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Drama module. English 202 prof. everson. Drama Module , written by Dr. Gladys B onilla, Dr. Ileana Irvine, and Dr. Ylda Ferr é UMET, for Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez , 2011. INTRODUCTION. DRAMA – ENG 202 Prof. everson. INTRODUCTION.

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drama module

Drama module

English 202 prof. everson

Drama Module, written by Dr. Gladys Bonilla, Dr. Ileana Irvine, and Dr. YldaFerré

UMET, for SistemaUniversitario Ana G. Mendez, 2011.


DRAMA – ENG 202 Prof. everson


Drama is one of the great literary genres in literature. It permits an individual to have a new outlet for his or her emotions, explore new roles, consider different choices and solutions to problems faced by others, and challenge the individual’s perceptions about the world. The module will begin with an introduction where you will learn about the history of drama and also about its most important elements. You will then have a good background which will make it easier for you to understand the plays you study.

Remember that any doubts or questions that you may have on the material you find in this introduction can be explained by your professor.

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  • Through this module you will
  • learn about the distinctions between drama and the novel or the short story.
  • have a general idea about how dramatic conventions have changed throughout the years.
  • understand the elements of drama.
  • learn which are the major types of plays.
  • see drama as part of your everyday life.
  • learn about the history of drama from its conception to the present day.
  • increase your vocabulary of words related to the theater.

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The basic differences between novels or short stories and drama.

  • Although novels and plays all tell a story, there are certain differences between them:
  • 1. The basic difference is that novels and short stories are meant to be read; a play is a dramatic form that is meant to be acted out. You can read a play, of course, but its main purpose is to be acted out on a stage in front of an audience.

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2. Novels and short stories are private experiences. You sit down and read them by yourself; a play is a collective undertaking (empresacolectiva) which includes the audience, the actors, and other people such as stage-hands, light technicians, make-up artists, director, etc. All these people join together to make a play possible. Imagine if the light technicians, or the actors did not show up! There could be no play! And if there were no audience? The theater would have to close!


3. Novels and short stories are narrations of past events; a play has tremendous actuality for it happens now, right in front of your eyes.

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4. Writers have more freedom of action; dramatists do not have the same kind of freedom for a number of reasons:

  • A. Writers can have an unlimited number of characters in their novels or short stories; dramatists are limited by the size of the stage. Too many characters on stage can cause confusion.

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B. Writers can describe their characters at length, both physically and emotionally; a playwright cannot describe. His/Her characters act out the story and we learn about them through their actions.

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C. Novelists can inform the reader about their characters' past; a playwright cannot do this. In a play, we learn through dialogue and action about what happened before the play begins.

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D. Novelists can dedicate any number of pages to tell their story; the playwright must focus his attention on a particular moment in the characters’ life because of the limitations of time and space. Also a play cannot last longer than two or three hours for it is limited from extended action by the size of the stage.

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Review Questions for Introduction:

Does a play tell a story?

What is the basic difference between a short story or a novel and a play?

Why does drama have tremendous actuality?

What are some of the limitations of the dramatist?

How do we learn about the characters' past in a play?

Can a play be as long as a novel? Why?

Explain why drama is .a collective undertaking.

Compare drama to the novel.

Think of all the people who work behind the stage to present a play. What would happen if one of them doesn't do his work well?

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definitions drama
Definitions: drama

Drama module eng 202 prof. everson

what is drama
What is drama?

Among the different kinds of literary expression, drama is unique in the sense that it is written to be performed. Aristotle in his Poetics defines the theater of his time as an "imitation of an action." That is, drama copies, not only people, but actions.

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Drama is part of your everyday life.

It is not just something you read from a book required in a literature class or something very difficult which only actors and intellectuals understand. Television programs and movies are basically plays that have been adapted to the requirements of that particular media.

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All of us have witnessed a scene sometimes when we just know that the person is acting out a part. For example:

The scene is a half empty classroom. The teacher is gathering her books while students are leaving the room. One student approaches the teacher.

