Drama is a unique literary form because they are designed to be acted out on a stage before an audience. The word ‘drama’ comes from the Greek word ‘dran’ meaning to act or to do. As “literature in action,” drama brings a story to life before our eyes. Unlike most works of fiction that rely heavily on narration, the story of a play or drama is told through dialogue and action and is integrated with the setting that the audience observes-largely from scenery and props. Knowing about these elements can help you appreciate and discuss plays that you see and read.
The major elements of a drama are as follows:
Characters are the people in the play’s plot. Most plays have a round, major characters and flat, minor characters. The main characters are more important to a work and usually have a bigger part to play. Miranda from Shakespeare’s Tempest is an example of a main character. We learn much about her characteristics throughout the play, and she plays a big role in the reconciliation of the characters toward the end of the play.
On the other hand, minor characters are less important. An example of a minor character is Marcellus from the play ‘Hamlet,’ whose role is only to inform about Hamlet’s father’s ghost. We do not know nor do we need to know anything about his character or what happens to him thereafter. He just departs in peace.
Let’s take a look at the different characters.
Protagonist: The main character, usually the one who sets the action in motion.
Example: Hamlet is the protagonist in the play ‘Hamlet’.
Antagonist: The character that stands as rival to the protagonist is called the antagonist. He is the villain.
Example: Claudius is the major antagonist in the play ‘Hamlet’ as he contrasts sharply with the main character in the play.
Foil: A character whose traits contrast with those of another character. Writers use foil to emphasize differences between two characters. For example, a handsome but dull character might be a foil for one who is unattractive but dynamic. By using foil, authors call attention to the strengths or weaknesses of a main character.
Example: In Hamlet, the passionate and quick to action Laertes is a foil for the reflective Hamlet.
Confidant: A character that lends an ear and gives his input to usually the protagonist is a confidant. This type of character is most commonly a closest friend or trusted servant of the main character, who serves as a device for revealing the mind and intention of the main character. The confidant’s inputs are revealed only to the audience and not to the other characters in the play.
Example: In Hamlet, Horatio is the confidant.
Stock characters: A stereotypical character who is not developed as an individual but as a collection of traits and mannerisms supposedly shared by all members of a group. These characters are easily recognized by audience due to their recurrent appearance and familiar roles.
Example: A comic, a servant, a fool, a coward, a crooked stepmother, and wicked witch.
Each character is distinct from the other and must have their own peculiar personality, background, and beliefs. The mannerisms and use of language too may differ. The way the characters in the play are treated by the playwright is important to the outworking of the play.
The words uttered by characters in a play forms a dialogue. The dialogue reveals the plot and characters of the play. What is spoken must be suitable to the situation and the role of the character.
Things that are said on stage may take on greater worth or typical qualities than the same things said in everyday speech. Good dramatic speech involves a proper construction of words spoken in the appropriate context. It also involves saying what is not uninviting or what is obvious straight away.
Good dialogue sheds light on the character speaking and the one spoken about, and aids in the furtherance of the plot.
Dialogue may take various forms:-
- An exchange between two or more characters.
Titinius. These tidings will well comfort Cassius.
Messala. Where did you leave him?
Titinus. All disconsolate,
With Pindarus his bondman, on this hill.
Messala. Is not that he lies upon the ground?
- Soliloquy- A character that is typically alone on stage delivers a long speech which is called a soliloquy. Emotions and innermost thoughts of the character are revealed in a soliloquy.
[They exit. ANTONY remains.]
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
- Aside- This is spoken by a character to another character or to the audience but is not heard by the other characters on stage. Asides reveal what a character is thinking or feeling.
Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me,
And we (like friends) will straightway go together.
Brutus (aside) .
That every like is not the same, O Caesar,
The heart of Brutus earns to think upon. [Exeunt.]
The plot is events that occur in a story sequentially. Normally the introduction of the characters in the beginning of the play gives the audience an idea about what the plot maybe. This information will enlighten the audience as to why characters behave the way they do and an incident maybe expected to surface that will create a problem for the main characters.
As the action heightens, the characters encounter the problem and find themselves in trouble. The conflict in a plot may vary but nevertheless it forms the basis for the plot. The conflict leads the characters from one incident to another unfolding the plot and increasing the suspense and excitement of the reader or viewer.
The turning point of the plot is called the climax when the outcome of the conflict takes place. The climax takes several forms. It may be a revelation of information or it may be a decision or an action. It is the point where suspense no longer exists.
The plot is crucial for the success of a play.
The setting and time in a play tell us where the story happened and the time it occurred.
