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Feature Menu
What Is Drama?
Dramatic Structure
Modern Drama
Performance of a Play
Setting the Stage
The Characters
The Audience
What Is Drama?
A drama is a story enacted onstage for a live
Origins of Drama
[End of Section]
Dramatic Structure
Like the plot of a story, the plot of a play involves
characters who face a problem or conflict.
tension builds
characters and conflict
are introduced
point of highest tension;
action determines how the
conflict will be resolved
conflict is resolved;
play ends
[End of Section]
A tragedy is a play that ends unhappily.
• Most classic Greek tragedies deal with serious,
universal themes such as
right and wrong
justice and injustice
life and death
• Tragedies pit human limitations against the
larger forces of destiny.
The protagonist of most classical tragedies is a
tragic hero. This hero
• is noble and in many
ways admirable
• has a tragic flaw, a
personal failing that
leads to a tragic end
[End of Section]
A comedy is a play that ends happily. The plot
usually centers on a romantic conflict.
boy meets girl
Modern comedies
boy loses girl
boy wins girl
The main characters in a comedy could be
• Comic complications always
occur before the conflict is
• In most cases, the play ends
with a wedding.
Quick Check
MABEL CHILTERN. How horrid you have
been! You have never talked to me the
whole evening!
LORD GORING. How could I? You went
away with the child-diplomatist.
MABEL CHILTERN. You might have
followed us. Pursuit would have been
only polite. I don't think I like you at all
this evening!
How can you tell
this play is a
comedy? What is
the most likely
LORD GORING. I like you immensely.
from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
[End of Section]
Modern Drama
A modern play
• may be tragedy, comedy, or a mixture of the
• usually focuses on personal issues
• usually is about ordinary people
Modern Drama
Modern playwrights often experiment with
unconventional plot structures.
long flashbacks
visual projections
of a character’s
private thoughts
[End of Section]
Performance of a Play
When you read a play, remember that it is meant
to be performed for an audience.
Stage Directions
Playwright describes
setting and characters’
actions and manner.
• Theater artists bring
the playwright’s
vision to life on the
[Wyona is sitting on the
couch. She sees Paul
and jumps to her feet.]
Wyona. [Angrily.] What
do you want?
• The audience
responds to the play
and shares the
[End of Section]
Setting the Stage
Stages can have many different sizes and
“Thrust” stage
• The stage extends
into the viewing area.
• The audience
surrounds the stage
on three sides.
Stages in Shakespeare’s time
Setting the Stage
“In the round” stage is surrounded by an
audience on all sides.
Setting the Stage
Proscenium stage
• The playing area extends behind an opening
called a “proscenium arch.”
• The audience sits on one side looking into the
stage right
stage left
Setting the Stage
Scene design transforms a bare stage into the
world of the play. Scene design consists of
• sets
• lighting
• costumes
• props
Setting the Stage
A stage’s set might be
realistic and
and minimal
Setting the Stage
A lighting director skillfully uses light to change
the mood and appearance of the set.
Setting the Stage
The costume director works with the director to
design the actors’ costumes.
• Like sets, costumes can be
Setting the Stage
Props (short for properties) are items that the
characters carry or handle onstage.
• The person in charge of props must make sure
that the right props are available to the actors
at the right moments.
[End of Section]
The Characters
The characters’ speech may take any of the
following forms.
Dialogue: conversations of characters onstage
Monologue: long speech given by one character to
Soliloquy: speech by a character alone onstage to
himself or herself or to the audience
Asides: remarks made to the audience or to one
character; the other characters onstage do not hear an
The Characters
Quick Check
LIZA. No: I dont want no gold and no
diamonds. I'm a good girl, I am. [She
sits down again, with an attempt at
HIGGINS. You shall remain so, Eliza,
under the care of Mrs. Pearce. And you
shall marry an officer in the Guards, with
a beautiful moustache: the son of a
marquis, who will disinherit him for
marrying you, but will relent when he
sees your beauty and goodness—
from Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
What are the
stage directions
in this passage?
What does the
dialogue tell you
about them?
[End of Section]
The Audience
Finally, a play needs an audience to
experience the performance
understand the story
respond to the characters
[End of Section]
Choose a play or movie that you
remember seeing, and discuss its dramatic
1. Describe the stage set or sets.
2. Indicate who the characters are and what their
relationship is.
3. Evaluate the characters’ dialogue. Does it make
clear what the characters want and why they are
having trouble getting it?
4. Write a few of the stage directions, based on
what you imagine them to have been.
[End of Section]
The End