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Student: Mrs. X, I have a terrible problem. I know I was absent for last Thursday's exam but you see, on Wednesday I woke up with the flu. I had a sore throat, a terrible headache, and I was running a very high temperature.

(The teacher gives him a suspicious look)

Student: (Forcibly) But something even worse happened, Mrs. X. Later in the day my sister broke an arm and I had to take her to the hospital. (He looks sideways at the teacher). Even worse Mrs., while in the hospital, I learned my great-grandmother had died and I had to go to the funeral and, (he weeps), to make matters even worse, when I got home I found that my dog had been run over by a car (he covers his face with his hands). How could I possibly take an exam at 8 o'clock on the very next day?

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Most of you have probably witnessed a scene such as this. How do you think the teacher would react? He or she could believe the student, or could say something like, "Cut out the play acting" or in Spanish, "Mira, no me monteseseteatro." Right?

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Of course, this is a humorous presentation of what drama isabout. Besides comic situations there are also tragic examples in life that can illustrate what drama is. What we want you to understand is that what the playwright (dramaturgo) does is to put on stage the humorous or tragic elements present in everyday life and develop the theme in the direction he wants. After all, the same as the essayists and poets, a playwright also has a message to deliver to his audience.

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Let us have a more exact definition of drama:

The word drama comes from the Greek word δρᾶμα"dran" (to act). A drama is a literary composition intended to be performed on stage, with the narrative told through action and dialogue.

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Drama is usually divided into acts, which in turn are divided into scenes. What are the functions of the act?

  • To mark a stage (etapa) inthe development of the story.
  • To introduce the characters and the elements of the plot.
  • To develop the story to its climax.
  • To resolve the conflict of the play at the end.

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elements of drama
Elements of drama

Drama module eng 202 prof. everson

elements of drama1
Elements of drama

As we have seen, a play is not just a narrative but a dramatic form of literature. That is to say, a play is not narrated like the novel or short story, but has to be acted on a stage to deliver its full impact. Though classic plays follows the same pattern as the novel --introduction, rising action, climax, descending action, and conclusion -- the techniques it employs are different in many ways from that of the short story or the novel.

Drama Module, Page 7


When a person enters a theatre there are some "theatrical conventions" that he or she must accept. The first one is that the members of the audience must believe that those people up on the stage are really those they pretend to be. This is called suspension of disbelief. A big part of the meaning of the traditional theatre experience would be lost if the audience were to think that the actors they see are not really Romeo and Juliet but Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. If violence erupts, the audience must accept that what it is seen is real blood and not ink or ketchup applied for effect.

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>How did the director of Casa de Muñecasdeal with the issue of suspension of disbelief?

dramatic action
Dramatic Action

Dramatic action is the acting out the plot of a play on stage. It is the organization and selection of certain moments in the characters' lives that contribute to the development of the plot. Therefore, every action of the characters must be pertinent to the plot. A dramatist presents a character fixing a window, for example, only if this reveals something about his personality or if it adds something to the development of the plot. Through his characters' actions, a dramatist reveals their motivations, their personality, and the results of their actions. It is only indrama that we can see and hear the characters and not merely imagine them.

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>What are examples of dramatic actions that were included in the play Casa de Muñecasto add to development of the plot?

divisions of dramatic action
Divisions of dramatic action
  • Introduction or Exposition - It is usually rather brief and explains what has happened to the characters recently and why they act as they do.
  • Rising Action - a problem arises which the character tries to meet and solve and which leads into the conflict.
  • Climax - the turning point of the action where the outcome of the conflict will be determined. It is the point of highest tension.
  • Falling Action - changes which characterize the solution of the problem.
  • Conclusion or Denouement -the action of the play ends in success or failure for the main character and the problem is cleared.

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>>This is the theory of Gustav Freytag (1816-1895) a German playwright and literary critic based on Shakespearean and classical plays. Freytag was key in the structuralism movement.

