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hat Are the Elements of Drama
By: Jenney Cheever
Artistotle set down the elements of drama more than 2,000 years ago. Some of these elements are
still in use today, along with a few new ones that help define modern drama.
Essential elements of drama are present in any play that you see. Aristotle was the first to write
about these essential elements, more than two thousand years ago. While ideas have changed
slightly over the years, we still discuss Aristotle's list when talking about what makes the best
Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama
Aristotle considered these six things to be essential to good drama.
Plot: This is what happens in the play. Plot refers to the action; the basic storyline of the
Theme: While plot refers to the action of the play, theme refers to the meaning of the
play. Theme is the main idea or lesson to be learned from the play. In some cases, the
theme of a play is obvious; other times it is quite subtle.
Characters: Characters are the people (sometimes animals or ideas) portrayed by the
actors in the play. It is the characters who move the action, or plot, of the play forward.
Dialogue: This refers to the words written by the playwright and spoken by the
characters in the play. The dialogue helps move the action of the play along.
Music/Rhythm: While music is often featured in drama, in this case Aristotle was
referring to the rhythm of the actors' voices as they speak.
Spectacle: This refers to the visual elements of a play: sets, costumes, special effects, etc.
Spectacle is everything that the audience sees as they watch the play.
In modern theater, this list has changed slightly, although you will notice that many of the
elements remain the same. The list of essential elements in modern theater are:
The first four, character, plot, theme and dialogue remain the same, but the following additions
are now also considered essential elements of drama.
Convention: These are the techniques and methods used by the playwright and director
to create the desired stylistic effect.
Genre: Genre refers to the type of play. Some examples of different genres include,
comedy, tragedy, mystery and historical play.
Audience: This is the group of people who watch the play. Many playwrights and actors
consider the audience to be the most important element of drama, as all of the effort put
in to writing and producing a play is for the enjoyment of the audience.
Drama on stage often reflects the drama of everyday life, but (just like other forms of
literature and art) it concentrates life, focuses it, and holds it up for examination. Since plays
are written with the intention of performance, the reader of the play must use her
imagination to enact the play as she reads it. Readers of the play need to imagine not just
feelings or a flow of action, but how the action and the characters look in a theater, on a
stage, before a live audience.
The fact of a live audience also has an important impact on the way plays are created. The
essential feature of an audience involves the fact that they have, at a single instant, a
common experience; they have assembled for the explicit purpose of seeing a play. Drama
not only plays before a live audience of real people who respond directly and immediately
to it, but drama is also conceived by the author with the expectation of a specific response.
Authors calculate for the effect of a community of watchers rather than for the silent
response. With this in mind, most plays written deal with topics that are timely.
Dialogue provides the substance of a play. Each word uttered by the character furthers the
business of the play, contributes to its effect as a whole. Therefore, a sense of DECORUM
must be established by the characters, i.e., what is said is appropriate to the role and
situation of a character. Also the exposition of the play often falls on the dialogue of the
characters. Remember exposition establishes the relationships, tensions or conflicts from
which later plot developments derive.
The interest generated by the plot varies for different kinds of plays. (See fiction elements
on plot for more information regarding plot.) The plot is usually structured with acts and
Open conflict plays: rely on the suspense of a struggle in which the hero, through perhaps
fight a against all odds, is not doomed.
Dramatic thesis: foreshadowing, in the form of ominous hints or symbolic incidents,
conditions the audience to expect certain logical developments.
Coincidence: sudden reversal of fortune plays depict climatic ironies or misunderstandings.
Dramatic irony: the fulfillment of a plan, action, or expectation in a surprising way, often
opposite of what was intended.
The stage creates its effects in spite of, and in part because of, definite physical limitations.
Setting and action tend to be suggestive rather than panoramic or colossal. Both setting and
action may be little more than hints for the spectator to fill out.
The means the playwright employs are determined at least in part by dramatic convention.
Greek: Playwrights of the this era often worked with familiar story material, legend about
gods and famous families that the audience was familiar with. Since the audience was
familiar with certain aspects of these, the playwrights used allusion rather than explicit
exposition. In representing action, they often relied on messengers to report off-stage
action. For interpretation the Greeks relied on the CHORUS, a body of onlookers, usually
citizens or elders, whose comments on the play reflected reactions common to the
community. These plays were written in metered verse arranged in elaborate stanzas. This
required intense attention from the audience.
English Drama: Minor characters play an important role in providing information and
guiding interpretation. The confidant, a friend or servant, listens to the complaints, plans
and reminiscences of a major character. Minor characters casually comment among
themselves on major characters and plot development. Extended SOLILOQUY enables a
major character to reveal his thoughts in much greater detail than in natural dialogue.
ASIDES, remarks made to the audience but not heard by those on the stage, are common.
Realism: Toward the end of the nineteenth century, realistic depiction of everyday life
entered the genre of drama, whereas the characters may be unconventional and their
thoughts turbulent and fantasy-ridden.
Contemporary: Experimentation seems to be the key word here. A NARRATOR replaces the
messenger, the chorus and the confidant. FLASHBACKS often substitute for narration.
Many contemporary playwrights have abandoned recognizable setting, chronological
sequence and characterization through dialogue.
Just a there are various types of novels, i.e., western, romance, science fiction, there are
different genres of plays. While it is difficult at times to place many latter day plays into a
specific genre, seeing the attributes will enable the reader to understand the particular play
Tragedy: In classic tragedy and the modern problem play, tragedy is a play in which a
central character faces, and is finally defeated by, some overwhelming threat or disaster.
The hero or heroine is an active participant in the event through a tragic flaw, a shortcoming
A toolbox for diagnosing problems with performance
The elements of drama provide a useful checklist for students and teachers working on student performance.
As the elements are the building blocks of a performance, teachers will find it invaluable to focus on each of
them when diagnosing problems with a performance. When students become skilled and confident with the
use of the elements of drama, the facilitator has a ready reference point to work from. As students continue
working with the elements, they will begin to refer to them in their reflection and the development of their
own performance work.
In a successful performance the focus will be clear, tension will be thoughtfully manipulated and managed.
This will contribute to the successful creation of an appropriate atmosphere or mood. Actors, props and sets
will be organised in the space in a way that is aesthetically appropriate and creates meaning. Roles will be
sustained in a convincing and appropriate way. Devices like contrast and symbol are also central to the
development of a performance.
The following exercises may assist students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their piece by using
and understanding the elements of drama in an active way. By using the elements, students can develop the
skills needed in a successful performance.
“The frame that directs attention to what is most significant and intensifies the dramatic meaning”.
A strong performance piece will have a clear intent which influences the performers’ motivation and channels
the attention of the audience. In other words the piece has a clear focus which determines the focus of the
character and actor and directs the focus of the audience.
