Varieties of Drama - Carroll County Schools


Chapter 6

The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

--Horace Walpole, Author (1717-1797)

What are the differences between tragedy and comedy?

What are some of the devices playwrights use to make people laugh?

What are the types of comedy?

What dramatic styles have influenced the theater in the twentieth century?

Complete vocabulary on page 269


The two most recognized varieties of drama are tragedy and comedy

Tragedies are serious and end in catastrophe

Comedies are usually lighthearted, with clever dialogue and amusing characters who are in amusing situations, end happily

Tragicomedies: plays that have both qualities

Dramas: are not tragedies, but are serious in nature

Literary/Dramatic Styles (sub-class): romanticism, realism, naturalism, symbolism, expressionism

Historical Eras (sub-class): Greek theater,

Commedia dell’arte, Restoration period

Considered humanity’s highest literary achievement

Sober and thoughtful, based on profound human emotions and conflicts that do not change with time or place

Focus is the protagonist who is engaged in a struggle but ultimately fails and is overcome by opposing forces

External forces set in motion by a choice or error the character makes

Tragic character has no control over internal/external forces once the choice has been made or action has begun

Inevitability: Outcome appears predestined – audience sees that there is nothing the character can do to avoid it.

◦ E.g. Prologue of Romeo and Juliet calls characters

“star-crossed lovers” and shows their fate is sealed.

Protagonist’s struggle elicits audience’s pity and compassion (Pathos)

By the end of the tragedy, pathos is purged and audience feels a sense of relief (catharsis)

The type of protagonist has changed over time (from kings to commoners)

Regardless of how common they seem, protagonists have something that sets them apart or elevates them above other people.

They have a flaw or make an error that has serious consequences

They make no apology for their actions

They set goals based on unyielding beliefs

They know that almost everything worth having demands some sacrifice

They are willing to make the sacrifice themselves, never asking another to make sacrifices for them

According to Aristotle’s


◦ Tragic protagonist is average or better person who is brought from happiness to misery in a play

◦ Through this suffering, the protagonist gains a sense of awareness (self-truth, or truth of others)

◦ Protagonist becomes alienated/isolated from society

◦ Hamartia (character weakness or error in judgment) causes the action/inaction that brings protagonist’s difficulties

◦ Most common form of hamartia is hubris (excessive pride)

Audience reactions (pity and fear) brought about by:

◦ Spectacle (visible part of the play)

◦ Plot (“the soul of the tragedy”)

Pity is for the protagonist, fear is for the audience

When a person of stature, struggling against dynamic forces falls, resulting effect is purging (catharsis)

Tragedy includes scenes of recognition and reversal


◦ Protagonist achieves inner awareness

◦ Protagonist identifies a loved one, relative, or friend from birthmark or scar or by some other means


◦ Ironic twist in which an action produces an effect opposite to what would at first seem likely

From Jean Anouilh’s



◦ Tragedy is clean, it is firm, it is flawless. It has nothing to do with melodrama.

◦ In a tragedy, nothing is in doubt and everyone’s destiny is known.

◦ Tragedy is restful; and the reason is that hope , that foul, deceitful thing, has no part in it. There isn’t any hope. You’re trapped. The whole sky has fallen on you, and all you can do about it is to shout.

◦ And you don’t say these things because it will do any good to say them: you know better than that.

You say them for their own sake; you say them because you learn a lot from them.

◦ But in tragedy, where there is no temptation to try to escape, argument is gratuitous: it’s kingly.

Arthur Miller’s modern tragedy

Death of a


◦ While watching the film, take notes regarding:

 What forces is the protagonist struggling against?

 What is his main weakness?

 Explain how the play communicates a sense of inevitability?

◦ There will be an essay due about this tragedy on

Monday (April 15)





Death of a Salesman

the framework of a “tragedy”.

as it fits into

Examine Willy Loman using the “5

Characteristics of Tragic Characters”


Death of a Salesman


Aristotle’s philosophy of tragedy from


2-4 Pages, Typed, Double-Spaced, 12pt



komos + ode

= lit. “revel song”

Societal & conciliatory: all characters come together at the end of the play – even the villains rejoin the group!

Often depends on a specific time and place

BUT greatest/longest-lasting comedies have situations that most audiences can easily identify with.

Many types

Doesn’t always make you laugh out loud

Protagonist overcomes opposing forces, achieves desired goals, or both.

Protagonist often less-than-average person

Like all drama, comedy is built around character, situations and dialogue

Comic situations consist of predicaments that seem insurmountable or improbable

◦ Mistaken identities, rash promises, or a series of events in which everything seems to go wrong are typical comic situations


Inevitable – no way to change the outcome

Universal theme & appeal


Protagonist fails

Protagonist alienated from society

Protagonist average or better

Protagonist falls from leadership/power


Predictably unpredictable

Time and place oriented

Intellectual, mental

Protagonist achieves

Protagonist becomes leader of new society

Protagonist less than average

Protagonist achieves success

(often because of mistakes/shortcomings)

It is difficult to determine what makes people laugh

Comic plays are more difficult to perform than serious dramas because of the unpredictability

