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Dramatic Terms

Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama:

Plot – The Story of the play.

Character – Any person appearing in the play

Dialogue – The spoken interactions between the characters.

Idea – The central meaning of the play. The themes.

Music – The elements that deal with sounds.

Spectacle – The overall look of the play.

Absurdist-  Also known as “Theatre of the Absurd.” Life is hard and then you die.  Opposed the structure of realism, because absurdist’s saw reality as chaotic.  Samuel Beckett is the most famous Absurdist.

Academie Francaise- Headed by Cardinal Richelieu, a popular dramatist. A school for drama.

Agon (Aww-gahn)- In classical Greek old Comedy, a scene with a debate between the two opposing forces in a play.

Allegory- A narrative in which the story represents a specific abstraction or idea.

Allusion- A reference to a person, place, idea, or event in history or literature.

Antagonist- Character in direct conflict with the protagonist.

Antiphonal Song- Call and response style singing.

Aside- A short speech made by a character to the audience that other characters cannot hear.

Autos Sacramentales- Short allegorical plays on liturgical themes. Popular in Spain’s Golden Age, 1580-1680. Lope De Vega wrote about 400 of them.

Baroque- A style of European architecture, music, and art of the 17th and 18th Centuries, they followed mannerisms and is characterized by ornate detail. In theatre, it meant engaging the tensions between order and chaos, and between reality and illusion. Fantastical or comic plots with themes of duty, deception, and passion. A midsummer Night’s Dream is an example.

Commedia Dell’Arte- Italian for “Comedy of Art,” it was a form of improvisational comedy that relied on stock characters and standard comedic routines. Popular in Italy from the 1500s-1700s.

Comedy- A dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.

Comic Relief- The use of humorous scenes, characters, or speeches in a drama. Lightens the darkness of the play.

Convention- Any feature of literature that has become the norm.

Deus Ex Machina- Latin for “god from a machine.”  Refers to a playwright’s use of a forced or improbable solution to an unsolvable situation.

Diction- The playwright’s style of language. The specific choice of words.

Empathy- To feel with a character. Sympathy is to feel for a character.

Epic- Epic Theatre saw plays that were large in scope, cast, length, and political/social issues.  Bertolt Brecht wrote Epic plays.

Exposition- A Literary Device used to introduce background information.

Expressionism- Truth (or beauty) isn’t what the eyes see, but what the mind projects. Showed the psyche of the main character rather than objective behavior.  Peaked in the 1920s with Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape.

Foil- A Character who, through difference or similarity, brings out a particular aspect of another character.

Foreshadowing- Ominous hints of coming events to create suspense.

Harlenquinade- A British Comic theatrical genre.

Irony- Contradictions that reveal a reality that differs from what appears to be true.

-Dramatic Irony- When a character believes in a different reality from the one the audience knows to be true.

-Situational Irony- When a character’s actions create a result that is the opposite from the character’s intentions.

-Cosmic Irony- When a character believes that gods or supernatural forces are on her side, when they are actually against her.

Masques- Short, symbolic plays for the Stuart Court. They were expensive with elaborate costumes. Ben Jonson wrote these. England, Circa 1598

Melodrama- A dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions, often with stereotyped characters. Celebrates virtue above all. Current Hollywood cinema loves Melodrama.

Metaphor- A direct comparison between two things.

Miracle Play- Also called Saint’s play. A fictionalized account of the life, miracles, or martyrdom of a saint. Popular in Early Medieval Theater.

Monologue- Long Speeches delivered to another character or the audience.

Morality Play- A shift toward secularism. They allow the protagonist to represent either humanity as a whole, or smaller social structure. Popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Mystery Play- Biblical subjects. Adam and Eve, The murder of Abel, the last supper, etc. Popular from 13th-16th Centuries.

