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30. Reading Drama. “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ― Oscar Wilde. Introduction to Drama.

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Reading Drama


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reading drama

30

Reading Drama

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

slide2
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

― Oscar Wilde

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

introduction to drama
Introduction to Drama
  • Like poetry and fiction, plays present the author’s perceptions of the world.
  • Like a poem or short story, a play offers us a mirror with which we can compare our own perceptions and experiences while bringing us to a deeper understanding of our own lives and worlds.
  • Plays are almost always written to be performed. Only closet dramas are written to be read aloud rather than performed.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

writing for the stage
Writing for the Stage
  • Consider the differences between writing a play and writing in another genre.
  • Length is generally more of a concern to a playwright than to a poet or fiction writer. Producers are less apt to stage very short (say, twenty minutes) or very long plays (say, four hours).
  • Because of legal restrictions and unpredictability, producers (not to mention many adult actors) would prefer that the stage presence of children and animals be limited, if not excluded entirely. What would happen if Poe conceived “The Black Cat” as a play or Marquez in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” insisted on staging the infant’s relationship with the old man?

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

writing for the stage continued
Writing for the Stage continued…
  • Depending upon the theater’s budget and expertise, special effects and settings might need to be compromised. Consider the logistical difficulties of staging the flight of the hot air balloon in Ana Menendez’s “Traveling Madness” or the crowded street scenes of Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish.” And how convincing would a car chase be in a small theater of fewer than seventy-five seats?
  • Don’t forget, too, that dramatists must tell their story and communicate theme primarily through dialogue.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

active reading
Active Reading
  • These differences and others emphasize that reading drama is a different experience from that of reading poetry or fiction. Readers, generally, are less accustomed to reading drama and may need to adapt.
  • Read as an armchair director. Consider the dramatic text as a script and yourself as the director just prior to the beginning of rehearsals.
  • How do you see the play on stage? How do you hear it performed? How do the characters move and react? Who is the protagonist? What does he/she want? What obstacles are in his/her way? What part of the play is the climax? What especially do you want this play to communicate?

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

types of drama
Types of Drama
  • The two major dramatic modes are tragedyandcomedy. Both forms have evolved through the years, demonstrating the ongoing dynamism and meaningfulness of the stage.
  • Aristotle described tragedyas “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete in itself, and of a certain magnitude.”
  • Aristotle suggests that tragedies are solemn occasions concerned with grave human actions and their consequences.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

types of drama1
Types of Drama
  • In traditional tragedy the protagonist’s destiny was tied to
  • the state and national affairs. Hamlet’s actions, for
  • instance, have a significant impact on Denmark.
  • In modern tragedies, the protagonist tends be a member of
  • the lower or middle class. His actions may not have national
  • implications, but deep personal ones that affect his family
  • and perhaps his community and resonate on a more
  • personal level with the audience. Willy Loman struggles
  • with his family, his career, and his inner stability.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

comedy
Comedy
  • Comediesconcern light or humorous subject matters,
  • strive to provoke laughter, and conclude with a happy
  • ending. There are many types of comedy. A few
  • examples:
  • A Romantic Comedyusually concerns two would-be/
  • should-be lovers who find each other after a series of
  • misunderstandings and false starts. Shakespeare’s A
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream is a romantic comedy.
  • A Comedy of Mannersis a work of satire that ridicules
  • human behavior and social institutions. See Oscar
  • Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

comedy continued
Comedy continued…
  • A Farceis a lighthearted play that uses physical comedy, exaggerated characters, absurd situations, and improbable plot twists. See Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal and, on film, The Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers.
  • A Tragicomedy has the elements of tragedy but, at times, will provoke laughter, and generally end happily (Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice) or inconclusively (Beckett’s Waiting for Godot).
  • Some plays will draw elements from more than one type. The Merchant of Venice can be considered a romantic comedy and The Importance of Being Earnest a farce.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

slide11
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

― Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie

by Tennessee Williams

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

elements of drama
Elements of Drama
  • Protagonist– the main character.
  • Objective – the protagonist’s overarching goal. The plot hinges on the protagonist’s effort to reach this objective.
  • Antagonist – the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist’s goal. The antagonist could be another character, natural elements, a physical condition, cultural institutions, social law, or the protagonist himself/herself.
  • Tension – as with a good sporting contest, tension and suspense increases when the protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched and the outcome is in doubt until the climax.

Hamlet Shows His Mother the Ghost of His Father (ca. 1778) by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

elements of drama continued
Elements of Drama continued…
  • Plot– the artful arrangement of incidents in a drama, with each incident building on the next in a series of causes and effects, with smaller crises and climaxes leading to the large crisis and climax.
  • Exposition– necessary background information about the characters, setting, or the historical/social context.
  • Rising Action– story events that increase tension and move the plot toward the climax
  • Climax – the highest point of conflict in the drama. During the climax, the dramatic question is answered: Does the protagonist reach his goal?