Senses of humor change over time and in different places

Likely the most noticeable characteristic of comedy

Comes in various forms: overstatement or understatement

May include physical characteristics – bulbous nose/large teeth/mannerisms

Or mental characteristics – almost-toobrilliant child prodigy or incredibly dense person

Exaggeration of “humors” from Shakespeare’s time – personality determiners

Anything that seems out of place, time, or character

Comes in many forms:

◦ Unnatural Action – treating a poor person like he’s rich

◦ Unnatural sound or pronunciation

◦ A twist or turn of events that changes logical completion of a pattern

◦ Reversal – tables turned and weak overthrow strong

◦ Dialogue about irrelevant when something critical is at stake

Looking forward to a potential laugh

E.g. “banana peel on the sidewalk”

Gets laughs before the punch line

Also occurs in mistaken identity

◦ The reversal of roles and anticipation that truth with come out is the source of laughter

Created by a “plant” – idea, line, or action emphasized early (foreshadowing) – 3 exposures needed

◦ Plant, establish, clinch (combination = running gag)

Incompletion: a line or bit of action started but never finished

◦ Completed with the audience’s laughter

Anticlimax (letdown): excitement about something is built up to great proportions, and there is nothing (like bursting a bubble)

◦ A flat line is always good for a laugh. It follows a build-up to the punch line, but the follow-through is never equal to the preparation. Instead of maintaining the momentum of the joke or the gage, the line is delivered with either a drop in pitch or with little or no expression in the voice.

Double meaning – the heart of many humorous lines

Puns and word play

Depend on audience recognizing the possible interpretations and selecting the least likely one

Can be in dialogue or names of characters

Discovering hidden or obscure meanings

Audience is often amused to recognize the difference between a character’s inner motivation and the apparent motivation.

Also amused to discover what is going to happen just before it actually does

One of the most important elements of comedy

Cruel, violent, grotesque, abusive actions and events cause laughter because the audience is protected by knowing they are not really happening or not as damaging as they seem.

◦ Think Wiley Coyote/Road Runner

Good comedy builds up pressure and releases it

Relief of pressure is humorous when pent-up emotions are allowed to explode in a laugh

◦ E.g. A comic character lights the fuse on a powder keg and places it in the path of an adversary (the plant). Fuse goes out at the last moment and the adversary passes unharmed (anticlimax/letdown).

Character approaches powder keg to see what went wrong (anticipation). Powder keg blows up in character’s face (incongruity). Comic character emerges ragged and soot-covered, but unharmed

(protection and relief).

Three main classifications of comedy come from study in ancient Greece:

◦ Old Comedy: scathing satirical attack on political events and figures

◦ Middle Comedy: evolved to focus more on social occurrences, incorporated everyday speech

◦ New Comedy: (originated by Menander) presents a sentimental view of life and tries to appeal to audiences’ intellect rather than base sense of humor

These classifications ONLY used for comedies of ancient Greece

Comedies after categorized as LOW or HIGH

Focuses on physical antics (

The Three


Characters are usually outlandish, and play is exaggerated in style and performance

Utilizes various comic techniques to get the laugh…

Based on improbable characters and implausible coincidences and events

Practical jokes, clowning, physical indignities (ear pulling, shin kicking, pie throwing)

Achieved sometimes through screen scenes and asides

Used more since end of WW2 to enhance serious works

Latin word farcire means “to stuff” – when first used in theater, farce referred to any sort of impromptu addition “stuffed” into a play (esp. jokes or gags)

Relies on physical comedy and exaggeration

Less coherent than farces

Mockery of a broad topic, such as a style, societal view, or literary form

Audience should have previous knowledge of the play’s subject or will not enjoy its humor

In the US, burlesque evolved into the bawdy variety show

Mockery of a certain person or work, incorporating a caricature (exaggerated feature) of the subject

Requires prior knowledge of the subject being ridiculed (Tina Fey/Sarah Palin)

Relies less on physical than farce or burlesque

E.g. Space Balls

Intellectual humor

Essential to pay attention to the dialogue, because high comedy almost exclusively relies on witty dialogue, not physical action

Like parody and burlesque, ridicules a particular subject, but presents the subject in a different way…

“Drawing Room Comedy” – the main action takes place in the drawing rooms of upperclass citizens

Usually mocks pretenses of the upper classes

Built on clever use of language – wit includes puns, paradoxes, epigrams, and ironies

Dialogue often attacks socially-accepted standards of the day

Extremely popular in the Restoration Period

Ridicules human folly, societal views, or individuals

The satirist usually has the goal of changing something for the better by ridiculing it

Intellectual in its attack – mocks using language rather than physical antics

Has been around since the Old Comedy of


Blazing Saddles

◦ Classic 1974 Satire Comedy from Mel Brooks

While viewing, consider:

◦ Is Blazing Saddles comedy?

an example of “low” or “high”

◦ What elements of comedy do you observe?

◦ What conventions of satire are present?

You may use technology to search the internet for additional info.

Research & Teach a style:

Textbook page 288. Choose a style with a partner and create an informational “poster” to teach the class about your style. Include:

◦ An image that conveys the style

◦ Production examples

◦ Definition

◦ Conventions

Style Choices


*Realism & Naturalism

*Theater of the Absurd

*Theater of Involvement

*Total Theater




*Epic Theater