Glossary: Dramaturgy Northwest





From Martin Esslin's The Theatre of the Absurd:

"'Absurd' originally means "out of harmony," in a musical context. Hence its dictionary definition: 'out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical.' . . . In an essay on Kafka, Ionesco defined his understanding of the term as follows: 'Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose. . . . Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.'"

"[T]he Theatre of the Absurd strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought. While Sartre or Camus express the new content in the old convention, the Theatre of the Absurd goes a step further in trying to achieve a unity between its basic assumptions and the form in which these are expressed. . . .

The Theatre of the Absurd . . . tends toward a radical devaluation of language, toward a poetry that is to emerge from the concrete and objectified images of the stage itself." For Esslin, this means a movement away from discursive language and the use of concrete, fundamentally metaphorical, stage images: "The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being. . . ." (5-7).

Esslin developed this idea after the fact, as a way of describing the work of certain playwrights, in mid-twentieth century: Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, et al. A major complaint aimed at Esslin's book is that "absurd" may not be the best work to describe these writers and their work and that it asks us to group together writers who may be more different than alike. For another perspective on Beckett see Charles Lyons, Samuel Beckett (Grove Press, 1983).

From Beckett, the last words of The Unnamable, closing his great mid-century trilogy of novels: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on."

From Molloy: “Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the heat of composition."

Also: “There is nothing to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.



"I call anything that an actor does an 'offer'. Each offer can either be accepted, or blocked. If you yawn, your partner can yawn too, and therefore accept your offer" (Johnstone 97).


"[T]he foundation of acting is the reality of doing" (Meisner); acting is "behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances" (Meisner).

"Bernard Shaw, who I believe was the greatest theater critic since Aristotle, wrote: "Self-betrayal, magnified to suit the optics of the theatre, is the whole art of acting." By "self-betrayal," Shaw meant the pure, unselfconscious revelation of the gifted actor's most inner and most private being to the people in his audience" (Meisner xvii).
"Everything should be as in real life. ---Anton Chekhov to the cast of the first production of his play, The Seagull, St. Petersburg, 1896" (Meisner 3).


1. From an actor’s perspective: What does a character want?

One reason people resist acting is because they don’t understand what acting is or at least can be. There is a general conception that acting is emoting or being emotional or speaking in an expressive voice.

An entire approach to acting emphasizes not playing emotions, as important as they are, but playing actions. It suggests that the key to understanding the action is in understanding what the characters wants, what the character is trying to get or make happen. The job of the actor then is to understand what the character he or she is playing wants and to show us – honestly and compassionately – what it is like for a certain person in certain circumstances to pursue that want. (I wrote “show" in the last sentence. Many actors and acting teachers would challenge that. They would say that the actor needs to do more than “indicate" the action, that the actor needs not to “show" but “become" the character and the action.)

According to this theory of acting, emotion is a by-product of this process. If the actor is relaxed, then playing the action will release the emotions necessary for the scene more or less naturally without having to force or push. This, in any event, is the central concept of acting theory based on the work of the Russian teacher and theorist, Constantin Stanislavski. Acting then requires the ability to think, to concentrate, to imagine, as much, if not more, than the ability to speak expressively or summon up emotions. In this sense, acting is similar to any game in which individuals have a clear objective that, within the rules of the game, they pursue. A game with clear objectives is then one good tool for learning how to act. For this reason, athletes are good candidates for actors.

David Ball from Backwards and Forwards on want: "You do not really know a play until you see how every word is intended by its speaker to overcome some obstacle to what the speaker wants" (29). For Ball, wants are fundamental to drama because it "involves imporsonation, because impersonation must avoid the blatantly implausible, and because speech devoid of a motivation of wanting is blatantly implausible" (28).

2. Stanislavski on Action: "[W]hen studying each portion of his [sic] part, he must ask himself what he wants, what he requires as a performer of the play and which definite partial problem he is putting before himself at a given moment. The answer to this question should not be in the form of a noun, but rather of a verb: 'I wish to obtain possession of the heart of this lady'--'I wish to enter her house'--'I wish to push aside the servants who are protecting her,' etc. Formulated in this manner, the mind problem, of which the object and setting, thanks to the working of his creative imagination, are forming a brighter and clearer picture for the actor, begins to grip him and to excite him, extracting from the recesses of his working memory the combinations of emotions necessary to the part, of emotions that have an active character and mould themselves into dramatic action." from "The Actor's Responsibility," in Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavski Method. Compiled by Toby Cole, 30-31.

3. [A] The thing in nature imitated by dramatic art. There are four main kinds of dramatic action.
1. Doing: physical behavior (tasks, movement, speech). Bernard Beckerman distinguishes between these activities and dramatic action.
2. Suffering: hearing the news, responding to stimulation, emoting (speaking, laughing, crying, etc.).
3. Deliberating: reasoning, dreaming, thinking of all kinds; distinguishing among choices; requires language, either text or subtext.
4. Choosing: deciding on a course of action, expedient or moral. Expedient action concerns success or failure of the mission; moral action engages opinions about right and wrong.

3. [B] The "about" of a play. All scenes of a well plotted play relate to the play’s action, usually expressible in an infinitive phrase. This action, and most of the smaller actions that make it up, is usually a use of language to suffer, deliberate, and choose. The most interesting dramatic action is moral choice. L. Devin 2/14/2003.

4. David Ball on action--"An action is comprised of two events: a trigger and a heap. Each heap becomes the next actions's trigger, so that actions are like dominoes toppling one into the next. Sequential analysis means following the play domino by domino from start to finish" (Ball, Backwards and Forwards 15). As the title of his book suggests, Ball argues that tracing backwards, from finish to start, might be an even more effective way of understanding a play's structure.