Naturalism- A popular style of theatre in Europe, starting in the late 1800s. Coinciding with Realism, Naturalism focused on the illusion of reality. Trying to make theatre appear as realistic as possible. Three dimensional sets with perspective were first used. Chekhov, Ibsen and August Strindberg are all known for their Naturalistic dramas.

Neo-Classicists- Critics, intellectuals, tried to imitate Greek theatre, they were rule-happy, and believed that drama should teach a moral lesson.

Pantomime- A type of musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. Loosely based on well-known Fairy Tales.

Pantomimi- Wordless spectacular dances that rendered dramatic stories through stylized gestures. Popular in Roman theater 63 BCE. 

Parabasis (Puh-Rob-uh-sis)- Scene in Classical Greek Comedy in which the chorus directly addresses the audience members and makes fun of them.

Pasos- Humorous sketches written in prose, used as comic interludes between scenes of longer dramatic works. Popularized in 1560 in Spain by Lope de Rueda.

Perspective- The painted backgrounds became more and more realistic. During Renaissance.

Play-within-a-play- A secondary drama presented by characters in the play.

The Problem Play- A Child of the well-made play, Ibsen made this style of theatre popular with A Doll’s House in 1893. It is a less plot-driven, more character-based format, where characters engage in discussions, and this serves as the action of the play.

Protagonist- The Main Character in a play.

Quem Quaeritis- Translates to, “whom do you seek?” Tropes. Tropes were simple but dramatic ceremonial elaborations of parts of the Christian Church service or liturgy. Popular in Early Medieval Theater, 925

Raking- The angling of the stage. How the terms upstage and downstage originated.

Realism- A literary movement of the late 19th Century that saw playwrights adhering to real life situations. Focusing on everyday life of middle-class, or lower-class characters.  Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen modernized theatre with their realism plays.

Romanticism- Emulated Shakespeare, stressing feeling and instinct over logic. Believed people should gain deep meaning from nature and not society.  Popular in early 1800s. Goethe’s Faust is a good example of this.

Satire- Poking fun at social institutions or people in a clever and intelligent fashion.

Setting- All the details of time and location of the play.

Slapstick- A broad style of comedy that usually involves pratfalls and contrived plots. Much of the humor arose from one character beating another character with a prop called a “Batacchio,” which translates, in English, to Slapstick.  Was popularized during the height of Commedia Dell’arte in Italy.

Soliloquy- A speech in which a character is speaking his thoughts, revealing feelings.

Sotie- The word comes from ”sot” which means “fools.” These are short satirical plays made up of fools who made observations on contemporary events. Popular in France during their Renaissance.

Stock Characters:

-Pantalone- A form of Commedia dell’arte stock character. A miser, a letch, a dirty old woman.

-Il Dottore- Another stock character: often a friend of the Pantalone, a gossip. A doctor, or professional of some kind.

-Harlequin- Another stock character: a servant who knows more than the master.

Sturm and Drang- German theatre was changed radically by the romantic movement known as Sturm and Drang, which translates to “Storm and Stress.” It idolized Shakespeare, and dismissed the neo-classical dramatic unities. Goethe’s Faust is a good example; the story is a romantic tribute to the human spirit.

Subplot- A secondary plot that is intertwined with the main plot.

Subtext- Implicit meaning under the surface of a play.

Suspension of Disbelief- The audiences willingness to accept the artificial world of the play.

Symbolism- A device where an object, event, or action is used to suggest a meaning beyond its literal .

Three Unities- Neo-classicist principle: Unity of Time, Place, and Action.

-Unity of Time- Play must take place within a twenty-four hour period of time.

-Unity of Place- Play should be in one location, or in locations that could easily be reached within the unity of time.

-Unity of Action- Play should have one main action and be either Comedy or Tragedy.

Tragedy- A dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction.

The Well-Made Play- Adheres to strict technical principles. It used conventional romantic conflicts and standard plot contrivances. In 1825, this was the theatrical norm.




1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Audry Musha
    Sep 10 2018




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