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What is a Play?
Using single words only, write down
terminology of what makes up a play.
Example: Actors, Stage
What is a Play?
It is not a thing, but an event, taking place in real
time and occupying real space.
It is a drama (original from the Greek word dran,
“something done.”)
It is action, not just the words printed in a book.
A play is “playing” and those who create plays
are “players.”
What is a Play?
There are different genres: tragedy,
comedy, satyr, melodrama, farce, musical
There are different durations: full-length,
five act, three-act, two-act one-act.
There are different periods: Greek,
Shakespearean, Modern, Contemporary
What is a Play?
Plays can be analyzed in two ways:
By their order of organization
By their components
The Order of a Play
A theatrical experience involves an orderly
sequence that can be divided into three
Play proper
The Gathering of the Audience
The chief concerns and processes to get the crowd
to come see the show.
Greek: the playwrights and actors held public
meetings days before the play began.
Elizabethan (Shakespeare’s Time): flags flew atop
the playhouses on performance days.
The Gathering of the Audience
Modern Theatre: Posters, newspaper ads,
press releases, mailings to patrons
announce performances.
Once gathered, the patrons are seated and
ready to see the show.
The Transition
The theatre must “shift” the audience’s
awareness from real life to stage life.
Written program (playbill) gives locale, time of the
action, characters, actors
- The lobby displays pictures or docs relevant to the play
- Music sets a mood
- Scenery is on stage (no curtain)
- Lights dim
The Exposition
The background information the audience must have in order
to understand what’s going on in the action of the play.
plays begin with dialogue or action calculated to ease us
into the concerns of the characters.
and Shakespeare used a prologue (usually a simple
speech delivered to the audience.)
plays mostly use minor characters that discuss
something that is about to happen.
The Conflict
The struggle a character(s) faces against
opposing forces; this conflict creates the
“drama” of the play.
Conflict may be set up between characters as well as
within them; it maybe reducible to one central situation, or
evolve out of many.
Conflict will make up the bulk of the play by building
tension, step-by-step.
The Climax
The point in the plot where the conflict
reaches its most extreme; it is the moment
of maximum tension.
The character has reached a point of recognition and
Audience reaches catharsis (a cleansing or purification of
the pity felt for the character’s conflict.)
The Denouement
The resolution in which a final action or speech
gives a new harmony or understanding.
- Must provide clarity concerning the problems
raised by the play, and give some vision or deeper
and more permanent understanding.
The Curtain Call
The last stage element in which the actors
break out of their characters and bow as
the audience “hopefully” applauds.
- Liberates the audience from the world of the play and
take them back to real life.
The play enjoys an extended afterlife
through published reviews, conversations,
scholarly articles, and sometimes formal
classroom discussions.
The Poetics
The first philosophical theatre critic was the Greek
philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)
He wrote an essay on the definition of tragedy called
The Poetics.
Much of his thought process was derived from the
tragedy play Oedipus, by Sophocles.
Student of Plato
Teacher of Alexander the
One of the most influential
thinkers of all time
Why Do We Care?
The reason that we study Aristotle’s perfect tragedy and
The Poetics is because all literary tragedies are still
compared to and talked about using Aristotle’s ideas.
Thus, you will need to know this for any future literary
class in both high school and college.
Plus Oedipus is pretty cool to study.
Aristotle’s Six Ingredients
of Theatre
Plot (most important)
 Character
 Theme
 Diction
 Music
 Spectacle
The order of actions that take place on
stage (this happens, and then this happens,
and then this happens next…)
Includes the comings and goings of the characters, the
timetable of the events, and the order of revelations,
reversals, and discoveries.
Think of a murder mystery or an episode of “CSI.” The
story pulls you along, step-by-step.
The human figures --- or impersonated
presences---who undertake the actions of
the plot.
Character depth is what gives a play its psychological
complexity, it sensuality and its warmth. Without it, we
cannot experience love, hate, fear, hope, joy, despair.
In other words, we live through the characters.
A play’s abstracted intellectual content.
It may be described as the play’s overall
statement: its topic, central idea, or
What is the play about?
The pronunciation of spoken dialogue by the
Includes tone, imagery, cadence, articulation
Also includes use of literary forms: verse,
rhyme, metaphor, apostrophe, jest.
Rhythmic or melodic sounds in a play.
Singing used as a type of diction (dialogue).
Musical instruments to enhance tone.
Offstage music (band playing outside a window.)
Vocal tones, footsteps, sighs, shouts, gunshots, animal
cries, and amplified special effects.
The visual aspects of a play’s production.
The Perfect Tragedy
According to Aristotle,
the best example of
the perfect tragedy
was Oedipus Rex.
 As we continue, think
of how Oedipus Rex
meets each of the
The Three Unities
According to Aristotle the perfect tragedy
should hold to three unities:
 Time:
ideally, the action should take place in
24 hours
 Place – one location – no set changes
 Action – one plot – no sub plots
(the mysterious fourth – mood – the entire play should be
serious – no comic relief)
The Tragic Hero
Five Parts
Must be a noble King or
Ruler (but the audience
should be able to identify
with the hero)
Must have a tragic flaw:
(Hubris: Pride)
Downfall must be caused
by his own actions as a
result of his tragic flaw
Must have recognition of
his own demise
He should die with honor
and courage
Oh, the Insanity!
If the tragedy is done properly, the
audience should be moved to a
catharsis: purging of emotions, especially
pity and fear
A catharsis should lead to a reinvigorated
love of life