5. In February of 2003, I saw a production of Tartuffe at the University of Puget Sound directed by faculty member Jac Royce. In terms of the play’s dramaturgy, I was struck again at how beautifully Moliere’s has plotted his play. The play carries us from one extremely actable scene to the next, actable because the actions of the characters are so clear and inviting. Cleante will try to persuade Orgon to moderate his fanatical devotion to Tartuffe. Dorine will challenge Orgon’s plan to marry Mariane to Tartuffe. Dorine will then challenge Mariane’s silence in the face of his proposals. When Dorine offers to let Tartuffe marry Mariane and starts to withdraw, she forces Mariane to beg for her help. Valere, arriving on the scene and feeling slighted, tries to get Mariane to proclaim her love for him. Mariane, feeling slighted in turn, tries to get Valere to proclaim his love for her. Dorine will try to bring Valere and Mariane together, putting an end to their foolish, stubborn quarrelling so the three of them can unite against Tartuffe. Dorine will then have to forcibly separate the two lovers who would rather dally with one another than begin their assault on Tartuffe. Tartuffe, within a few moments of entering, will try to seduce Elmire. Damis, observing this attempt, will denounce Tartuffe to his father. Tartuffe will put on a show of repentance to win Orgon back to him. Orgon will then try to force Damis to embrace the imposter and when he will not, Orgon makes Tartuffe his heir in order to spite his son. Even without language, this scenario begs to be acted.

Other features of its plotting involve the use of twist, turns, and reversals (see REVERSAL below), and the sexual energy that propels its characters (see FRYE ON COMEDY below). G. Proehl 3/4/2003.


From Merriam-Webster:
Etymology: German ästhetisch, from New Latin aestheticus, from Greek aisthētikos of sense perception, from aisthanesthai to perceive
1 a: of, relating to, or dealing with aesthetics or the beautiful <aesthetic theories> b: artistic <a work of aesthetic value> c: pleasing in appearance: attractive <easy-to-use keyboards, clear graphics, and other ergonomic and aesthetic features>
2 : appreciative of, responsive to, or zealous about the beautiful; also : responsive to or appreciative of what is pleasurable to the senses



Alienation effect, Verfremdungseffekt (in German), A-effect, distanciation (in French), estrangement, making strange: the goal is to force the spectator to think about the choices inherent in a situation enacted on the stage. It does not, finally, preclude empathy, but at least should create a tension between empathy and objectivity; between being pulled into the story being and pushed out.
Brecht writes: "The achievement of the A-effect constitutes something utterly ordinary, recurrent; . . . The A-effect consists in turning the object of which one is to be made aware, to which one's attention is to be drawn, from something ordinary, familiar, immediately accessible, into something peculiar, striking, and unexpected" (143). The A-effect = de-naturalization = breaking habits of perception.


The repetition of initial consonant sounds, often in a line of poetry.


"[A]n implied or indirect reference especially in literature" (




A character's moment of recognition or realization, often at a climactic moment in the play; in its most classic form, it goes along with a reversal in the character's fortunes (peripeteia) either from good to bad or from bad to good.


Structure of plays in which much of the plot focuses on exploring the past and its relationship to the moment in which the play is set. (See Oedipus Rex)


"Hostility to theatre is as old as the theatre itself. Plato banished the theatre from his idea republic. Church fathers from Tertullian to Augustine denounced it. Our colonial ancestors did there best to keep it out of American, . . . The longest, most bitter, and most effective attacks on the theatre came from English Puritans, or at least from Englishmen living in the age of Puritanism [16th and 17th century]" (Morgan 340). This hostility to the theatre is called the anti-theatrical prejudice.


“By ‘antithesis’ I mean the setting of one word against another. For instance, ‘To be or not to be’, or… ‘Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage’"; “‘Antithesis’ is in a way a bad word for something very practical. It sounds obscure and learned. Perhaps it would be better to use a phrase of Shakespeare’s and talk of ‘setting the word against the word’" (John Barton, Playing Shakespeare 29, 55).


A line of direction, not necessarily straight, but discernible; as in character arc.


"the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies" (

"Archetypes are the literary images that [according to some, particularly C.G. Jung] grow out of the 'collective unconscious.' They appear in literature as incidents and plots that repeat basic patterns of life. They may also appear as stereotyped characters" (


"Specifically, the method of evaluating and analyzing tragedy formulated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics.More generally, the term indicates any form of criticism that follows Aristotle's views. Aristotelian criticism focuses on the form and logical structure of a work, apart from its historical or social context, in contrast to "Platonic Criticism," which stresses the usefulness of art" (


" A short speech or remark spoken directly to the audience" (Cohen, Acting in Shakespeare 221).


The repetition of vowel sounds: “As soon as vowels are repeated in this way, the words that contain them are woven together — not necessarily through sense but sensually" (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 79).


"The people for whom a piece of literatureis written. Authors usually write with a certain audience in mind, for example, children, members of a religious or ethnic group, or colleagues in a professional field. The term "audience" also applies to the people who gather to see or hear any performance, including plays, poetry readings, speeches, and concerts" (


Arnold Aronson in American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History (Routledge, 2000) makes several distinctions between tradition theatre and the avant-garde. The following chart is based on categories Aronson suggests. The primary value of these categories may not be the identification of a pure instance of the avant-garde so much as the creation of a series of perspectives from which to examine the theatrical event, particularly because theatre as an art form is seldom "pure." In other words, many aspects of the avant-garde are evident in traditional theatre, just as many elements listed below as traditional frequently play a role in avant-garde work. Playing this game gives us a stronger sense of two fundamental elements within an art form: tradition and innovation.

Another way to think about this is to conjure up the most conventional examples of the three basic theatrical genres we know: a musical, a play by Shakespeare, and a realistic family drama. For me, those examples would be, respectively, The Sound of Music, Julius Caesar, and Death of a Salesman. With these examples in mind, it is then possible to describe the theatrical conventions they at least seem to assume and to then contrast those assumptions with other, more experimental work, even if that work is not necessarily avant-garde.

Although Aronson posits a definition of the American avant-garde, it seems more important to describe instances of the avant-garde or experimental theatre in that almost any observation, however broad, will immediately find its exceptions.