There are 4 closely related areas of focus:
1. the focus of the scene
2. the focus of the audience
3. the focus of the character
4. the focus of the actor.
To simply demonstrate the concept of focus and tension, the class observes three mini-performances, then
discusses and compares them.
(a) Two people walking around the acting space.
(b) Two people searching in the acting space for a pen.
(c) Two people searching for a bomb in the acting space, time limit 20 seconds, defuse by count of 4.
The second performance has a focus; the third has heightened tension.
Activities to develop the focus of the actor/student
(a) The whole group move in the working space.
An object thrown onto the floor alternatively repels then attracts them, providing a whole-group focus.
(b) The whole group point to a corner above their heads and move towards it purposefully.
Repeat, focusing attention without finger point.
Walk away from the corner with the focus remaining behind them.
Extract from Curriculum Support for teaching in Creative Arts 7-12 Vol 5 No 1 2000
(c) “Nectar of the gods” or “dungeons”.
This creeping up game may be played as a tribe retrieving the nectar of life or prisoners escaping the
dungeon. One person stands at one end of the room with the “key” or the “nectar” on the floor at feet.
When he or she turns his or her back the rest of the group creep up to get the “key” or “nectar”. Anyone
seen moving must return to the start. The group use tactics to pass the object back to the start which sets
them free or empowers the tribe. Variations of this sort of game requiring a freeze help to develop focus.
(d) Group counting 1-21.
Anyone may call out a number at any time in an attempt to reach 21 without an overlap of voices.
(e) Group clap.
The aim is to clap as a group simultaneously without a signal. Anyone may initiate the move.
(f) “Edelweiss clap.”
Group stand in a circle with right hand facing up at right side and left hand facing down at left side. A clap
is passed around the circle from hand to hand.
(g) “Ray gun”.
An initial ray gunner is nominated. When the person touches another, he/she is hit by the ray gun. The ray
gunner points to a person and moves to touch. The victim must call someone else’s name before being
touched to save his/her life. The named person becomes the new ray gunner.
“The force that engages the performers and audience in the dramatic action”.
Every performance contains the element of tension. In the first activity on focus, where actors wandered in
the space, the tension was very low. The second performance, searching for a pen, raised the tension slightly
and the third, searching for a bomb, heightened the tension.
To demonstrate and define tension:
(a) String tension
Two people play a scene. A string is stretched across the front of the space. When it is tight they play the
scene with high tension; when it is loose they play with low tension.
e.g. a doctor presents results of test
student in principal’s office
opening a birthday present
grocery shopping with kids.
(b) Jewel thief and security guard (introduces concept of dramatic tension)
Group form protective circle around two blindfolded performers.
One is a thief searching for jewels; the other is the security guard attempting to capture him.
“The personal and general space used by the actors. It focuses on the meaning of the size and shape of
distances between actor and actor, actor and objects (props and sets) and actor and audience.”
To demonstrate and define the element:
(a) Build some statues of frozen moments e.g. “Don’t speak to your mother like that!”
Discuss: “What is the focus of this scene?”, “How do we know?”
Remove facial expression and gestures.
(b) Discuss: “How does the space between the people and the objects on the stage convey meaning?”
Demonstrate the power of the space to carry meaning by moving people around without altering their
gestures or expression.
In small groups build a statue which indicates status and relationships through the use of “space”, e.g. a
family, a court, a gang, an argument, a peace treaty.
Extract from Curriculum Support for teaching in Creative Arts 7-12 Vol 5 No 1 2000
“The atmosphere created. Mood concentrates the dramatic action and moves the audience in emotionally
To demonstrate and define mood:
(a) Form small groups. Listen to an allocated piece of music. Select some scarves from the props box which
reflect the mood, atmosphere or feelings created by the music.
(b) Develop 3 freeze frame statues which capture this mood. Find a way to move from one freeze frame to
the next, using the scarves to emphasise the mood. Punctuate the movement by occasionally calling out
a word which reflects the mood that you are working on.
“The use of difference to create dramatic meaning.”
Contrast is an effective means to emphasise, heighten or intensify. Contrasting colours stand out on the
stage. Contrasting sizes, shapes and sounds draw attention.
To demonstrate and define contrast:
(a) From the previous exercise select two pieces of music which you feel offer a useful contrast, to create
either a serious or humorous effect. Mime a scene which illustrates this contrast.
(b) Explore the effect of improvising with characters who have contrasting characteristics e.g. fat/thin, loud/
soft, rough/gentle, tall/short, fast/slow,
The contrast exaggerates the feature, throwing emphasis on it.
“The use of objects, gestures or persons to represent meaning beyond the literal.”
Every culture has developed an elaborate series of signals where objects are endowed with meaning. It is
possible to signal complex ideas through commonly recognised symbols.
To demonstrate and define symbols:
Work in pairs. Select an object from a collection of symbols; develop a brief scene which relies on the
symbolic strength of the object to convey meaning, e.g. rose, heart, flag, treasure chest, suitcase, lipstick
on collar, walking stick, pipe, dove, teddy bear, cross, stethoscope, heart, skull, peace sign, ring, broken
doll, sunset, infinity. Gestures: handshake, salute, turned back.
Taking on a role requires performers to accept the physicality, attitudes and beliefs of the characters they are
playing. Laban movement exercises provide an excellent springboard for developing the physicality of character.
A range of exercises to develop skill in other aspects of role may be found in Dramawise by Haseman and
As students become familiar with each of these elements and devices, they are better able to identify for
themselves the areas of their work which need attention. It is often helpful to step away from the performance
briefly and revisit key elements in order to see the work afresh.
Teachers can use the elements as a checklist as they observe and provide students with meaningful feedback
on their performance work.
District Creative Arts Consultant
Extract from Curriculum Support for teaching in Creative Arts 7-12 Vol 5 No 1 2000
Most simply a character is one of the persons who appears in the play, one of the dramatis personae
(literally, the persons of the play). In another sense of the term, the treatment of the character is the basic
part of the playwright's work. Conventions of the period and the author's personal vision will affect the
treatment of character.
Most plays contain major characters and minor characters. The delineation and development of major
characters is essential to the play; the conflict between Hamlet and Claudius depends upon the character
of each. A minor character like Marcellus serves a specific function, to inform Hamlet of the appearance
of his father's ghost. Once, that is done, he can depart in peace, for we need not know what sort of
person he is or what happens to him. The distinction between major and minor characters is one of
degree, as the character of Horatio might illustrate.
The distinction between heroes (or heroines) and villains, between good guys and bad guys, between
virtue and vice is useful in dealing with certain types of plays, but in many modern plays (and some not so
modern) it is difficult to make. Is Gregers Werle in The Wild Duck, for example, a hero or a villain?