Note: Modern dramatic works may not follow this structure.

chart the plot of ibsen s a doll s house
Chart the plot of Ibsen’s a doll’s house

>>Freytag’s Pyramid of Dramatic Action

Note: Not included in the Drama Module


A play is mostly dialogue, so listening to what the characters say and how they say it is the principal source of information. Dialogue is the exchange of conversation between characters in a play.

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function of dialogue
Function of dialogue

1. Characterization - We know what the characters are like by what they say on stage and also by what others say about them. Remember that the author cannot give us a description or an opinion directly novelist can do.

2. Provides motivation for the characters' actions - We share, approve or disapprove of the characters' actions only where we know the reasons why they are doing them. They must give their reasons through dialogue.

3. Gives factual information - The characters' conversation gives us facts and details about themselves.

4. Exteriorizes the plot - If the characters wouldn't talk about the things that matter to them, the plot couldn't be available to us, for the playwright cannot comment like a novelist can.

5. Gives progression - The tension grows in a play as the characters interchange feelings, opinions, facts or ideas.

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>How was the dialogue of Ibsen’s written play adapted for the production of Casa de Muñecasthat we saw?


In a play we become acquainted with the characters through their action dialogue. No one is interested in what happens to a complete stranger. When we know who this person is are we able to feel something for him.

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A novelist may describe what his characters are like. The following excerpt is from Dickens' Bleak House.

“Sir Leicester Dedlock is only a baronet, but there is no mightier baronet than he. His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable. He has a general opinion that the world might without hills, but would be done up without the Dedlocks. He would on the whole admit Nature to be a good idea (a little low, perhaps, when not enclosed with a park-fence). He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness, and ready, on the shortest notice, to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honorable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.”

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A dramatist cannot do this. He must show these qualities and faults through action and dialogue and sometimes with the setting. He would have to produce an incident where Sir Leicester would reveal he is an honorable, obstinate, truthful, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.

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Characters in a dramatic play must have certain characteristics. They must be consistent; that is, there must not be abrupt and unmotivated changes in their behavior. A character who has been bad throughout most of the play cannot be good all of a sudden with no reason whatsoever.

Another important element of characterization is that the characters must be appropriate. They have to act as real people would do intheir place. An aristocrat's behavior and speech has to be different from that of a person from the slums. When a character is consistent and appropriate he acts "in character;" when he isn't consistent or appropriate, he is "out of character."

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The setting has a lot of importance in a play, mainly because you are looking at it and because it helps to understand the characters. Take the case of Sir Leicester. His surroundings will tell us that he is a rich, aristocratic man. In what kind of a house do you think Sir Leicester might live? He would probably live in a huge mansion full of antiques, or even better, a richly decorated castle, showing also that this man has power.

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Setting creates mood just like it does in a novel or short story. It also helps re-create the period in which the action took place. The setting for Hamlet would be different from that of The Lion King just because the action is in different places.

In the theater, the use of lights and music also creates certain effects for mood and meaning. A soft light may create an intimate moment while a bright, blinding light might accompany a character's dreadful confession. Music helps create similar effects and it also contributes to capture the feeling of the period in which the action takes place.

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1. What attitude should the audience have towards a traditional theatrical representation?

2. What is dramatic action? Explain.

3. Why is dialogue the most important source of information in a play?

4. What five functions does dialogue have?

5. How is characterization done in a play?

6. When is a character "out of character"?

7. How does setting contribute to the over-all meaning of a play?

8. What is the importance of light and music in a play?

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Dramatic Genres


This is a representation of serious and important actions which involve defeat of the main character due to external causes or some flaw in the character's own internal nature. It is the punishment that man receives for defying the power of the gods and violating ethical or religious laws. Destiny often plays an important part in the outcome and defeat of the protagonist in classical tragedy.