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

elements of drama continued1
Elements of Drama continued…
  • Denouement– The denouement or resolution follows the climax and ties up any loose ends or questions that the dramatist would like to answer. In modern drama, the denouement tends to be brief. The Exodusin Oedipus the King is devoted to the denouement whereas in the A Doll’s House, the denouement is Helmer’s final line. Modern and contemporary dramatists prefer open endings without all loose ends tied and questions and conflicts resolved.
  • Subplot– a plot that is not the central plot of the work, but coexists or parallels the main plot. The story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern forms a subplot within the overall plot of Hamlet.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

gustav freytag s triangle a diagram of a typical dramatic structure
Gustav Freytag’s Triangle:A diagram of a typical dramatic structure

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

dialogue
Dialogue
  • Dialogue is at the heart of a play and must accomplish much.
  • It must characterize the speaker and perhaps the person being addressed.
  • It must maintain the individuality of each character.
  • While retaining individuality, it must be clear and comprehensible to the audience.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

dialogue continued
Dialogue continued …
  • Dialogue must reveal the speaker’s motivation often without being direct. Realistic dramatists cannot rely on monologues or soliloquies the way non-realistic playwrights can.
  • Dialogue must advance the plot.
  • It must be connective in that it grows out of the preceding speech or action and lead to another.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

dialogue continued1
Dialogue continued …
  • Dialogue must often convey subtext, the indirect statement or the implication of the works. Characters, like people, do not always say specifically what they mean.
  • It establishes the pace of the play.
  • It must provide exposition and foreshadow.
  • It must contribute to the development of the theme.
  • It must be lively and imaginative.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

other elements
Other Elements
  • Dramatic Irony – a situation in which authors give the audience information that they withhold from the characters on stage. Consider the importance of dramatic irony to Oedipus the King or Othello. Authors often need to decide whether to inform the audience of certain information or keep them in suspense.
  • Symbol – any object, image, character, or action that suggests meaning beyond the everyday literal level. Dramatists use symbols just as other fiction writers do.
  • Foreshadowing – a hint about plot elements to come that will advance the plot and build suspense.
  • Staging– The spectacle a play presents in performance, including the position of actors on the stage, scenic background, props, costumes, lighting, and sound effects. Some playwrights, like Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie and Arthur Kopit in Wings, provide very specific directions about staging. Consider how staging contributes to the overall meaning of the play.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

slide20
“The purpose of the theatre, as Stanislavski said, is to bring light to the life of the human soul; and theatre posses this potential. Alone among community institutions, the theatre possesses the power to differentiate between truth and garbage.”

― David Mamet

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

theme
Theme
  • Themes are the central or underlying meanings of a play. Themes are the ideas or issues that the dramatist raises through the play.
  • Be careful of reducing a complex work of art to a simple message. Like, for instance, “Romeo and Juliet teaches us how dangerous our petty rivalries can be,” or “Macbeth teaches us not to be too ambitious or greedy.”
  • Such simplistic interpretations limit a more complete understanding of a play, particularly its psychological depth, cultural revelations, and artistic significance.
  • Hamlet raises questions concerning various themes, including political corruption, service to the state, revenge, courage, integrity, spirituality, the mystery of death, the uncertainty of life, misogyny and men-women relationships, and the importance of theater itself.
  • Theme will usually be implicit in the text and all the drama’s elements. Our great dramatists, like our other great artists, resist preaching to us.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

thoughts about theme
Thoughts about Theme
  • “Shakespeare is too good a showman to force a sermon down our throats, and too experienced a theatre man to do less than provide us with entrancing entertainment, leaving us to draw the moral for ourselves.”

― Margaret Webster

  • “If you are going to write what is called a propaganda play, don’t let any character know in the play what the propaganda is.”

― Howard Lindsay

  • “A good way to destroy a play is to force it to prove something.”

― Walter Kerr

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

remember while reading
Remember while Reading …
  • Read with a pen or pencil in your hand.
  • Be forthright. Are you enjoying the play? What elements of the play make for enjoyment? Characters? Plot?
  • Analyze the action and the motives of the characters. What are they seeking at the beginning of the play?
  • Examine the relationship between the characters and the plot. How do the play’s events grow out of the characters’ decisions and actions?

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

remember while reading1
Remember while Reading …
  • What is the play’s tone? How does the dialogue sound in your ear?
  • Be attentive to dress, gestures, scenery, and lighting. What do they communicate about the characters and theme?
  • Are there any symbols?
  • Read the stage directions.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30

for further consideration
For Further Consideration
  • Write a one act play or a scene based on a short story or a poem. After you complete the script, discuss the difficulties you had with transposing the work to the stage.
  • Rewrite one scene from a pre-twentieth-century play in the text and re-stage it in a contemporary setting with contemporary characters. Where did you set the play? How did you dress the characters? How old are they? Paraphrase the dialogue. Retain only the names.
  • Write notes about one of the plays in the text as if your were to direct it. How would you stage it? What actors or types of actors do you see in the lead roles? How would you dress the characters? Would you cut some parts of the script? How would you use lighting? etc.
  • Read one of the plays as a first-night reviewer might. Write a review of the play as if you had seen it. Comment on the characters, the plot, the setting, the language, and so forth. Make a recommendation for others to read the play or not.

Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 30