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CHECKLIST: Analyzing Drama
We study drama because, as humans, we believe that by acting out and witnessing the
struggle of other human beings, we are enlightened about the nature of our own lives. Therefore,
the focus of drama is the struggle of characters to face life with a sense of purpose and dignity.
From the Greeks to the present, dramatic characters struggle with gods, themselves, each other,
and society. They rise to heroic heights or fall from them. Of noble birth, they may fail to be
humble, and fall. Of humble birth, they may struggle to be noble, and triumph. When witnessing
drama, whether through reading or attending a performance, we are reminded of the human
drama outside the theater, where joy and suffering, courage and cowardice have been acted out
for no audience in particular for thousands of years.
The best way to witness drama is to attend a live performance. Drama is meant to be seen
and heard. However, you may be asked to respond to a selection of drama that you have read. To
write a successful paper about a play you have read, it will help if you try and imagine, or create,
the stage in your mind. Read the stage instructions, try to imagine the set, the props, the action on
stage, even the voices of the characters. Doing so will help you incorporate the following points
in your essay about the play.
Point of View
 Does the play have a narrator? If so, who is it and what effect does this narration have on
your response?
Set and Setting
 When is the play set? What role does the setting have? What physical location is this?
The country? The city? What does the set look like? What props are used or present?
 Can you describe the atmosphere? What time of day is it? What is the lighting? What are
the dominant colors? What is the weather like? Who is present? How are they dressed?
 Does the setting support and emphasize the story’s meaning?
Conflict and Plot
 What is the primary external conflict? The primary internal conflict?
 Are there other conflicts? If so, what are they and what role do they play?
 Have you used specific examples of the conflict by citing action and dialogue in the text?
 In what way do the personality traits of the characters lead to conflict?
 Can you identify the plot? Does it confirm to traditional structure? If so, how? If not,
what is the structure?
 Is it a tragedy or comedy? Explain and use specific examples to support your explanation.
Characterization
 How do you feel about the characters? What do the characters do or say to make you feel
this way? What is said about the characters to make you feel this way?
 Are the characters motivated and consistent? Are they believable? Are there flat or stock
characters in the play? Explain with examples.
 Who is the protagonist? The antagonist(s)?
 Support your response to the characters by citing specific action and dialogue in the play.
Language and Style
 Is the language formal or informal? What does it tell you about the characters?
 Are there any symbols? Are the set, props, or costumes symbolic? If so, how do they
connect to or support the story?
 Are there instances of verbal or situational irony? Explain.
Theme
 What are the major details (characters, conflicts, outcomes, etc.) of the story?
 What conclusion about the story did you draw from these details?
 To what extent does this conclusion lead to a generalization about life? What is the
central idea or theme of the story? What is its significance, or what does it reflect, in the
real world in comparison with the world created in the story?
 Is the story didactic? In other words, does it reveal or does it “preach”? Explain.
Sources: Frank Madden, Exploring Literature, 3rd Edition. Kevin Winchester, lecture notes, Wingate University.
2008.