Traditional Theatre Avant-Garde (Experimental) Theatre
an emphasis on the first three of Aristotle's principles: plot, character, thought, roughly in that order(Aristotle, 384 BC - 322 BC) refusal to automatically accept Aristotle's six categories (plot, character, thought, diction, song, spectacle) or the way in which he prioritizes them; for example, Artaud places a high value on spectacle, which Aristotle calls the "least artistic"
actor: the role of the actor is to commit lines or a scenario to memory and to then enact a character within the parameters of the role actor: the actor may not play a pre-determined role at all; the actor may perform a version of him- or herself; life as art
actor: mimesis and imitation; the actor becomes the other, disappearing, more than less, within the character or the character's mask; especially with realism, the idea that the closer the actor is to the character, the better actor: showing; the actor is more obviously present; the actor is more clearly showing the audience a char actor; "Show that you are showing!" Brecht; Churchill in some instances asks that the difference between the actor and the character be emphasized in order to show the ways in which culture constructs certain roles (e.g. -- the good wife played by a man; the faithful African native played by a white)
audience: role of the audience is to watch and respond with laughter or applause; audience my be sitting or standing; audience members may be closer or farther from the stage, but all audience members can see and hear all of the play all of the time audience: the role of the audience may be more interactive; all audience members may not be able to see all of the play all of the time (e.g. -- Schechner's environmental theatre; Boal's forum theatre; site specific theatre); "Much of the history of the avant-garde can be seen as an attempt to create strategies that will undermine theatrical competence" (Aronson 8).
space: clearly demarcated spaces for actors and audience members (lobby, usually audience only; house, usually audience only; stage, usually actors only; backstage, usually actors only, except on special occasions; stage door, place for audience to meet actors) space: spatial boundaries broken down or altered: "All the space is used for performance; all the space is used for the audience" (Richard Schechner).
time: variable, but usually operates within a one to five act structure and a duration of from 10 minutes to 4 hours time: variable, but may extend to many hours, days, or even years

fiction: an emphasis on aboutness; the play enacts a space that was there and then

presence: "An axiomatic precept of the avant-garde is the substitution of experience for "aboutness."' (Aronson).
narrative: more linear; the perspective of a passenger in a train; the theatrical event as the unfolding of a story in time and space; an emphasis on unity/sequence; probability; a clear beginning, middle, and end narrative: less linear, more fragmented, causality less clear, multiple narratives; the perspective of a passenger in an airplane; the theatrical event as a landscaper rather than a story; an acceptance of compartmentalization/simultaneity; randomness, chance; many kinds of structures in addition to beginning, middle, end
authorship: artist as as author, as the creator of another world authorship: spectator as artist and author; positioned to resee the world: "to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text" (Barthes)
language: often literary language: may play a much less prominent role
boundaried: art/life boundary; disciplinary boundary boundary breaking: the line between self and character; the line between daily life and fictional life; the line between stage and house
signs: more of an emphasis on semiotics of theatre; the pleasure of decoding signs, their denotations and connotations sensations: more of an emphasis on the phenomenology of theatre; "Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one fell things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are know. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar.'" Victor Shklovsky; see also, Brecht's idea of Verfremdungseffekt; "A change in an individual's attitudes, associations, or beliefs is effected not through a straightforward presentation of ideas but through a fundamental restructuring of perception and understanding" (Aronson 7).
Gesamtkunstwerk: total work of art; supremacy of musical score (Wagner) or poor theatre, breaking theatre down to its essence (Grotowski): in either instance, unity and coherency are emphasized may emphasize art forms in dialogue, competing, or compartmentalized
created by an artist for an audience may be ready made or found; the role of the artist is to frame the art object in a manner that will underscore its "artfulness" (Schechner; DuCamp)
works within a tradition and is therefore relatively easy for the audience to read works (to a large extent) in opposition to tradition, and is often, therefore, relatively, if not intentionally, difficult for the audience to read
often focuses "questions of meaning" in terms of plot, character, and thought often a "focus on process"
product of the mainstream culture product of alternative culture; non-commercial; not mainstream
compared to painting, more like perspective (single focus point) compared to painting, more like collage or mobile (multiple focus points)
compared to painting, more like figurative art; in Gombrich, matching: the role of the artists is to create an image in time and space that will recall an image that the audience member recognizes as being from life compared to painting, more like abstract expressionism; in Gombrich, making; the artist's creation is its own, unique product of creation; it need not be from life
compared to music, centrality of melody and harmony compared to music, interest in silence (Cage) or rhythm (Glass)

Shared Elements (Potentially)

Honesty, alienation, pain, suffering, laughter, sadness, meaning, content, relevancy, ideology, form, structure, time, duration, space, physicality (of bodies, of objects), color, line, shape, texture, sound, silence, rhythm, tempo, and, of course, as pointed out, many of the above elements listed in opposing columns find their way into both traditional and avant-garde theatre.

Elements of the American Avant-Garde and of Performance Art
(Not meant to describe a unified field of the avant-garde or performance art; categories do overlap; with a debt to Arnold Aronson and RoseLee Goldberg)