The setting is very important because what usually happens in the play is influenced by it. Visual components of a setting maybe limited to a painted tree, a bridge, or a hut, or it could be more elaborate. Shifts in time and space are often indicated by the actors through their speech and movements.
In setting, the lighting plays an important role for it shows an illusion of time. Lighting also may be used to focus on an action or stress the importance of an event.
Costumes and props too are involved in setting. Costumes are used to portray a character’s profession, status, ethnicity, age and so on.
Props are items used by actors on stage to create an atmosphere of the play. These can be simple writing materials, chairs and tables, flowers, thrones, blood-soaked clothes, blankets, and beds and so on.
The effect created by the setting creates the mood for a theatrical spectacle.
An audience is prompted to react by the movements or positions of the actors in a play. It can build up tension, trigger laughter, or shift the focus of the audience to a different part of the stage.
To achieve this purpose, the writer communicates to the actors, director, and the rest of the crew in the play by means of stage directions.
He does this by means of short phrases, usually printed in italics and enclosed in parentheses or brackets. These directions describe the appearance and actions of characters as well as the sets, costumes, props, sound effects, and lighting effects.
Stage directions may also include the characters’ body language, facial expressions, and even the tone of voice. Comments or remarks about the surroundings and when a character enters or exits are also made in stage directions. Thus stage directions help us understand the feelings of the character and the mood of the story.
For movies and teleplays, camera instructions are provided.
HUCK. [Picks up a hard little sphere.] What’s this?
JIM. Must a been in there a long time to coat it over so.
[JIM cuts open the sphere and hands HUCK a coin.]
HUCK. It’s gold.
JIM. What sort of writing is that on it?
HUCK. Spanish…I think. This is a Spanish d’bloon, Jim, it’s priate gold!
Why I reckon this fish could be a hundred years old. Do you reckon so, Jim?
JIM. [Nodding.] He go along on the bottom. Eat the little ones. Get older and older and bigger and bigger. He here before people come maybe. Before this was a country. When there was nothing here but that big river…
[He grabs HUCK’s arm.]
The theme actually tells what the play means. Rather stating what happens in the story, the theme deals with the main idea within the story. Theme has been described as the soul of the drama. The theme can either be clearly stated through dialogue or action or can be inferred from the entire performance. We shall conclude plot and theme in drama should compliment each other and should be synchronized to give a complete output.
i. conflict–between two individuals
ii. conflict between man and a supernatural power
iii. conflict between the man and himself
Ancient Greek drama contained structural divisions and these gradually evolved to a five part structure in drama. By the 16th century, Five Act plays were the order of the day with any number of scenes in each act.
A traditional play thus came to be a Five Act Play. What was the structure followed here?
- Exposition or introduction
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
- Denouement or conclusion
Exposition: This is the introduction of the play which provides important background information about the characters, setting, and the conflict they face or are about to face. It may reveal an incident in a character’s past that has a bearing on the plot. The exposition leads the audience to follow through the rest of the story.
Rising action: This is the second characteristic in the structure of a drama. The plot moves forward with further twists and complications in the conflict and many sub-plots. The actions lead the audience toward high intensity, anticipation, and suspense.
Climax: The highest point of dramatic intensity and the most intense moment in the plot is the climax. The questions and mysteries are unraveled at this point. It is a turning point in the play for the protagonist where things from then on will either turn out better or worse for him depending on the kind of play it is.
Falling Action: This is the part where conflicts are more or less resolved and the play moves on to its end.
Denouement: This is the conclusion of the play where everything is better off than when it started, as in a comedy, or things are worse than when the play began, as in the case of a tragedy. Conflicts are resolved. Motives are clear. Final details are straightened up.
Let us examine Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and look at the characteristics that determine the structure of the play.
In the exposition or the introduction what do we learn?
We are introduced to the plot. Here we see at least two conflicts:
1) Between Shylock and Antonio (Scenes I and III)
2) Portia’s Marriage (Scene II)
These events give us an insight to the purpose of the events.
We are introduced to the main characters of the play in the exposition. Some of them are,
There are two settings we are introduced to
1) Belmont’s sitting a very fancy and fairy ‘tailish’ place ideal for a comedy.
2) Venice that represents real life with traders and merchants ideal setting for a tragedy.
Rising Action: There are many obstacles that a protagonist must face when reaching his goal. In this play, we see that Antonio’s ships which are the only means by which he can pay Shylock’s debt, is reported lost in the sea.
Climax: This is a turning point in the play where changes may take place for better or worse. In this play, Portia comes to Antonio’s rescue to plead in his behalf by disguising herself as a man of law.
Falling Action: Shylock is given orders to give up all his possessions and convert to be a Christian. Portia and Nerissa convince their husbands to hand over their rings.