Another common term in drama is protagonist. Etymologically, it means the first contestant. In the Greek
drama, where the term arose, all the parts were played by one, two, or three actors (the more actors, the
later the play), and the best actor, who got the principal part(s), was the protagonist. The second best
actor was called the euteragonist. Ideally, the term "protagonist" should be used only for the principal
character. Several other characters can be defined by their relation to the protagonist. The antagonist is
his principal rival in the conflict set forth in the play. A foil is a character who defines certain
characteristics in the protagonist by exhibiting opposite traits or the same traits in a greater or lesser
degree. A confidant(e) provides a ready ear to which the protagonist can address certain remarks which
should be heard by the audience but not by the other characters. In Hamlet, for example, Hamlet is the
protagonist, Claudius the antagonist, Laertes and Fortinbras foils (observe the way in which each goes
about avenging the death or loss of property of his father), and Horatio the confidant.
Certain writers-- for example, Moliere and Pirandello--use a character type called the raisonneur, whose
comments express the voice of reason and also, presumably, of the author. Philinte and the Father are
examples of the raisonneur.
Another type of character is the stereotype or stock character, a character who reappears in various
forms in many plays. Comedy is particularly a fruitful source of such figures, including the miles gloriosus
or boastful soldier (a man who claims great valor but proves to be a coward when tested), the irascible
old man (the source of elements in the character of Polonius), the witty servant, the coquette, the prude,
the fop, and others. A stock character from another genre is the revenger of Renaissance tragedy. The
role of Hamlet demonstrates how such a stereotype is modified by an author to create a great role,
combining the stock elements with individual ones.
Sometimes group of actors work together over a long period in relatively stable companies. In such a
situation, individual members of the group develop expertise in roles of a certain type, such as leading
man and leading lady (those who play the principal parts), juveniles or ingénues of both sexes (those who
specialize as young people), character actors (those who perform mature or eccentric types), and heavies
The commedia dell'arte, a popular form of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, employed actors
who had standard lines of business and improvised the particular action in terms of their established
characters and a sketchy outline of a plot. Frequently, Pantalone, an older man, generally a physician,
was married to a young woman named Columbine. Her lover, Harlequin, was not only younger and more
handsome than her husband but also more vigorous sexually. Pantalone's servants, Brighella,
Truffaldino, and others, were employed in frustrating or assisting either the lovers in their meetings or the
husband in discovering them.
A group of actors who function as a unit, called a chorus, was a characteristic feature of the Greek
tragedy. The members of the chorus shared a common identity, such as Asian Bacchantes or old men of
Thebes. The choragos (leader of the chorus) sometimes spoke and acted separately. In some of the
plays, the chorus participated directly in the action; in others they were restricted in observing the action
and commenting on it. The chorus also separated the individual sins by singing and dancing choral odes,
though just what the singing and dancing were like is uncertain. The odes were in strict metrical patterns;
sometimes they were direct comments on the action and characters, and at other times they were more
general statements and judgments. A chorus in Greek fashion is not common in later plays, although
there are instances such as T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, in which the Women of Canterbury serve
as a chorus.
On occasion a single actor may perform the function of a chorus, as do the aptly named Chorus in
Shakespeare's Henry V and the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Alfieri in the View from
the Bridge functions both as a chorus and a minor character in the action of the play.
The Norton Introduction to Literature (Combined Shorter Edition) Edited by Carl E. Bain, Jerome Beaty &
J. Paul Hunter Copyright 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and published simultaneously in
Canada by Goerge J. McLeod Limited, Toronto
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by: Eduardo M. Tajonera Jr.
The interest generated by the plot varies for different kinds of plays. (See fiction elements on plot for more
information regarding plot.) The plot is usually structured with acts and scenes.
Open conflict plays: rely on the suspense of a struggle in which the hero, through perhaps fight against all
odds, is not doomed. Dramatic thesis: foreshadowing, in the form of ominous hints or symbolic incidents,
conditions the audience to expect certain logical developments. Coincidence: sudden reversal of fortune
plays depict climatic ironies or misunderstandings. Dramatic irony: the fulfillment of a plan, action, or
expectation in a surprising way, often opposite of what was intended.
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The plot has been called the body of a play and the theme has been called its soul. Most plays have a
conflict of some kind between individuals, between man and society, man and some superior force or
man and h imself. The events that this conflict provokes make up the plot. One of the first items of interest
is the playwrightrquote s treatment of the plot and what them he would draw from it. The same plots have
been and will be used many times; it is the treatment that supplies each effort with originality or artistic
worth. Shakespeare is said to have borrowed all but one of his stories, but he presented them so much
better than any of the previous authors that he is not seriously criticized for the borrowing. Th e treatment
of theme is equally varied.
The same theme or story may be given a very serious or a very light touch. It may be a severe indictment
or a tongue-in- cheek attack. It could point up a great lesson or show the same situation as a handicap to
progress. The personality, background an d social or artistic temperament of the playwright are
responsible for the treatment that he gives to his story or theme. We must, therefore, both understand
and evaluate these factors.
To endure, a play should have a theme. It is sometimes suggested in the title as in Loyalties, Justice, or
Strife, You can't Take It With You, or The Physician in Spite of Himself. At other times it is found in the
play itself, as in Craig's Wife when the aunt says to Mrs. Craig, "People who live to themselves are often
left to themselves." Sometimes theme is less obvious, necessitating closer study.
If a play has a theme, we should be able to state it in general terms and in a single sentence, even at the
risk of oversimplification. The theme of Hamlet is usually stated as the failure of a youth of poetic
temperament to cope with circumstances that demand action. The theme of Macbeth is that too much
ambition leads to destruction; a Streetcar Named Desire, that he who strives hardes t to find happiness
oftentimes finds the least; and of Green pastures, that even God must change with the universe.
Of course the theme, no matter how fully stated, is not the equivalent of the play. The play is a complex
experience, and one must remain open to its manifold suggestions.
As indicated above, the statement of the play in specific terms is the plot presented. Plot and theme
should go hand in hand. If the theme is one of nobility, or dignity, the plot must concern events and
characters that measure up to that theme. As we a nalyze many plays, we find that some posses an
excellent theme, but are supported by an inconsequential plot. One famous play of this nature, Abie's
Irish Rose, held the stage for many years. The theme said: Difference of r eligion need not hinder a happy
marriage. The plot was so thin and both characters and situation so stereotyped, that justice was not
done to the theme. This weakness was most obvious in the play's revival after twenty years.
Examples of the frequent fault of superior plot and little or no theme come to us in much of the work of our
current playwrights. Known for their cleverness in phrasing and timing, and their original extremely witty
conceptions, these plays are often ver y successful. More often than not, however, they are utterly lacking
in a theme or truth that will withstand more than momentary analysis. They are delightful but ephemeral.