"It [the avant-garde] was a non-literary theatre -- meaning not that it lacked language but that it could not be read in the way a work of literature could be. Avant-garde theatre was primarily formal, schematic, intellectually derived, and dependent upon aesthetic rather than visceral emotion" (Aronson 5). This is Aronson's notion of the avant-garde. The question here and elsewhere with Aronson is whether or not in his desire to be specific he has over-defined the field.
"An axiomatic precept of the avant-garde is the substitution of experience for 'aboutness'" (Aronson 7). Merce Cunningham "abandoned the dramatic and narrative thread of Graham's style, as well as its dependence on music for rhythmic direction" (Goldberg 124)
"A change in an individual's attitudes, associations, or beliefs is effected not through a straightforward presentation of ideas but through a fundamental restructuring of perception and understanding" (Aronson 7). This definition suggests the influence of phenomenology on avant-garde theatre.
"Much of the history of the avant-garde can be seen as an attempt to create strategies that will undermine theatrical competence" (Aronson 8): with respect to signs and framing of performance This idea seems less over-defined than some of Aronson's other points.
De-centering of the proscenium arch, perspective, box set, and other conventional scenes or frames "And when I happened to read that sentence of Albert Einstein's: 'There are no fixed points in space,' I thought, indeed, if there are no fixed points, then every point is equally interesting and equally changing" (Merce Cunningham quoted in Aronson 24).
"In most performances that can be classified as avant-garde . . . narrative structure is eliminated" (Aronson 10). For Aronson, narrative and the objective or figural image in art are comparable; abstract expressionism is then the closest parallel in the fine arts to the avant-garde in theatre. Stein: "anything that was not a story could be a play" (Stein in Aronson 27).
Play as a landscape or as layers of paintings -- portrait, still life, landscape Gertrude Stein, Robert Wilson
The search for a presence One way to effect this was to rely on chance and indeterminacy as in some of the work of John Cage (e.g. -- a coin toss)
Play as an exhibit: take a photo, hear a story, display the body Guillermo Gomez-Pena
Allegorical tableau Gomez-Pena
Building a piece around a figure or image that is mythic or that has the kind of cultural currency held by myth; the elements of the piece has an associative, dream-like connections as well as or instead of a more logical, linear relationship Wilson, Einstein on the Beach
Idea of theatre and rehearsal as a place for experimentation with both its form and its content as opposed to a repository of traditions or classics At Black Mountain College an emphasis on a "general study of fundamental phenomena; 'space, form, colour, light, sound, movement, music, time, etc." (Goldberg 121); see, for example, Brian Quirt's research projects at Nightswimming
De-centering of writer or words or director; emphasis on the role of the spectator "I propose to treat the spectators like the snake charmer's subjects and conduct them by means of their organisms to the apprehension of the subtlest notions" Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double; "the hearing of the piece is his [the spectator's] own action -- that the music, so to speak, is his, rather than the composer's" (John Cage in Goldberg 124)
Collective creation, although often in tension with the role of the writer, director or leader Joseph Chaikin, Open Theatre
An emphasis on the centrality of ensemble Open Theatre; Living Theatre; Performance Group; Wooster Group
Found material: a found space, a found object, a found person Richard Schechner and Environmental Theatre
An emphasis on form in and of itself "I'm so involved with form I could put anything into a structure. It has no personal meaning for me" (LeCompte in Aronson 144).
A more personal approach to performance "a dialectic between . . . life and theatre rather than between role and text" (Gray in Aronson 146).
An emphasis on confession and autobiography but in unusual formal settings: often involving distancing elements Rhode Island Trilogy, Gray and the Wooster Group
The establishment and repetition of certain props, scenes, ideas, motifs that are then carried from one production to another Wooster Group
Placing objects between the audience and the performer: a sheet of plexiglas, for example  
Blurring the borders between art and life (e.g. -- "construct a metaphor for some aspect of" the "personal or social" self "and then to perform (i.e. -- wear) that construction for a full day. . . ." Laurie Beth Clark, Theatre Topics 13.2: 210-211. Alfred Jarry, Performance Art; "Doing life, consciously, was a compelling notion to me." Kaprow in Aronson
Life as art: "Art should not be different [from ] life but an action within life, beautiful. Like all of life, with its accidents and chances and variety and disorder and only momentary beauties" (Cage as source in Goldberg 126); the role of the artist them might be to alter our perception of experience in whatever way possible John Cage wrote in The Future of Music, "wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise . . . Whether the sound of a truck at 50 mph, rain, or static between radio stations, we find noise fascinating" (Goldberg 123); "Cunningham proposed that walking, standing, leaping and the full range of natural movement possibilities could be considered as dance" (Goldberg 124); Hsieh and Montano tied together with a rope for a year
Action-based art: what the artist does is more significant that the product that is created

similar to some of these other categories; Josef Albers from the Bauhaus to Black Mountain College: "art is concerned with the HOW and not the WHAT; not with literal content, but with the performance of the factual content. The performance -- how it is done -- that is the content of art."

Collaborative ritual Gomez-Pena
Body art: the body as the site and material of performance Rachel Rosenthal; Chris Burden (strapped to floor with buckets of water and electric wire on either side)
Borders (as in between disciplines) and compartmentalization rather than synthesis or unity Various artists create separate pieces and then juxtapose then in chance arrangements
Transgression and transcendence Grotowski and Artaud; not, however, necessarily confined to the avant-garde at all.

The above list owes much to Arnold Aronson's book, American Avant-Garde: A History. London: Routledge, 2000.



"Small units in the scene that can be isolated as actable events unto themselves in which a single transaction is taking place (Beat Changes) and shifts within the scene" (Barton 12).


1. Aristotle on Beginning/Middle/End: "Now, according to our definition Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles." (

2. A feeling of completeness or closure, of having worked through a series of events, actions, issues, problems, questions to some sort of tentative, even if illusory, resting point is a fundamental theatrical pleasure. It is almost impossible to find an example of a major play that lacks this element.

Is it possible then to point to that point in a play where we feel that shift from beginning to middle, from middle to end? One function of the beginning section of a play is to put before the spectator, however coyly, all the pieces or parts from which the play as a whole will be made. The most common phrase used to describe the introduction of an element at the end for which the audience was not prepared is "deus ex machina," a phrase that comes from rescuing the ending of a play, and often a person at the same time, by lowering of a god by way of a crane to save the situation, as in certain Greek tragedies.

The ends of plays answers, again, however coyly or ambiguously, significant questions that a play has posed in the beginning or middle sections: secrets are revealed; broken routines are resumed; identities are discovered; murderers are captured; conflicts are resolved; lovers, particularly in comedies, are married; the evil are punished, the good at least recognized if not rewarded. In some cases, the questions are left unanswered, but even then, plays can prepare us for this, for the absence of an answer to a major question, so that the absence itself becomes a kind of answer.

Plays can signal a move toward their endings in a number of ways: by returning to their beginning points, as in an A – B – A structure. Or, by repeating or reincorporating an image, element, phrase, routine from the beginning of the play into its final moments. Or, by slowing down the action, staying longer with a cast of characters in a single place: Shakespeare’s final scenes are often much longer than the average. G. Proehl 2/14/2003

3. Devin on Beginning/Middle/End:

Those incidents which have no antecedents in the plot. They are necessary in relation to audience experience and expectations and are the materials of likelihood for the Middle. The Beginning is made in part out of materials drawn from audience experience, to which it gives form; it is the material for the Middle, which gives it form.

Those incidents in the plot which have the beginning as antecedents and the end as consequences. The middle is made out of the beginning, which it forms, and is the material for the end, which forms it.

The part of a plot which has the rest of the play for antecedents and which has no consequences. It’s usually possible to imagine further incidents in the story of a play, but correct plotting creates closure and makes those further incidents unnecessary. Made of material drawn from the beginning and middle; nothing is made from it. L. Devin 2/14/2003



The degree to which we find an actor's performance convincing within the conventions of a particular style or genre of theatre. Believability is one way of talking about the fundamental effectiveness of a performance we attend.