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Tragedy focuses on a tragic hero or heroine, an extraordinary individual who represents an aspect of the universal human condition. An essentially good and noble person, his fortune has to go from good to bad; from prosperity to misery or even death, a tragic reversal that brings him or her to the depths of pain and despair. Still, this suffering cannot appear to be accidental or arbitrary. The fall has to be caused by the combination of a weakness of character with the wrong exercise of free will, an action that brings the anger of the gods on him. The tragic flaw shows the hero to be imperfect, like all humans are, and the gods punish severely, especially for the sin of arrogance, or hubris, a sin that blinds man to reality and carries him downward to destruction.

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Punishment in a Greek tragedy had a paradoxical effect, for from the depths of defeat the hero rises to new heights of nobility. Brought down from greatness, he accepts the responsibility for his actions, and in facing and recognizing his error, he finds new values. His defeat becomes his triumph, for his pain has given him a new and better understanding of himself and life.

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As the Greek audience was faced with the experience of great suffering, it went through a catharsis, a release of the mixed emotions of pity and terror. Pity for the hero's terrible fate, and terror for themselves for they realized that if such a good and noble person could have to pay so greatly for his errors, the same thing could have happened to any of them. In this way they realized that suffering is universal, that actions have consequences, and that the gods punish those who break their laws.

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Greek tragedy, then, focused on the way man should live in a world of human weaknesses and an uncertain fate. Its profoundness and complexity has made it long lasting, always forcing its audiences to ask themselves serious questions about the meaning of life and death.

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The purpose of tragic drama is to strengthen the audience's idea of what life can become in spite of the will and determination of a human being. Tragedy can help people see life as a whole and warn them of defeats and frustrations with which they are confronted. An example type of play is Antigone by Sophocles.

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This is a drama of light and amusing characters whose main purpose is to interest and amuse the readers. Usually the action turns out happily for the principal characters. However comedy provides insight into the nature of the human condition and deepens the understanding and experience of life. An example of this type of play is As You Like It by Shakespeare.

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Comedy and tragedy are the two sides of the same coin. Both concern themselves with human affairs, but approach their subject from opposite points of view. While tragedy explores the struggle of an individual with his/her destiny and inner defects, (a struggle that often ends in suffering), comedy presents a world of fools whose silliness and superficiality are designed to entertain and uplift. It laughs with a strong sense of the ridiculous at the excesses of its characters, putting emphasis on events that amuse the audience and confirm life.

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The tools of comedy are verbal humor, characterization and comic plots. Wit (ingenio), ridicule, and irony are all part of verbal humor; characters are superficial, silly or absurd; and plots are light and with a happy ending.

Playwrights often use comedy as a means for criticizing society by showing its weaknesses in such a way as to create situations so shallow and inane (tontas), that the audience leaves the theater in a happy mood without any thoughts about the deeper meaning of life as it does after watching a tragedy.

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The protagonists are flat types, the hero and heroine are pure as snow and the villain is a monster of malignity. Most murders, mysteries, and Western films in movies and television are of this kind.

Melodramas usually have a happy ending where good is rewarded and evil is punished. The hero wins and the villain loses!

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Farce bears the same relation to comedy as melodrama does to tragedy. It is a light entertainment that relies largely on visual humor and relatively uncomplicated characters. It is full of exaggeration and not true to life.

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Besides these four major types, drama can also be classified as:

Biography - the story of an individual's life such as in the play The Barrets of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier.

Autobiography - The history of an individual written by the writer, such as The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.

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Social Drama - This type is often called a "problem play" or "drama of ideas." These plays intend to portray social relationships and social problems. They are characterized by the direct and frank treatment of human relationships in the home and in social groups. The situation in which the protagonist finds himself symbolizes a phase of a general social problem. A good example would be Ibsen's The Master Builder or A Doll’s House.

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Exercise: Be able to answer for Tuesday - quiz

After reading about the different types of plays, answer the following questions:

1. What is tragedy?

2. What is the purpose of tragic drama?

3. What is comedy?

4. What type of characters appear in a melodrama?

5. Of what type of plays are murders and mysteries on television?

6. What is farce?

7. What other names are given to a social drama?

8. What does a social drama intend to present?

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