An audience believes them only while watching in the theatre. Consequently, the author, although now
among ou r most popular, will not endure as artists, nor are their plays likely to be revived a hundred
years hence. They but emphasize more strongly the axiom that a good plot or conflict is needed for
transitory success, but a great theme is more likely to assu re a play a long life.
Wright, E.A. (1969). A PRIMER FOR PLAYGOERS. Englewood Cliffs; PRENTICE-HALL, INC., pp.156-
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Dialogue provides the substance of a play. Each word uttered by the character furthers the business of
the play, contributes to its effect as a whole. Therefore, a sense of DECORUM must be established by
the characters, ie., what is said is appropriate to the role and situation of a character. Also the exposition
of the play often falls on the dialogue of the characters. Remember exposition establishes the
relationships, tensions or conflicts from which later plot developments derive.
Any artificial picture of life must start from the detail of actuality. An audience must be able to recognize it;
however changed; we want to check it against experience. Death for exampl e, is something we cannot
know. In every man it is represented as an embodying some of our feelings about it. So Death is partly
humanized, enough, anyway, for us to be able to explore what the dramatist thinks about it.
Conversely, the detail of actuality in realistic drama can be chosen and presented in such a way as to
suggest that it stands for more on the stage than it would in life. The Cherry Orchard family, in the
excitement of their departure, overlook s their old servant Firs. Placed with striking force at the end of the
play, this trivial accident becomes an incisive and major comment on everything the family has done.
So it is dramatic speech. A snatch of phase caught in everyday conversation may mean little, Used by an
actor on a stage, it can assume general and typical qualities. The context into which it is put can make it
pull more than its conversation al weight, no matter how simple words. Consider Othellorquote s bare
repetition: 'Put out the light, end then put out the light.' In its context the repetition prefigures precisely the
comparison Shakespeare is about to make between the lam Othello is holding and Desdemona's life and
being. Its heavy rhythm suggests the strained tone and obsessed mood of the man, and an almost
priestlike attitude behind the twin motions. We begin to see the murder of Desdemona in the larger
general terms of a ritualistic sacrifice. Poetry is made of words, which can be in use in more prosaic ways;
dramatic speech, with its basis in ordinary co nversation, is speech that has had a specific pressure put
Why do words begin to assume general qualities, and why do they become dramatic? Here are two
problems on either side of the same coin. The words in both cases depend upon the kind of attention we
give them. The artist using them, whether aut hor or actors, force them upon us, and in a variety of ways
try to fix the quality of our attention.
If dialogue carefully follows the way we speak in life, as it is likely to go i n a naturalistic play, the first step
towards understanding how it departs from actuality can be awkward. It is helpful to cease to submit the
pretence for the moment. An apparent reproduction of ordinary conversation will be, in good drama, a
constructio n of word setup to do many jobs that are not immediately obvious. Professor Erick Bently has
written of Ibsen's 'opaque, uninviting sentences' :
An ibsenite sentence often performs four or five function at once. It shed light on the character spo ken
about, it furthers the plot; it functions ironically is conveying to the audience a meaning different from that
conveyed to the characters.
It is true that conversation itself can sometimes be taken to do this thing. 'Whatever you think. I'm going to
tell him what you said.' is a remark which in its context can shed light on the speaker, the person spoken
to and the spoken about. For a fourth person listening, as spectator witnesses a play, there may also be
an element of that mean something only to himself as observer. In the play the difference lies first in an
insistence that the words go somewhere, move towards a predetermined end. It lies in a charge of
meaning that will advance the action.
This is argued in a statement in Strindberg's manifesto for the naturalistic theatre. He says of his
characters that he has 'permitted he minds to work irregularly as they do in reality, where, during
conversation, the cogs of mind seem more or less haphazardly to engage those of another one, an where
no topic is fully exhausted.' But he adds that. While the dialogue seems to stray a good deal in the
opening scenes, lquote it acquires a material that later on is worked over, picked up again repeated,
expounded, and built up the theme in a musical composition.'
It is a question of economy. The desultory and clumsy talk of real life, with its interruptions, overlapping, in
decisions and repetitions, talk without direction, wastes our interestemdash unless, like the chatter given
to Jane Austenrquote s Miss Bates, it hides relevance in irrelevance. It follows the dialogue which the wit
and vitality in Shaw's dialogue yet ignore the question of its relevance to the action.
When the actor examines the text to prepare his part, he looks for what makes the words different from
conversation, that is he looks for the structural elements of the building, for links of characteristic thought
in the character, and so on . He persists till he has shaped in his mind a firm and workable pattern of his
part. Now the clues sought by the actor hidden beneath the surface of the dialogue are the playgoer's
guides too. The actor and producer Stanislavsky have called these clues the 'subtext' of a play.
The subtext is a web of innumerable, varied inner patterns inside a play and a part, woven from 'magic ifs'
, given circumstances, all sorts of figments of the imagination, inner movements, objects of attention,
smaller and greater truths and a belief in them, adaptations, adjustmen ts and other similar elements. It is
subtext that makes us say the words we do in a play.
And in another place he says that 'the whole text of the play will be accompanied by a sub textual stream
of images, like a moving picture constantly thrown on the screen of our inner vision, to guide us as we
speak and act on the stage.' Once we admit that the words must propose and substantiate the
playrquote s meaning, we shall find in them more and more of the author's wishes.
For dramat ic dialogue has other work to do before it provides a table of words to be spoken. In the
absence of the author it must provide a set of unwritten working directives to the actor on how to speak its
speeches. And before that, it has to teach him how to think and feel them: the particularly of a play
requires this if is not to be animated by a series of cardboard stereotypes.
Dramatic dialogue works by a number of instinctively agreed codes. Some tell the producer how to
arrange the figures on the stage. Others tell him what he should hear as the pattern of sound echoing and
contradicting, changing tone, rising and falling. These are directives strongly compelling him to hear the
key in which a scene should be played, and the tone and temp of the melody. Others oblige him to start
particular rhythmic movements of emotion flowing between the stage and the audience. He is th en left to
marry the colour and shape of the stage picture with the music he finds recorded in the text.