See Magic If: believability references the acto'’s ability to effectively practice the "Magic If" of the play. See Empathy: believability references the actor's ability to engage your empathy for and with the character. See Indicating: one of the major reasons an actor's performance may not be believable will be because he or she is indicating. Indicating in the negative sense of the word describes acting that calls attention to itself as acting so that instead of engaging with the character and his/her story we are left thinking about the actor's efforts to make engage us rather than actually being engaged. Believability has to do with the actor's ability to engage us in the willing suspension of disbelief so that we can imaginatively, empathetically enter the world of the play. See Alienation Effect: the Alienation Effect works to intentionally disrupt the disappearance of the actor. It is not, necessarily, opposed to believability. It may be that with the Alienation Effect our focus shifts from believing the character the actor plays to believing the actors that plays the character. See Probability: Although the definition emphasizes the believability of the actor, the term can be applied to almost any theatrical element. In this sense, it refers to the degree to which that element --- whether it be the make-up, the costuming, the lights, the scenic design, the play's plot, the play's language, etc. --- does or does not contribute to our willing suspension of disbelief.



“[A] grammatical pause half-way through the verse-line" (John Barton, Playing Shakespeare 36).


"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis [purgation or purification] of such emotions" (Aristotle).


The word used to describe those entitities that move through the time and space of a play; characters in plays are often first encountered in the form of a cast list appearing in the program or near the beginning of a written script.

According to Aristotle, whose definition is more precise, if more limiting, "Character is that which reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses or avoids. Speeches, therefore, which do not make this manifest, or in which the speaker does not choose or avoid anything whatever, are not expressive of character" (translated by S.H. Butcher, 1911).

The name we give to the fictional persona that an actor embodies in the production of a play or to whom a playwright assigns an identity. Characters have no life beyond that which lives in the audience's minds or that which theatre makers have endowed. An "image of character in time and space" is one answer to the question, "What is theatre?"


As described by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism. Frye describes five broad character types in relationship to five fictional modes. The "hero's power of action" is what distinguishes these types.

1. Characters who are "superior in kind" both to other human beings and their environment. These are divine beings and belong to the mythic mode.

2. Characters who are "superior in degree" to other human beings and their environment. These are romantic heroes and belong to the romantic mode.

3. Characters who are "superior in degree" to other human beings but not to their environment. These are heroes of what Frye calls the "high mimetic" of "most epic and tragedy."

4. Characters who are "superior neither" to other human beings nor their environment. These are heroes what Frye calls the "low mimetic" mode of "most comedy and of realistic fiction."

5. Characters who are "inferior in power or intelligence" to other human beings. These are heroes or protagonists of the "ironic mode." With these characters we "have the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration, or absurdity."


[T]he process by which an author creates vivid, believable characters in a work of art. This may be done in a variety of ways, including (1) direct description of the character by the narrator; (2) the direct presentation of the speech, thoughts, or actions of the character; and (3) the responses of other characters to the character" ( The concept of characterization underscores the degree to which character is a "fiction," an "image" in the spectator's mind, a device or tool that theatre makers use in the creation of a theatrical event.


A set of tactics; e.g. --- validate, soothe, open up; play; stir (Barton 17).


Originates and flourishes during the Ming Period, 1350-1644.

Four main character roles according to John D. Mitchell's Theatre: The Search for Style: "genteel male characters, female characters, exuberant male characters, and clown characters." In the West, stock characters or stereotypes are often held in low esteem. In Chinese opera, the clear presentation of a stock type is highly valued: "Its style is lucidity and lack of ambiguity" (Hu quoted in Mitchell 56).

Training can begin as early as six years of age and lasts up to seven years, including a one year internship with a theatre. During training, teachers determine what role the young actor is best suited to play. Two major components of Chinese opera are singing and acrobatics. A students skill in one area or the other will help determine his or her area of concentration. "Each Chinese performer has to train for singing, as if it were Western opera, and for movement, as if it were for Western ballet" (Hu quoted in Mitchell 58). Roles were traditionally learned by rote: "The teacher would say a line; we students would repeat the line. Every line, every movement was memorized, never to forgotten" (Hu quoted in Mitchell 60).

Brecht on Chinese Opera and the Alienation Effect: "The alienation effect does not in any way demand an unnatural way of acting. . . [W[hen the actor checks the truth of his performance (a necessary operation, which Stanislavski is much concerned with in his system) he is not just thrown back on his 'natural sensibilities', but can always be corrected by a comparison with reality (is that how an angry man really speaks? is that how an offended man sits down?) and so from outside, by other people. . . The Chinese performer is in no trance. He can be interrupted at any moment. He won't have to 'come round'."

Resources: ChinaPage.Com -- Beijing Opera


A word, usually used in connection with the concept of character or characterization. For Aristotle, choice was the central expression of character, "Speeches . . . in which the speaker does not choose or avoid anything whatever, are not expressive of character" (translated by S.H. Butcher, 1911).


'[S]omething (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace" (


"The turning point in a narrative, the moment when the conflictis at its most intense. Typically, the structure of stories, novels, and plays is one of rising action, in which tension builds to the climax, followed by falling action, in which tension lessens as the story moves to its conclusion" (


Top Girls by Caryl Churchill (1982) begins with a long scene of a dinner party celebrating Marlene’s promotion. It ends with a confrontation between Marlene and her sister Joyce over the choices each has made in her life. The character of Joyce is not in the first scene. None of the women at the dinner are in the final scene except for Marlene. The opening scene is comprised of several narratives. The final scene focuses rather narrowly on the narrative of Joyce, Marlene, and their family. The opening scene is peopled with characters from various time periods and cultures: some historical, some quasi-historical, some fictional. The final scene locates itself in a specific working/middle class environment during the Thatcher years and is filled with references to that time period. The first scene locates itself in the same time period but with almost no references to the current social context. The final scene in the play actually represents a moment in time prior — a year earlier — to all of the other scenes in the play, including the opening. The question, given the distances between where the play begins and how it ends is, “Can a final scene so different from the opening scene provide an adequate sense of closure?" (In this instance, the question of whether or not closure is always a necessary aspect of a play's dramaturgy is left to the side.)

Despite the differences noted above there are also a number of connecting points that at least make closure more likely. The final scene is roughly 21 pages long. The opening scene is roughly 20 pages long. The first scene is built around a celebration: Marlene’s promotion. The second scene is also built around a celebration: Marlene’s bringing of gifts to Angie to make-up for missed birthdays and Christmases. Both scenes feature alcohol and as individuals drink they become more vocal and emotional, less censored. Both rehearse similar topics and themes: gender, travel, politics, history, class, men, socioeconomic conditions, children, motherhood, education, family. Both, as does the play as a whole, refer to men but do not put them on stage. Even more significantly, the first scene celebrates Marlene’s accomplishments; the final scene, earlier in the story but later in the plot, questions the worth of those accomplishments. The scenes in between the first and last reinforce that questioning.