Denouement: The conclusion of the play shows that everything is in harmony. All return to Belmont and the couples are reconciled.
A story can be told in many ways. An author (writer of a story) makes a choice when selecting his/her narrator.
Let’s start with an interesting story.
Jessie tossed in bed. It was half past 3’0 clock. Sleep had eluded her. She kept thinking of Adam. “Oh! Will he ask me to the ball tomorrow?” she thought. She chuckled thinking of Adam holding her hands and dancing.
- In the above story, someone indirectly tells us that Jessie is in love with Adam.
- That someone is the narrator. Though he/she is not a character in the story, he/she knows all the details about the character (Jessie) and reveals them to us. Interesting, isn’t it?
A narrator-the character or author’s persona that tells a story-controls everything you know about the characters and the events. The narrator of a story may be a named character in the story or an outside observer.
Brian was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Brian was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.
This really made me curious and so I went up to Brian and asked him, “I don’t get it! You can’t be a positive person all the time. How do you do it?”
Brian replied, “Each morning I wake up and tell myself that I have two choices today: I can choose to be in a good mood or I can choose to be in a bad mood. And every day, I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I choose to learn from it.”
“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested.
Ernie is a shy, mentally disabled man who moves to a group home when his mother dies. Jack becomes his friend and teaches him to garden. Jack also begins taking Ernie to breakfast at a restaurant across the street from a hardware store. When Ernie sees Dolores, the tough manager of the store, he falls in love with her. He begins leaving flowers in front of the store before it opens. Although Dolores doesn’t find who is giving her the flowers, they make her happy.
Can you figure out the difference between the two stories?
In the first story, the narrator (using the first-person pronoun I) is a character in the story. We can hear and see only what the narrator hears and sees.
In the second story, the narrator is an outside observer and plays no part in the story but can tell us what all the characters are thinking and feeling.
Narration is most often found in fiction, drama, and narrative poetry (such as epics and ballads), but it is also used in nonfiction works (such as biographies, essays, and newspaper stories).
In fiction, the narrator is the imagined voice conveying the story and is apart from the real author.
“So he was going to fight a duel! There was no way to avoid it. How could he ever go through it? He wished to fight, it was his intention and firm resolution so to do, and yet, he felt, that in spite of all his effort of mind and all the tension of his will, he would not be able to preserve even the necessary force to go to the place of meeting. He tried to imagine the combat, his own attitude, and the position of his adversary.” – The Duel by Guy de Maupassant
In drama, the narrator is usually one who narrates a summary of events to the audience before or during a scene or an act.
When we best understand the character in a story, such as the characters’ feelings and opinions or what the character perceives, to an extent that we can fully relate with the character, the writer then has made a good choice of narrator. The narrator’s choice of words and incidents tell us much about the personality and attitude of the narrator which in turn gives us the point of view of the story.
Some forms of narratives are biographies, short stories, and novels and in this context therefore all fiction may be viewed as narration. In a work of fiction, a writer’s choice of a narrator determines the point of view of the story.
Let’s discuss this in detail by reading the passage from ‘The Bet’ by Anton Chekhov.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
“To-morrow at twelve o’clock, he will regain his freedom. By our agreement, I thought to pay him two millions. If I do pay him, it is all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined.”
Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or his assets. Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the excitability which he could not get over even in advancing years, had by degrees led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and fall in his investments. “Cursed bet!” muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair “Why didn’t the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same sentence: ‘I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you!’ No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!”
It struck three o’clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep in the house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key of the door which had not been opened for fifteen years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house.
- This is an excerpt from a short story. The narrator is outside the story and knows everything about the characters and their problems.
- This all-knowing narrator tells us about the past, the present, and the future of the characters. This voice also reports on the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters.
- Through the narrator’s voice, we come to know that “the banker feels anxious about losing a bet”.
For many students and scholars one of the most interesting things is how a story is told.
- What is the narrative point of view?
- Is the narration omniscient, essentially the point of view of the author?
- If not, who is the narrator?
- What is the narrator’s relationship to the story?
- What is the narrator’s understanding of the story?
- How much does the narrator really know?
Appreciating how, or by whom, a story is told is often essential to understanding its meaning.
Who and what sort of person (young or old, rich or poor, educated or illiterate) narrates a story affect its tone, characterization, plot, and also the credibility of a text. The credibility of a text is how believable the story is for the reader.
An author’s/writer’s choice of a narrator determines the point of view of the story-the narrators’ relationship to the story. The three ways of narrating a story are:
In a story with the first-person narrative, the story is usually told by one of the characters, and is narrated from the “I” point of view. The First person narrator explicitly refers to himself/herself using the pronouns “I” (referred to as the first-person singular) and/or “We” (the first-person plural).