Good dialogue works like this and throws out a 'substextual stream of images'; Even if the limits within
which these effects work are narrow, even if the effect lies in the barest or simplest of speeches, we may
expect to hear the text humming the tune as it cannot in real life. Dialogue should be read and heard as a
The Elements of Drama by J.L. Styan
Cambridge University Press 1960
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The means the playwright employs are determined at least in part by dramatic convention. Greek:
Playwrights of this era often worked with familiar story material, legend about gods and famous families
that the audience was familiar with. Since the audience was familiar with certain aspects of these, the
playwrights used allusion rather than explicit exposition. In representing action, they often relied on
messengers to report off-stage action. For interpretation the Greeks relied on the CHORUS, a body of
onlookers, usually citizens or elders, whose comments on the play reflected reactions common to the
community. These plays were written in metered verse arranged in elaborate stanzas. This required
intense attention from the audience. English Drama: Minor chara cters play an important role in providing
information and guiding interpretation. The confidant, a friend or servant, listens to the complaints, plans
and reminiscences of a major character. Minor characters casually comment among themselves on major
characters and plot development. Extended SOLILOQUY enables a major character to reveal his
thoughts in much greater detail than in natural dialogue. ASIDES, remarks made to the audience but not
heard by those on the stage, are common. Realism: Toward the end of the nineteenth century, realistic
depiction of everyday life entered the genre of drama, whereas the characters may be unconventional
and their thoughts turbulent and fantasy-ridden. Contemporary: Experimentation seems to be the key
word here. A NARRATOR replaces the messenger, the chorus and the confidant. FLASHBACKS often
substitute for narration. Many contemporary playwrights have abandoned recognizable setting,
chronological sequence and characterization through dialogue.
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Genre is a term that describes works of literature according to their shared thematic or structural
characteristics. The attempt to classify literature in this way was initiated by Aristotle in the Poetics, where
he distinguishes tragedy, epic, and comedy and recognizes even more fundamental distinctions between
drama, epic, and lyric poetry. Classical genre theory, established by Aristotle and reinforced by Horace, is
regulative and prescriptive, attempting to maintain rigid boundaries that correspond to social differences.
Thus, tragedy and epic are concerned exclusively with the affairs of the nobility, comedy with the middle
or lower classes.
Modern literary criticism, on the other hand, does not regard genres as dogmatic categories, but rather as
aesthetic conventions that guide, but are also led by, writers. The unstable nature of genres does not
reduce their effectiveness as tools of critical inquiry, which attempts to discover universal attributes
among individual works, and has, since classical times, evolved theories of the novel, ode, elegy,
pastoral, satire, and many other kinds of writing.
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Manuel L. Ortiz
It is the act or chance of hearing; a reception by a great person; the person to hear.
Playhouse, script, actors, mise en scene, audience are inseparable parts of the theatre. The concept of
drama put forward in this book insists that the audience have an indispensable role to play. While
Stanislavsky is right in saying that 'spectator come to the theatre to hear the subtext. They can read the
text at home; he is speaking as a man of the nineteenth century. We do not go to the play merely to have
the text interpreted and explained by the skills of the director and his actor. We do not go as in a learning
situation, but to share in a partnership without which the players cannot work. In his Reflaxions sur l; art,
valery believed that a creator is one who makes other create': in art both the artist and the spectator
actively cooperate, and the value of the work is dependent on this reciprocity. If in the theatre there is no
interaction between stage and audience, the play is dead, bad or non-existent: the audience, like the
customer, is always right.
Every man, women, or child who has expressed an opinion concerning a dramatic performance has, in a
sense, proclaim himself to be a critic. Whether his reaction has been good or bad, his opinion will have
some effect on the thinking of those who have heard or read his comment, and what have been said will
become a part of the production's history. The statement may have been inadvertent, biased, unfair,
without thought or foundation, but once spoken or repeated, it cease to be just an opinion and is accepted
as a fact. Who has not heard, accepted, repeated, and been affected by such generalization as: "They
say its terrible!" or " They say its terrific!"
Another type of critic is the more powerful and frequently only slightly more qualified, individual who is-
often for strange and irrelevant reasons-assigned to cover an opening for the school or community paper.
He may be completely lacking in the knowledge required of even a beginner in dramatic criticisms, but,
again, "Anyone can write up a play." Yet the power of the written words takes over, and what this novice
write becomes the accepted authority for many. The hundreds of hour of work by the many persons
involved in the production, their personal sacrifices, and their pride in their work-to say nothing of the
financial outlay involved-far too often are condemned or praised for the wrong reasons or for logical
reason at all. As a further injustice, what the critic has written, although it is just a single opinion, becomes
the only record of the production and so catalogs the event of the future.
It is doubtful if any other business or art is so much a victim of inept, untrained, illogical, and undeserved
criticism as is a dramatic performance. Whether the remarks have grown out of prejudice, meager
knowledge of the theatre, lack of understanding or sensitivity, momentary admiration or dislike foe some
individual participant, a poor dinner or disposition, an auditorium too hot or too cold, or any of a hundred
incidents that could occurred during the production itself does not matter. Those whose effort are being
discussed can console themselves only with the fact that criticism-good or bad-is much easier than
creation or craftsmanship for the same reason that the work is harder than talk.
Having been a part of the theatre-professional, community, and educational-for more than four decades,
we are well aware that criticism of the critics is frequently heard, and that this criticism includes those who
write the drama section for the national magazine or the large daily newspaper report on the opening
night. This is inevitable, for total agreement on any phase of the theatre is impossible. We live in a world
with out laws of logic or mathematical formulas to guide us. There are no yardsticks that will give us all
the same answer, but there are yardsticks that should be familiar to all of us. In this paper we propose to
present and to discuss some of these criteria. If the amateur critics just referred to had been familiar with
some basic dramatic principles and had used them honestly, there would be a greater feeling that justice
had been done. Any intelligent theatre person knows that each member of the audience views what is
before him with different eyes and so sees something different from his neighbor. How each member
reacts will be determined by education, age, experience, nationality, maturity, background, temperament,
heredity, environment, the rest of the audience, the weather, what he has done or eaten in the past few
hours, or his plans for after the performance. This list of imponderable could go indefinitely. Furthermore,
if agreement on any one aspect of a given performance is impossible, then agreement is even more
hopeless if different performances of the same play, in the same theatre, and with the same cast, are
under discussion; for a different audience makes for a different production.
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Eduardo M. Tajonera Jr
The stage creates its effects in spite of, and in part because of, definite physical limitations. Setting and
action tend to be suggestive rather than panoramic or colossal. Both setting and action may be little more
than hints for the spectator to fill out.
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Theater can also be discussed in terms of the type of space in which it is produced. Stages and
auditoriums have had distinctive forms in every era and in different cultures. New theaters today tend to
be flexible and eclectic in design, incorporating elements of several styles; they are known as multiple-
use or multiple-form theaters.
A performance, however, need not occur in an architectural structure designed as a theater, or even in a
building. The English director Peter Brook talks of creating theater in an "empty space." Many earlier
forms of theater were performed in the streets, open spaces, market squares, churches, or rooms or
buildings not intended for use as theaters. Much contemporary experimental theater rejects the formal
constraints of available theaters and seeks more unusual spaces. In all these "found" theaters, the sense
of stage and auditorium is created by the actions of the performers and the natural features of the space.