Indeed, one element that gives the final scene a sense of closure not found (or expected) in scene one is a kind of tonic finality in terms of perspective. As noted above, the first scene has multiple perspectives, as many as the number of dinner guests who have come to the party. The final scene narrows that chorus of voices down to two, who engage in a confrontational agon reminiscent of Greek tragedy. Marlene argues for Reagan, Thatcher, the free market, the “free world." She tends to reject the role of gender, class and economics in forging personal fortunes: “Bosses still walking on the worker’s faces? Still Dadda’s little parrot? Haven’t you learned to think for yourself? I believe in the individual. Look at me." And at other points in her dialogue with Joyce: “I don’t believe in class. . . . Anyone can do anything if they’ve got what it takes." Marlene would no doubt reject the language of both feminism (patriarchy, oppression, marginalization, objectification, otherness, sisterhood, misogyny, canon) and Marxism (class, bourgeoisie, proletariat, inequality, oppression, exploitation, commodification, alienation), even though her role in the employment agency places her in the midst of both these arenas. The agency places women in firms run by men, in dead end jobs that are at least to some extent a function of sexism. Her agency essentially sells workers; it reckons the commodity value of human beings and places them accordingly; it exists as a function of the alienation between workers and the work they do.

Marlene celebrates instead a British version of the American dream (wealth and mobility to those who earn it), seeing her rise to the top as a function of natural conditions: a work ethic that led her to get an education and then use it. Even though she is alienated from her own daughter, she believes that the family bond is finally more significant that other forms of identity, particularly class. Joyce challenges that assumption: “So don’t be round here when it happens because if someone’s kicking you I’ll just laugh."

A moment of peripeteia and anagnorisis, common allies of closure, comes just before the end of the play. Marlene tells Joyce, referring to members of the working class, “If they’re stupid or lazy or frightened, I’m not going to help them get a job, why should I?"

To which Joyce replies: “What about Angie [Marlene’s daughter]. . . She’s stupid, lazy and frightened, so what about her?" Prior scenes have shown us an Angie who is as Joyce describes her, and Marlene’s child, and finally quite endearing. They have also shown us, by Marlene’s own admission, that Joyce’s assessment is correct. The world of economics and the world of the family collide in this moment for Marlene. This collision does not, however, seem to change her. When Angie does eventually come to London to live with her "Aunt" Marlene — we see this in scenes just prior to the final scene — her biological mother seems to have forgotten her conversation with her sister Joyce. In any event, that conversation does not seem to have changed how she lives in the world. Churchill’s hope may be that what Marlene does not realize — that for there to be progress more needs to change in the world than an individual woman’s individual status — the audience will. G. Proehl 9/24/03

A feeling of completeness or closure, of having worked through a series of events, actions, issues, problems, questions to some sort of tentative, even if illusory, resting point is a fundamental theatrical pleasure. It is almost impossible to find an example of a major play that lacks this element.


An honest, active, transparent commitment to both assertion and cooperation in working with one or more others; collaborating "involves an attempt to work with the other person to find some solution which fully satisfies the concerns of both persons"; it differs from competing which is both assertive and uncooperative; accommodating which is unassertive and cooperative; avoid which is unassertive and uncooperative; and compromising which is partially assertive and partially cooperative (see Reader 275).


"Concrete is the opposite of abstract, and refers to a thing that actually exists or a description that allows the reader to experience an object or concept with the senses" (

“The high peak of theatrical pleasure is perhaps that it allows us to participate in a concrete event which is a representation of the impossible, of what cannot have any concrete existence in the course of our own lives." Anne Ubersfeld, "The Pleasures of the Spectator," Modern Drama 25.127-139.

A more specialized meaning of concrete is the use of this term to describe those material aspects of a scene, not just imagined, but literally present on a stage (e.g. -- props, costumes, scenery).


What happens when a want runs into an obstacle.


Contact refers to the set of connections you discover between yourself and the play: its story, its characters, its images, its themes, and so forth. It is a key concept in that so much of the energy that a play releases is a function of how and where it meets the individual watching or performing it.

We have many images of contact — physical, emotional, spiritual— in our culture from the banal to the profound, from great classical art to popular culture. Many children in the United States who grew up with public television will remember a show called contact. It’s opening song had lyrics that ran something like this: "Contact, it’s the reason, that everything happens, contact . . ." I cannot remember much more than this and then the final line: "3, 2, 1: Contact!" In an older movie, Ben Hur, contact carries with it great fear and great love. The heroes wife and mother have become lepers and live in a leper colony. Within the context of this movie and stories of leprosy told in church schools, the touch of a leper was amongst the most feared forms of contagion, an idea supported until recent times by the creation of leper colonies along with images of bells attached to lepers to warn others of their approach or warning shouted by lepers, "Unclean, unclean." In Ben Hur, the moment in which the hero risks contamination by embracing his diseased and now deformed mother and sister is as memorable to many as the chariot race and just as harrowing.

For little children, fear of strangers may be the contemporary parallel. And if there is an encounter, one of the first questions will most likely be "Did he (more rarely, she) touch you? Where did he touch? How?"

I remember once making contact in some way -- I can’t remember how -- perhaps touching a fellow second or third grader on the arm and being told, "Keep your dirty hands off me." That moment is still strong in my mind over four decades later. A favorite cruel game of children is that which turns a classmate into a leper: "He (she) touched me. He (she) smells." The game extending to items the leprous classmate had touched. The trick being to give a student a piece of candy or some other object and when the student has received it, to tell them that "Helen" or "Harold" had handled it. So that the unsuspecting student must then throw the object away to prove that he or she shares this horror.

Our relationship to contact is complicated from the moment of birth, some would even say earlier. One of the first phrases a child, at least one its begun to be mobile hears is "Yuck! Icky!" or "Hot! No!" G. Proehl 10/9/2002


Johnstone argues that we should focus on structure instead of content in order to avoid our spontaneity being blocked


The who, what, when, where, why that surrounds any given action. Context includes character, class, race, gender, setting, the given circumstances. It is what the exposition of a play begins to help the spectator understand.

