy.
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
a. Tragedies should not be
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
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
can only learn about a character from the words in the play.
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
- Judge the importance of each
in the play as a whole
sources of information are limited. When
we look at the words of the play we can see that characters are created
- The way they speak
- What they say about themselves
- What they say about each other
- How they are contrasted
- Stage directions.
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.
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?
SPEAKING ABOUT EACH OTHER
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!
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.
you write about the contrasts between Frank and Rita you should examine
how the play’s meaning is partially developed through the contrast.
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
which represent duties which the world of the play treats as normal,
objectionable or bizarre.
of non-standard English
(not to be confused with plot)
of values through symbolism
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.
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.
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
Discuss the prominent issues raised in Jack Davis’ play The
Dreamers. In your response
discuss how non-verbal elements reinforce your understanding of these