Throughout history, however, most theaters have employed one of three types of stage: end, thrust, and
arena. An end stage is a raised platform facing the assembled audience. Frequently, it is placed at one
end of a rectangular space. The simplest version of the end stage is the booth or trestle stage, a raised
stage with a curtained backdrop and perhaps an awning. This was the stage of the Greek and Roman
mimes, the mountebanks and wandering entertainers of the Middle Ages, commedia dell'arte, and
popular entertainers into the 20th century. It probably formed the basis of Greek tragic theater and
Elizabethan theater as well.
The Proscenium Theater
Since the Renaissance, Western theater has been dominated by an end stage variant called the
proscenium theater. The proscenium is the wall separating the stage from the auditorium. The
proscenium arch, which may take several shapes, is the opening in that wall through which the audience
views the performance. A curtain that either rises or opens to the sides may hang in this space. The
proscenium developed in response to the desire to mask scenery, hide scene-changing machinery, and
create an offstage space for performers' exits and entrances. The result is to enhance illusion by
eliminating all that is not part of the scene and to encourage the audience to imagine that what they
cannot see is a continuation of what they can see. Because the proscenium is (or appears to be) an
architectural barrier, it creates a sense of distance or separation between the stage and the spectators.
The proscenium arch also frames the stage and consequently is often called a peep-show or picture-
The Thrust Stage
A thrust stage, sometimes known as three-quarter round, is a platform surrounded on three sides by the
audience. This form was used for ancient Greek theater, Elizabethan theater, classical Spanish theater,
English Restoration theater, Japanese and Chinese classical theater, and much of Western theater in the
20th century. A thrust may be backed by a wall or be appended to some sort of end stage. The upstage
end (back of the stage, farthest from the audience) may have scenery and provisions for entrances and
exits, but the thrust itself is usually bare except for a few scenic elements and props. Because no barrier
exists between performers and spectators, the thrust stage generally creates a sense of greater intimacy,
as if the performance were occurring in the midst of the auditorium, while still allowing for illusionistic
effects through the use of the upstage end and adjacent offstage space.
The Arena Stage
The arena stage, or theater-in-the-round, is a performing space totally surrounded by the auditorium. This
arrangement has been tried several times in the 20th century, but its historical precedents are largely in
nondramatic forms such as the circus, and it has limited popularity. The necessity of providing equal sight
lines for all spectators puts special constraints on the type of scenery used and on the movements of the
actors, because at any given time part of the audience will inevitably be viewing a performer's back.
Illusion is more difficult to sustain in arena, since in most setups, entrances and exits must be made in full
view of the audience, eliminating surprise, if nothing else. Nonetheless, arena, when properly used, can
create a sense of intimacy not often possible with other stage arrangements, and, as noted, it is well
suited to many nondramatic forms. Furthermore, because of the different scenic demands of arena
theater, the large backstage areas associated with prosceniums can be eliminated, thus allowing a more
economical use of space.
One variant form of staging is environmental theater, which has precedents in medieval and folk theater
and has been widely used in 20th-century avant-garde theater. It eliminates the single or central stage in
favor of surrounding the spectators or sharing the space with them. Stage space and spectator space
become indistinguishable. Another popular alternative is the free, or flexible, space, sometimes called a
black-box theater because of its most common shape and color. This is an empty space with movable
seating units and stage platforms that can be arranged in any configuration for each performance.
The Fixed Architectural Stage
Most stages are raw spaces that the designer can mold to create any desired effect or location; in
contrast, the architectural stage has permanent features that create a more formal scenic effect. Typically,
ramps, stairs, platforms, archways, and pillars are permanently built into the stage space. Variety in
individual settings may be achieved by adding scenic elements. The Stratford Festival Theater in
Stratford, Ontario, for example, has a permanent "inner stage"-a platform roughly 3.6 m (12 ft) high-jutting
onto the multilevel thrust stage from the upstage wall. Most permanent theaters through the Renaissance,
such as the Teatro Olimpico (1580) in Vicenza, Italy, did not use painted or built scenery but relied on
similar permanent architectural features that could provide the necessary scenic elements. The No and
kabuki stages in Japan are other examples.
Auditoriums in the 20th century are mostly variants on the fan-shaped auditorium built (1876) by the
composer Richard Wagner at his famous opera house in Bayreuth, Germany. These auditoriums are
shaped like a hand-held fan and are usually raked (inclined upward from front to back), with staggered
seats to provide unobstructed sight lines. Such auditoriums may be designed with balconies, and some
theaters, such as opera houses, have boxes-seats in open or partitioned sections along the sidewalls of
the auditorium-a carry-over from baroque theater architecture.
In Europe, one person, frequently called a scenographer, designs sets, costumes, and lights; in the U.S.
these functions are usually handled by three separate professionals. Set design is the arrangement of
theatrical space; the set, or setting, is the visual environment in which a play is performed. Its purpose is
to suggest time and place and to create the proper mood or atmosphere. Settings can generally be
classified as realistic, abstract, suggestive, or functional.
The use and movement of scenery are determined by stage facilities. Relatively standard elements
include trapdoors in the stage floor, elevators that can raise or lower stage sections, wagons (rolling
platforms) on which scenes may be mounted, and cycloramas-curved canvas or plaster backdrops used
as a projection surface or to simulate the sky. Above the stage, especially in a proscenium theater, is the
area known as the fly gallery, where lines for flying-that is, raising-unused scenery from the stage are
manipulated, and which contains counterweight or hydraulic pipes and lengths of wood, or battens, from
which lights and pieces of scenery may be suspended. Other special devices and units can be built as
necessary. Although scene painting seems to be a dying art, modern scene shops are well equipped to
work with plastics, metals, synthetic fabrics, paper, and other new and industrial products that until
recently were not in the realm of theater.
Lighting design, a more ephemeral art, has two functions: to illuminate the stage and the performers and
to create mood and control the focus of the spectators. Stage lighting may be from a direct source such
as the sun or a lamp, or it may be indirect, employing reflected light or general illumination. It has four
controllable properties: intensity, color, placement on the stage, and movement-the visible changing of
the first three properties. These properties are used to achieve visibility, mood, composition (the overall
arrangement of light, shadow, and color), and the revelation of form-the appearance of shape and
dimensionality of a performer or object as determined by light.
Until the Renaissance, almost all performance was outdoors and therefore lit by the sun, but with indoor
performance came the need for lighting instruments. Lighting was first achieved with candles and oil
lamps and, in the 19th century, with gas lamps. Although colored filters, reflectors, and mechanical
dimming devices were used for effects, lighting served primarily to illuminate the stage. By current
standards the stage was fairly dim, which allowed greater illusionism in scenic painting. Gas lighting
facilitated greater control, but only the advent of electric lighting in the late 19th century permitted the
brightness and control presently available. It also allowed the dimming of the house-lights, plunging the
auditorium into darkness for the first time.