Three ways to begin to understand context:

1. Play the same action (e.g. -- "I want you to leave this room," but change the context (e.g. -- sister to younger brother; wife to abusive husband; bouncer to drunk in a bar).
2. Read a play and describe the context for a specific scene. Compare and contrast it with the context for another scene: Romeo and Juliet on the heath instead of the balcony; Macbeth and the Witches on a balcony instead of on the heath.
3. Interview another person and then be prepared to describe several aspects of that person’s unique context: home town, education, siblings, teachers, religious experiences, significant events.


Northrop Frye on the mythos of comedy: "What normally happens is that a young man wants a young woman, that his desire is resisted by some opposition, usually paternal, and that near the end of the play some twist in the plot enables the hero to have his will. In this simple pattern there are several complex elements."

Frye creates a model that relates literature to myths and rituals seasons, to patterns of life, death and rebirth. His model identifies four mythoi: 1. spring/comedy; 2. summer/romance; 3. fall/tragedy; 4. winter/irony.

He creates a circular pattern within a vertical axis: romance is at the top of this axis. It moves toward images, metaphors, and archetypes of ideal experience, to the imagery of the heavens. Irony is at the bottom of this axis. It moves toward images, metaphors, and archetypes of unideal experience, to the imagery of hell and the inferno:

The top half of the natural cycle is the world of romance and the analogy of innocence; the lower half is the world of "realism" and the analogy of experience. There are thus four main types of mythical movement: within romance, within experience, down, and up. The downward movement is the tragic movement, the wheel of fortune falling from innocence toward harmartia, and from hamartia to catastrophe. The upward movement is the comic movement, from threatening complications to a happy ending and a general assumption of post-dated innocence in which everyone lives happily ever after (Frye 162).

Frye finds resonances for cyclical movement in a variety of sources: divine stories of death and rebirth; the movement of the sun, solar year, and moon; the human cycle of waking and sleeping; the human life cycle of birth/life/maturation/decline; annual cycle of the seasons; rise and fall of civilizations; the water cycle from rain and springs to brooks, rivers, seas, and back again.

Regardless of the extent to which we accept all or part of Frye’s paradigm, two powerful energies emerge. As Frye observes, the natural end of comedy is marriage with its attendant dances and feast. The natural end of tragedy is death and the disintegration that follows it. Comedy rides on a powerful drive toward union, toward coitus. In a play like Tartuffe, the sexual energy of this drive empowers both the young lovers with whom we identify and even those who block it, in Tartuffe’s desire for Elmire or even Mariane. Orgon’s passion for Tartuffe—to the extent that Tartuffe represents a facet of Orgon’s character or is a stand-in for Orgon—takes on an incestuous energy. Tragedy rides on an equally powerful human reality, the diminution of human energy and power that finally ends in our deaths, a process that moves not toward union and procreation, but separation and disintegration.

Some key terms in Frye's description of comedy: anagnorisis or cognito (the moment when a "new society" crystallizes "around the hero); party or festival (banquet, dane, wedding); obstacle to the "hero's desire"; generational conflict; alazon (imposter such as the miles gloriosus); ritual bondage; obsession; eirons (self-deprecator; includes heroes and tricky servants); buffoons; agroikos (churl, rustic): "The contest of eiron and alazon forms the basis of the comic action, and the buffoon and the churl polarize the comic mood" (Frye 172).

Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism. G. Proehl 3/5/2003


Example: Suzanne says of Figaro, "Intrigue and money — you are in your element now." But intrigue does not only belong to Figaro in Beaumarchais’s play, The Marriage of Figaro (1784). In act one, no less than four intrigues are launched, First of all, Figaro anatomizes the challenges that he faces from which he hopes intrigue will need to rescue him: "Look to the day’s work, Master Figaro! First bring forward the hour of your wedding to make sure of the ceremony taking place, head off Marceline who’s so deucedly fond of you, pocket the money and the presents, thwart His Lordship’s little game, give Master Bazile a good thrashing, and . . ." Marceline and Bartholo will intrigue to marry Figaro to Marceline, a housekeeper old enough to be Figaro’s mother, which of course we eventually find that she is. Chérubin, Suzanne, and Figaro intrigue to protect him from being dismissed, after the Count catches him with Fanchette. The Count, appointed an ambassador to London by the King of Spain, intrigues to take Figaro and Suzanne with him so that he can have his way with Suzanne apart from the watchful eyes of his wife. The Count continues to try throughout the play to seduce Suzanne; Figaro, Suzanne, and eventually the Countess plot to thwart his desires. They will make use of deceptions, lies, notes, and disguises. G. Proehl 2/16/2003.





"the suffering to which man is subject as a mortal creature" (Erich Auerbach, Mimesis 246)

Auerbach on creaturalism and the development toward realism, discussing a scene from a piece of writing from France in the 15th century: "Here the tragic, the grave, the problematic appears in the everyday life of a family. And although the people involved belong to the high nobility and are steeped in feudal forms and traditions, the situation in which we find them -- in bed at night, not as lovers but as man and wife, grieving under dire stress, and intent upon helping one another -- is of a kind that impresses us more as middle-class, or rather as generally human, than as feudal. Despite the solemn and ceremonious language, what takes place is very simple and very naive. A few simple thoughts and emotions appear, in harmony or in conflict. There is no question of any stylistic separation between the tragic and everyday realism. During is heyday, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, French courtly literature produced nothing so real and 'creatural'" (246).


CRITICAL METHODS -- fragmentary notes and quotes.

Grounds of Being: One way to identify a critical methodology is to see which field or fields most interest it.