First person singular ⇒ As I walked on the streets, I remembered her harsh words and how upset Pat had been. But it was all over between them and now Shelly was mine. I felt a strange sense of triumph.
First person plural ⇒ A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, we come across the word “us” in the narration of the story, indicating that the narrator is speaking on behalf of the whole town residents.
- Is a witness or participant in the events of a story.
- Tells us only what he/she thinks or experiences and also his/her view of the other characters in the story.
- May or may not be the main character in a story.
In ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ Gulliver is the narrator and the protagonist.
Whereas in ‘Sherlock Holmes’, Dr. Watson is the narrator but he is not the main character. He is very close to the main character and is privy to Holmes’ thoughts and actions.
In first-person narration, either the central character or another directly involved in the action tells the story. We become familiar with the narrator, but we can know only what this person observes. All of our information about the story comes from this narrator, who may be unreliable because a first person narrator may or may not be objective, honest, or perceptive.
In the novel “Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger, the protagonist Holden Caulfield is the narrator of the novel.
Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is also told in the first person. Nick Carraway (not a protagonist) is the narrator of the novel.
- In each of these works, the fundamental meaning of the novel becomes apparent only when the readers understand the character of the narrator.
- In each of these works, the narrator experiences and what he learns about himself and the world are the novel’s most important themes.
However, some first-person narrators can report what they learn from others or there may be multiple first–person narrators that enable us to understand the events, the thoughts and feelings of a character from various points of view.
Multiple narrators ⇒ “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner is told from different point of view by different narrators.
- Benjy – narrator of the first section
- Quentin – narrator of the second section
- Jason – narrator of the third section
Modes of First-person narratives include:
- The observer-narrator that is the narrator is outside the main story.
For Example: Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights.
- Autobiography that is detached where the narrator looks back on long-past events.
- Multiple narrators, that is, first-person accounts by several different characters.
- Interior monologue where the narrator describes the story as a memory.
- Dramatic monologue where the narrator tells the story without any major interruption.
- Letters or diary where the events are written down by the narrator as they happen.
Let us now examine how the choice of the narrator in ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens affects the credibility of the text.
Pip is both the protagonist and the narrator, who tells the story in his own voice and from his own memory. The first-person narrative is used in the entire novel but in retrospective form where Pip looks back at his life many years later. This retrospect viewpoint makes the main character unreliable as he cannot remember everything that happened. Also Pip loses some credibility as some part of the novel is told from a childhood point of view.
For example, in the church graveyard, Pip makes the convict sound like an actual inhumane monster, and this seems to be overly exaggerated.
However, writing in the first person form has enabled in capturing the interest of the reader by involving the reader in many ways.
For example, we are immersed in the theme from the beginning when Pip realizes that he does not belong to the upper class as his uncle but is among the lower classes of society.
Hence we may see Pip as unreliable, but the result of getting across to us the theme we can identify with, that the attaining of wealth need not necessarily lead to happiness is accomplished. And ‘Great Expectations’ remains a valuable and intriguing novel.
Authors may also use first-person narration to achieve an ironic or satiric effect.
Mark Twain’s masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, is told by Huck himself. Through the morally naïve observations of Huck, Twain satirizes the evils of slavery, fraud, hypocrisy, and virtually other kind of corrupt human behavior.
Second Person Narrative:
You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge.
– Bright Lights Big City by J. Mclnerney
This is an example of second-person narrative where the narrator uses the pronoun ‘You’.
- The Second person narrative is rarely used in American literature.
- The narrator relates the story to another character and does this through that character’s point of view.
- The narrator hardly ever conveys information directly to the reader as a character in the story.
An author of the story decides how much the narrator knows about the people and events in the story. In a third-person narrative, the narrator only describes the events and characters not as a participant in the story but as an unspecified entity who conveys the story without being involved in it. The narrator refers to the character as narrative ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, or ‘they’.
A third person narrator can be
- objective or subjective
- omniscient or limited
Narration in the third-person objective does not tell us about the internal feelings or thoughts about a character but reports only what can be observed. This type of narration is used by journalists who report only facts in their articles from only one fixed perspective.
Though we are unaware of what a character may be thinking in a third-person narrative, the character’s words, behavior, and body language help us to come to the right conclusion about him.
He ordered a bunch of red roses to be sent to Joan. Joan couldn’t stop smiling when she received the roses.
Narration in the third-person subjective describes events as seen through the eyes of a certain character or characters and hence we are able to relate and interpret events from that perspective.