Lighting design, however, is not simply aiming the lighting instruments at the stage or bathing the stage in
a general wash of light. Audiences usually expect actors to be easily visible at all times and to appear to
be three-dimensional. This involves the proper angling of instruments, provision of back and side lighting
as well as frontal, and a proper balance of colors. Two basic types of stage-lighting instruments are
employed: floodlights, which illuminate a broad area, and spotlights, which focus light more intensely on a
smaller area. Instruments consist of a light source and a series of lenses and shutters in some sort of
housing. These generally have a power of 500 to 5000 watts. The instruments are hung from battens and
stanchions in front of, over, and at the sides of the stage. In realistic settings, lights may be focused to
simulate the direction of the ostensible source, but even in these instances, performers would appear
two-dimensional without back and side lighting.
Because so-called white light is normally too harsh for most theater purposes, colored filters called gels
are used to soften the light and create a more pleasing effect. White light can be simulated by mixing red,
blue, and green light. Most designers attempt to balance "warm" and "cool" colors to create proper
shadows and textures. Except for special effects, lighting design generally strives to be unobtrusive; just
as in set design, however, the skillful use of color, intensity, and distribution can have a subliminal effect
on the spectators' perceptions.
The lighting designer is often responsible for projections. These include still or moving images that
substitute for or enhance painted and constructed scenery, create special effects such as stars or
moonlight, or provide written legends for the identification of scenes. Images can be projected from the
audience side of the stage onto opaque surfaces, or from the rear of the stage onto specially designed
rear-projection screens. Similar projections are often used on scrims, semitransparent curtains stretched
across the stage. Film and still projection, sometimes referred to as mixed media, was first used
extensively by the German director Erwin Piscator in the 1920s and became very popular in the 1960s.
The lights are controlled by a skilled technician called the electrician, who operates a control or dimmer
board, so called because a series of "dimmers" controls the intensity of each instrument or group of
instruments. The most recent development in lighting technology is the memory board, a computerized
control system that stores the information of each light cue or change of lights. The electrician need no
longer operate each dimmer individually; by pushing one button, all the lights will change automatically to
the preprogrammed intensity and at the desired speed.
A costume is whatever is worn on the performer's body. Costume designers are concerned primarily with
clothing and accessories, but are also often responsible for wigs, masks, and makeup. Costumes convey
information about the character and aid in setting the tone or mood of the production. Because most
acting involves impersonation, most costuming is actual or re-created historical or contemporary dress; as
with scenery, however, costumes may also be suggestive or abstract. Until the 19th century, little
attention was paid to period or regional accuracy; variations on contemporary dress sufficed. Since then,
however, costume designers have paid great attention to authentic period style.
As with the other forms of design, subtle effects can be achieved through choice of color, fabric, cut,
texture, and weight or material. Because costume can indicate such things as social class and personality
traits, and can even simulate such physical attributes as obesity or a deformity, an actor's work can be
significantly eased by its skillful design. Costume can also function as character signature, notably for
such comic characters as Harlequin or the other characters of the commedia dell'arte, Charlie Chaplin's
Little Tramp, or circus clowns.
In much Oriental theater, as in classical Greek theater, costume elements are formalized. Based originally
on everyday dress, the costumes became standardized and were appropriated for the stage. Colors,
designs, and ornamentation all convey meaningful information.
A special element of costume is the mask. Although rarely used in contemporary Western theater, masks
were essential in Greek and Roman drama and the commedia dell'arte and are used in most African and
Oriental theater. The masks of tragedy and of comedy, as used in ancient Greek drama, are in fact the
universal symbols of the theater. Masks obviate the use of the face for expression and communication
and thus render the performer more puppetlike; expression depends solely on voice and gesture.
Because the mask's expression is unchanging, the character's fate or final expression is known from the
beginning, thereby removing one aspect of suspense. The mask shifts focus from the actor to the
character and can thus clarify aspects of theme and plot and give a character a greater universality. Like
costumes, the colors and features of the mask, especially in the Orient, indicate symbolically significant
aspects of the character. In large theaters masks can also aid in visibility.
Makeup may also function as a mask, especially in Oriental theater, where faces may be painted with
elaborate colors and images that exaggerate and distort facial features. In Western theater, makeup is
used for two purposes: to emphasize and reinforce facial features that might otherwise be lost under
bright lights or at a distance and to alter signs of age, skin tone, or nose shape.
The technical aspects of production may be divided into preproduction and run of production.
Preproduction technical work is supervised by the technical director in conjunction with the designers.
Sets, properties (props), and costumes are made during this phase by crews in the theater shops or, in
the case of most commercial theater, in professional studios.
Props are the objects handled by actors or used in dressing the stage-all objects placed or carried on the
set that are not costumes or scenery. Whereas real furniture and hand props can be used in many
productions, props for period shows, nonrealistic productions, and theatrical shows such as circuses must
be built. Like sets, props can be illusionistic-they may be created from papier-mâché or plastic for
lightness, exaggerated in size, irregularly shaped, or designed to appear level on a raked stage; they may
also be capable of being rolled, collapsed, or folded. The person in charge of props is called the props
master or mistress.
Sound and Sound Effects
Sound, if required, is now generally recorded during the preproduction period. From earliest times, most
theatrical performances were accompanied by music that, until recently, was produced by live musicians.
Since the 1930s, however, use of recorded sound has been a possibility in the theater. Although music is
still the most common sound effect, wind, rain, thunder, and animal noises have been essential since the
earliest Greek tragedies. Any sound that cannot be created by a performer may be considered a sound
effect. Such sounds are most often used for realistic effect (for example, a train rushing by or city sounds
outside a window), but they can also assist in the creation of mood or rhythm. Although many sounds can
be recorded from actual sources, certain sounds do not record well and seem false when played through
electronic equipment on a stage. Elaborate mechanical devices are therefore constructed to simulate
these sounds, such as rain or thunder.
Technicians also create special aural and visual effects simulating explosions, fire, lightning, and
apparitions and giving the illusion of moving objects or of flying.
Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.
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Ma. Criselda De Leon
Conversions, closely examined, will be found to fall into two classes: changes of volition, and changes of
sentiment. It was the former class that Dryden had in mind; and, with reference to this class, the principle
he indicates remains a sound one. A change of resolve should never be due to mere lapse of time---to
the necessity for bringing the curtain down and letting the audience go home. It must always be rendered
plausible by some new fact or new motive; some hitherto untried appeal to reason or emotion. This rule,
however, is too obvious to require enforcement. It was not quite superfluous so long as the old convention
of comedy endured. For a century and a half after Dryden's time, hard-hearted parents were apt to
withdraw their opposition to their children's "felicity" for no better reason than that the fifth act was drawing
to a close. But this formula is practically obsolete. Changes of will, on the modern stage, are not always
adequately motived; but that is because of individual inexpertness, not because of any failure to
recognize theoretically the necessity for adequate motivation.
