Elements of Literature: Character

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What Is Drama?
Structure of a Drama
Kinds of Plays
Modern Drama
Performance of a Play
The Stage
The Characters
What Is Drama?
A play is a story acted out, live and onstage.
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Structure of a Drama
Like the plot of a story, the plot of a drama follows a
rising-and-falling structure.
tension builds
conflict is introduced
tension at highest point
conflict is settled,
play ends
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Kinds of Plays
A play may be a tragedy, a comedy, or, in modern
drama, a mixture of the two.
• A tragedy depicts serious and
important events that end
• A comedy ends happily.
Although most comedies are
funny, they may also make us
think and question.
Kinds of Plays
Quick Check
1. A young woman wants to marry
her love, but her mother
disapproves of him. After many
setbacks, the suitor wins the
mother’s approval and the lovers
Which plot would
be a tragedy, and
which would be a
2. A young man, blinded by
passion, worsens a feud between
his family and his lover’s. The
play ends with the deaths of the
two lovers.
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Most classical tragedies deal with serious
subjects—fate, life, and death—and center on a
tragic hero. Tragic heroes
• are usually noble
• have a tragic flaw,
a personal failing
that leads to their
excessive pride
Innocent heroes
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In a comedy, the characters usually face humorous
obstacles and problems that are resolved by the
end of the play. Comic heroes
• may be ordinary people instead
of nobility
• eventually overcome their flaws
and achieve happiness
The conflict in comedies is usually romantic.
• Someone wants to marry but
faces an obstacle—opposing
parents or rival suitors.
• Complications can involve
misunderstandings, mistaken
identities, disguises, or
• The obstacle is always
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Modern Drama
Many of today’s dramas can’t be neatly defined as
either comedy and tragedy. Modern plays
• often mix the serious
with the humorous
• focus on characters
that audiences will
identify with rather
than look up to
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Performance of a Play
Plays are meant to be performed. A play comes to
life in each unique performance.
Stage Directions
Playwright describes setting and actions
Actors, directors, and designers interpret
these directions creatively
Audience experiences the story through
the actors’ speech and actions
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The Stage
A stage is like a small world unto itself. A stage
• can be grand or
• has its own
stage right
stage left
The Stage
The stage’s set might be
realistic and
abstract or
A set can be changed from scene to scene—
sometimes with machinery and sometimes with
just a change in lighting.
The Stage
Other important elements of set design are
costumes and props.
• Costumes tell us about the
characters and the time and place.
They can be elaborate or minimal.
• Props are items that the characters
carry or handle onstage.
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The Characters
The actors and director bring characters to life by
• deciding how to interpret
and speak the lines of the
• building on the
playwright’s stage
directions for actions
and movements
Mary: Can I make
it on my own?
[Mary takes off her jacket
and faces the audience.]
The Characters
Characters’ speech takes the form of
• Dialogue—conversation
between characters
• Monologue—a long speech by
one character to one or more
other characters
• Soliloquy—a speech by a
character alone onstage,
speaking to himself or herself or
to the audience
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Quick Check
[Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window,
looking out into the garden.]
Gwendolen. The fact that they did not
follow us at once into the house . . . seems
to me to show that they have some sense
of shame left.
Cecily. They have been eating muffins.
That looks like repentance.
Gwendolen. [After a pause.] They don’t
seem to notice us at all. Couldn’t you
from The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
What are
the stage
directions in
this passage?
Is this more
likely to be a
comedy or a
tragedy? Why?
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The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Tragedy—a narrative about serious and important
events that lead to a disastrous outcome
• A tragedy usually ends with the deaths of the
main characters.
• Their downfall may be the result of
• character flaws that lead to unwise actions
• fate (events beyond the characters’ control)
• a little bit of both
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Shakespeare’s tragic plays usually follow a
five-part sequence:
Crisis, or
turning point
Act II
Rising action, or
Act I
Act IV
Falling action
Act V
Climax and
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
• establishes setting
• introduces characters
• explains background
• introduces characters’
main conflict
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Rising action consists of a series of complications
that occur when the main characters take action to
resolve their problems.
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
The crisis, or turning point, is the moment when
a choice made by the main characters determines
the direction of the action.
• In a tragedy, the action
heads downward, toward
• In a comedy, the action
heads upward, toward a
happy ending.
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
The crisis is the point
when all the forces of
conflict come together
to create the greatest
drama and tension of
the play.
• Look for the turning
point as you read Act
III of Romeo and
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Falling action presents events that result from
the action taken at the turning point.
• With each event, we
see the characters
falling deeper into
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Act II
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Climax is the moment of greatest emotional
intensity in the plot.
• In a tragedy, the final and greatest climax
occurs near the end of the play and usually
consists of the deaths of the main characters.
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Literary Focus: Tragedy
Resolution (or denouement) is the final part of
the play.
• All the loose ends are tied up, and the play is
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The End