He remembered Joan telling him how much she loved roses and just the thought of her smile thrilled him. So, he ordered a bunch of red roses to be sent to her.
Third Person Limited:
In the third-person limited narrative, the narrator, who plays no part in the story, zooms in on the thoughts and feelings of only one character. From this point of view, we observe the action through the eyes of only one of the characters in the story, and anything that the character cannot perceive is excluded from the narrative or else the point of view is broken.
Hence the narrative in the third-person limited is also called, ‘over the shoulder’ perspective.
In “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, we know the pilot’s thoughts and feelings, but the emotions of the young stowaway are revealed only through her words and pilot’s observations.
In the third-person omniscient (all-knowing), the narrator plays no part in the story, but can tell us the innermost thoughts and feelings of all the characters. The narrator is aware of the past, the present, and the future of the characters. He also has knowledge about events occurring simultaneously in different places. The omniscient is a familiar point of view: we have heard it in the fairy tales since we were young.
This kind of narrative works well with stories that have large settings or complex plots and conveying multiple view points of the story becomes necessary.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the narrator passes from time to time to share personal feelings with the reader.
Is one form of narrative better than the other forms?
Although the choice of third-person narrator is widely used and second-person narrator is rarely used, one is not better than the other. It is dependent on the kind of story and the tone in which the story must be set and most importantly the skill of the writer.
Directions: Read the descriptions of the texts. Look for details that reveal the genre. Write the genre and subgenre on the lines and write a sentence explaining your answer.
- The Hard Way Outby Terry Vaughn
In this novel, Brian struggles with living at his Aunt’s house and sharing a room with his cousin while dealing with the grief of having lost both of his parents in a tragic car accident. Basketball is his only escape, but after geting benched for low progress report grades, Brian’ world shatters. Does he have it in him to turn around his grades? Will Brian come to peace with his emotions? Can anyone help him?
- Newton’s Lawby Morton Mallon
After a mostly unsuccessful life of studying and practicing the nano-transportation sciences, Professor Melton stumbles upon a major breakthrough on April 20th, 2042: he discovers a way to transport particles at light-speed across fixed distances, thereby allowing him to teleport from one location to another. But Professor Melton soon discovers that there is no such thing as a free lunch. He learns that the body ages relative to the distance travelled, not just the time, in effect causing a teleporting body to age very rapidly. Can Melton solve this problem before his time is up?
- Intermediate Math Problems for Studentsby M. Colwell
This workbook text explains how to perform basic mathematical operations, like double-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It also explains fractions and decimals..
- “If a Tree Falls” adapted by Stan Tanner
This is the very short story of a buck that was admiring his horns in the water’s reflection and feeling bad about his skinny legs. When a hunter tries to kill him, his big horns get stuck in some tree branches, but his skinny legs manage to pull him free. The moral is that what is truly valuable is often unappreciated.
- The Tinfoil Keyby Rob Burnside
When young Ian Bradley accidently switches suitcases with an intergalactic space explorer at a coffee shop, he ends up going on the trip of a lifetime. Now that he’s left holding the bag, Ian must deliver it to the light scientists on Gamma Outpost 9 in time, and every life-form in the galaxy is unknowingly depending on the success of his efforts.
- Seeing More, Being Moreby Fletch Carpenter
“Dr. Fletch,” gives readers a dose of hard medicine, arguing that most peoples’ problems are caused by themselves. Fletch teaches readers to solve such problems as bullying, insecurity, and relationship troubles with a three-step strategy: letting go of ego, seeing the objective reality, and finding tangible roles. Some readers find Carpenter’s ideas to be refreshing. Others are offended.
- Bronze Starby Irwin Keene
World War II has been hard for Mama Conner. Her husband and three sons have been away at war and Mama Conner was left to keep the house together, raise money, and provide for Baby Maple. The mood in the town darkens suddenly when her neighbor Betsy loses one of her loved ones in battle. At Mama Conner’s ladies club, several upstanding ladies of the town are on edge after hearing a garbled news report announcing that a man from their town was lost in battle, but as the man’s name went unheard, the women are left to speculate as to whom will be the most affected. This novel ends in a surprising twist.
- “Rapunzel” adapted by Craig Hooper
Once upon a time a young girl named Rapunzel was running an errand for her mother when an evil witch caught her and imprisoned her in the tower of a castle. After years in the tower, Rapunzel grew long, beautiful hair. Having seen nobody but the evil witch her whole life, Rapunzel is very lonely until one day a prince wanders by and climbs up her hair. The witch doesn’t like this and action ensues, but eventually the prince and Rapunzel live happily every after.