Changes of sentiment are much more important and more difficult to handle. A change of will can always
manifest itself in action; but it is very difficult to externalize convincingly a mere change of heart. When
the conclusion of a play hinges (as it frequently does) on a conversion of this nature, it becomes a matter
of the first moment that it should not merely be asserted but proved. Many a promising play has gone
wrong because of the author's neglect, or inability, to comply with this condition.
It has often been observed that of all Ibsen's thoroughly mature works, from A Doll's House to John
Gabriel Borkman, The Lady from the Sea is the loosest in texture, the least masterly in construcion. The
fact that it leaves this impression on the mind is largely due, I think, to a single fault. The conclusion of the
play---Ellida's clinging to Wangel and rejection of the Stranger---depends entirely on a change in
Wangel's mental attitude, of which we have no proof whatever beyond his bare assertion. Ellida, in her
overwrought mood, is evidently inclining to yield to the uncanny allurement of the Stranger's claim upon
her, when Wangel, realizing that her sanityis threatened, says:
WANGEL: It shall not come to that. There is no other way of deliverance for you---at least I see none. And
therefore---therefore I---cancel our bargain on the spot. Now you can choose your own path, in full---full
ELLIDA: (Gazes at him awhile, as if speechless): Is this true---true---what you say? Do you mean it---from
your inmost heart?
WANGEL: Yes---from the inmost depths of my tortured heart, I mean it.... Now your own true life can
return to its---its right groove again. For now you can choose in freedom; and on your own responsibility,
ELLIDA: In freedom---and on my own responsibility? Responsibility? This---this transforms everything.
---and she promptly gives the Stranger his dismissal. Now this is inevitably felt to be a weak conclusion,
because it turns entirely on a condition of Wangel's mind of which he gives no positive and convincing
evidence. Nothing material is changed by his change of heart. He could not in any case have restrained
Ellida by force; or, if the law gave him the abstract right to do so, he certainly never had the slightest
intention of exercising it. Psychologically, indeed, the incident is acceptable enough. The saner part of
Ellida's will was always on Wangel's side; and a merely verbal undoing of the "bargain" with which she
reproached herself might quite naturally suffice to turn the scale decisively in his favour. But what may
suffice for Ellida is not enough for the audience. Too much is made to hang upon a verbally announced
conversion. The poet ought to have invented some material---or, at the very least, some impressively
symbolic---proof of Wangel's change of heart. Had he done so, The Lady from the Sea would assuredly
have taken a higher rank among his works.
Let me further illustrate my point by comparing a very small thing with a very great.
The late Captain Marshall wrote a "farcical romance" named The Duke of Killiecrankie, in which that
nobleman, having been again and again rejected by the Lady Henrietta Addison, kidnapped the obdurate
fair one, and imprisoned her in a crag-castle in the Highlands. Having kept her for a week in deferential
durance, and shown her that he was not the inefficient nincompoop she had taken him for, he threw open
the prison gate, and said to her: "Go! I set you free!" The moment she saw the gate unlocked, and
realized that she could indeed go when and where she pleased, she also realized that had the least wish
to go, and flung herself into her captor's arms. Here we have Ibsen's situation transposed into the key of
fantasy, and provided with the material "guarantee of good faith" which is lacking in The Lady from the
Sea. The Duke's change of mind, his will to set the Lady Henrietta free, is visibly demonstrated by the
actual opening of the prison gate, so that we believe in it, and believe that she believes in it. The play was
a trivial affair, and is deservedly forgotten; but the situation was effective because it obeyed the law that a
change of will or of feeling, occurring at a crucial point in a dramatic action, must be certified by some
external evidence, on pain of leaving the audience unimpressed.
This is a more important matter than it may at first sight appear. How to bring home to the audience a
decisive change of heart is one of the ever-recurring problems of the playwright's craft. In The Lady from
the Sea, Ibsen failed to solve it: in Rosmersholm he solved it by heroic measures. The whole catastrophe
is determined by Rosmer's inability to accept without proof Rebecca's declaration that Rosmersholm has
"ennobled' her, and that she is no longer the same woman whose relentless egoism drove Beata into the
mill-race. Rebecca herself puts it to him: "How can you believe me on my bare word after to-day?" There
is only one proof she can give---that of "going the way Beata went." She gives it: and Rosmer, who
cannot believe her if she lives, and will not survive her if she dies, goes with her to her end. But the cases
are not very frequent, fortunately, in which such drastic methods of proof are appropriate or possible. The
dramatist must, as a rule, attain his end by less violent means; and often he fails to attain it at all.
A play by Mr. Haddon Chambers, The Awakening, turned on a sudden conversion---the "awakening," in
fact, referred to in the title. A professional lady-killer, a noted Don Juan, has been idly making love to a
country maiden, whose heart is full of innocent idealisms. She discovers his true character, or, at any
rate, his reputation, and is horror-stricken, while practically at the same moment, he "awakens" to the
error of his ways, and is seized with a passion for her as single-minded and idealistic as hers for him. But
how are the heroine and the audience to be assured of the fact? That is just the difficulty; and the author
takes no effectual measures to overcome it. The heroine, of course, is ultimately convinced; but the
audience remains skeptical, to the detriment of the desired effect. "Sceptical," perhaps is not quite the
right word. The state of mind of a fictitious character is not a subject for actual belief or disbelief. We are
bound to accept theoretically what the author tells us; but in this case he has failed to make us intimately
feel and know that it is true.
In Mr. Alfred Sutro's play The Builder of Bridges, Dorothy Faringay, in her devotion to her forger brother,
has conceived the rather disgraceful scheme of making one of his official superiors fall in love with her, in
order to induce him to become practically an accomplice in her brother's crime. She succeeds beyond her
hopes. Edward Thursfield does fall in love with her, and, at a great sacrifice, replaces the money the
brother has stolen. But, in a very powerful peripety-scene in the third act, Thursfield learns that Dorothy
has been deliberately beguiling him, while in fact she was engaged to another man. The truth is, however,
that she has really come to love Thursfield passionately, and has broken her engagement with the other,
for whom she never truly cared. So the author tells us, and so we are willing enough to believe---if he can
devise any adequate method of making Thursfield believe it. Mr. Sutro's handling of the difficulty seems to
me fairly, but not conspicuously, successful. I cite the case as a typical instance of the problem, a part
from the merits or demerits of the solution.
It may be said that the difficulty of bringing home to us the reality of a revulsion of feeling, or radical
change of mental attitude, is only a particular case of the playwright's general problem of convincingly
externalizing inward conditions and processes. That is true: but the special importance of a conversion
which unties the knot and brings the curtain down seemed to render it worthy of special consideration.