Lecture Notes

Even though certain elements have characterized theatre since its

beginning, no one can seem to agree what constitutes good drama. The only judgment of value relates to how well the playwright succeeds in transferring a vision to paper and how well the written script translates into a production. And even this is subjective.


A Theory of Drama


A script is the bare outline from which theatre artists begin their work. All plays reflect the perspective of the playwright.


Aristotle describes tragedy as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. The action of the play should demonstrate a clear cause-and-effect relationship.


The Elements of Drama


A playwright works with a certain structure, within which he or she is free to experiment and find new methodologies and ways to present new concepts.


Aristotle described six elements as essential for tragedy: plot, character, thought, dialogue, melody, and spectacle.


Theatre is made up of symbols that approximate life.



Aesthetic Distance


Aesthetic distance allows us to detach ourselves from the actions of the actors onstage and appreciate the beauty of a production without feel­ing responsible for the well being of the characters being portrayed.


Theatre Conventions


Theatre is built on conventions used by the theatre artists to tell a story.


Theatre depends on the audience’s willingness to suspend their disbe­lief and accept the illusion of reality as presented on the stage.


Conventions imply meaning in a theatrical production.


Acting conventions, such as projection, aid the audience in interpreting the message of the play.


Playwrights use conventions such as soliloquies, asides, monologues, and flashbacks to help the characters present the exposition or background information needed to advance the plot.


A soliloquy shows a character thinking aloud, revealing innermost thought, in much the same way we talk to ourselves.


A monologue is a long speech delivered either to the audience or to the other Characters.


A flashback is a scene that occurred in the past, before the play’s opening scene.


The environment in which the action takes place onstage is a conven­tion. The sets, properties, and costumes are artificial, but they are part of what the audience accepts and they contribute to the effectiveness of the play.


Theatre goers are willing to accept any character once a framework or a world has been established in which they can exist. Only when the author deviates from that framework does a play and it’s characters become unbelievable.


The time on stage progresses faster than it does in real life, Dramatic time as opposed to chronological time, refers to the amount of time represented by a play; an hour onstage may represent any amount of actual time. Although more time usually is represented as having passed than the actual time it takes to present a play.



Additional Information


1. Aristotle (384—322 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher and scientist whose Poetics analyzes the function and structural principles of tragedy (a sec­ond book, written on comedy, is lost). Aristotle argues that tragedy rep­resents serious action and arouses tenor and pity, leaving the spectator purged and strengthened. Although his works are often quoted, various societies have misunderstood or misinterpreted his theories.


2.     The protagonist was the chief, and at first the only, actor in Greek tragedy (he was originally the leader of the dithyrambs). Contemporary scholars use the term protagonist to mean the character whose choices move the play forward.