1. God or the gods (theology; hermeneutics; exegesis; the idea of a transcendental signifier; an interest in a first cause, prime mover, roots, origins): our interest in a text is grounded in the degree to which it reveals religious or transcendental truths or in the ways in which religious truths/beliefs will illuminate the text
2. The world (historical criticism; dramaturgical research): our way into an understanding of the text is through the study of a text’s historical contexts
3. The author (biographical criticism; psychoanalytic criticism): our way into an understanding of the text is through the study of the author, his life, her intentions (conscious or unconscious)
4. The text (hermeneutics, exegesis, New Criticism; archetypal criticism; structuralism; semiotics; psychoanalytic criticism, deconstruction): our way into the text is through a close reading of the text in an effort to understand the intrinsic relationship between the text's form and its content to the point of breaking down this distinction itself; archetypal criticism and structuralism look for patterns, structures, types that might be discerned in a body of texts; semiotics examines the text as a system of signifiers and signified; psychoanalytic criticism treats the text somewhat like a dream, readable as a surface with various depths; deconstruction often looks for the ways in which texts undercut their apparent goals or purposes
5. The reader (reader-response theory; phenomenology): our way into the text is by focusing on the reading process, communities of readers, or, with phenomenology, on processes of perception that may in some way register prior to categorization and even signification
6. The language or culture of which the reader/text/author are a function (structuralism, semiotics, deconstruction, cultural studies, new historicism, feminism, lesbian/gay/queer criticism, postcolonial criticism, African American criticism): our way into the text is by way of its status as a product of culture or as a form of culture that in its own way — explicitly or more implicitly — either reinforces or challenges cultural norms; we are interested in the ways in which works of art perform cultural work, on the ways in which they provide places for movement and change or on the ways in which they work to restrain or contain individuals and change.
G. Proehl (based on a model taught by Charles Lyons) 2/22/2003.

Here are some brief notes on specific theories or methods with an emphasis on the role they might play in better understanding a play's dramaturgy, its form and its content.

The realization that plays draw, intentionally and even more often unintentionally, many of their elements from a vast field of story that comes from a wide range of places and times. No play stands alone or in isolation. These elements include plots, character types, metaphors, images, and themes, whether we call them conventions or archetypes. For Northrop Frye (Anatomy of Criticism), who was deeply influenced by the Bible, the most persistent of all archetypes is the pattern of birth, life, death, decomposition, and rebirth or resurrection, as reflected in myth, ritual, and literature. For him, this archetype springs from attempts to control natural cycles, particularly the seasons. Frye finds a correspondence between the phases of this pattern, the seasons, and genre: spring/birth or rebirth/comedy; summer/life/romance; fall/death/tragedy; winter/decomposition/irony. Frye also makes a major distinction between several basic categories of characters: mythic (greater in kind than other characters), romantic (stronger in degree than other characters), tragic (leaders, stronger but fallible), comic (equal to or lesser than others, susceptible to the pratfalls of the physical world), ironic (fall beneath other characters; insect-like compared to most humans).

The realization that plays exist in a dynamic relationship with culture. The field of cultural studies, which embraces feminism, post-colonial criticism, African-American studies, gay/lesbian/queer studies, and related fields offers a range of useful concepts. One of the most useful is the idea of “the natural": the idea that assumptions which might seem natural, pre-ordained, given are indeed socially constructed. Plays can work to reinforce or challenge “the natural." Churchill, for example, has a man play Betty in the first act of Cloud Nine in order to underscore the degree to which ideas about women have been authored by men. Another useful and related concept, focuses on the idea of “representation": a heightened consciousness about how one group, usually a marginalized group, is portrayed by another group, usually a dominant group.

Here are two quotes that describe central elements of deconstruction, a critical approach most usually associated with the work of French theoretician, Jacques Derrida. First, the idea that deconstruction as a methodology is concerned with “revealing the illusion of truth, unity, origins, and closure" (Reinelt and Roach, Critical Theory and Performance). Secondly, the idea that deconstruction asserts or reasserts the idea that “our experience of ourselves and our world is produced by the language we speak, and because all language is unstable, ambiguous force-field of competing ideologies, we are, ourselves, unstable and ambiguous force-fields of competing ideologies" (Tyson, Understanding Critical Theory 250). With respect to plays, deconstruction as the “illusion of truth" and “competing ideologies" has with some frequency lead to analyses of plays that identify inherent contradictions, which may not, at first, be all that noticeable. It is possible, for example, to describe James Moy’s reading of M. Butterfly, as deconstructive: Moy asserts that this play, which seems to challenge cultural stereotypes of Asian by westerners, particularly Asian women, actually reinforces stereotypes of Asians by reintroducing, in the character of an Asian male who lives as a woman, the image of a devious, feminized Asian male.

Cixous: In the "Laugh of Medusa," Cixous offers a series of images and words for women (laughter, body, song, desire, writing, plenitude, exuberance, joy, affirmation) and a series of "nots": not lack, not envy, not fear, not either or, but both and; not centralized and unified but dispersed: "But I do desire the other, whole and entire, male or female; because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive."

Tyson in Critical Theory Today notes that feminist criticism challenges our habits of seeing, our ways of "looking at life" (82).

A New Critic might not want to consider a play’s historical context as a part of a literary analysis of its form and content. A Marxist critic would find this ahistorical, formalistic approach problematic. Marxism draws attention to the material conditions of human beings, particularly to the ways in which socioeconomic systems like feudalism, capitalism, or socialism privilege certain groups of people and exploit others.

Marxist criticism, as its name implies, draws on the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883). Lois Tyson in her book Critical Theory Today writes that for Marxism, "getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities, including education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, the media, and so on" (50). She then goes on to lay out some of this theories key terms: socioeconomic class; bourgeoisie (those who own or control the means of production)/proletariat (workers and wage earners employed by the bourgeoisie; "underclass, lower class, middle class, upper class, and 'aristocracy' (Tyson's way of expanding the definition of class); ideology, particularly as it plays into a series of concepts that tend to mask the workings of capitalism (, creating a false consciousness (e.g. -- the American dream, patriotism, religion, rugged individualism, consumerism). In general, such ideologies tend to present what Marxism see as constructs as "natural" truths or unimpeachable ideals.) Brecht, in particular, would argue that theatre needs to estrange us from the idea of "the natural," "the universal," the "transcendental" in order to effect change and bring about a more just society. One of the most profound effects of capitalism (private ownership of the means of production by the dominant class) is commodification: the transformation of our world into a series of dollar signs. As such, commodities have, according to Marxists, three fundamental values: their use value, exchange value, and sign value.

The idea that a text is an autonomous object that deserves, first and foremost, a close and careful reading, apart from a knowledge of its authorship or historical context. Closely connected to this tenet of New Criticism is the notion that it is possible to discover a deep relationship between a play’s form and its content to the extent that the distinction form and content drops away.

"[S]eeks to reveal how the text works as a unified whole by showing how its main theme is established by the text’s formal, or stylistic, elements: imagery, symbolism, tone rhyme, meter, plot, characterization, setting point of view, and so forth" (Tyson 253). With its insistence on both the intentional fallacy and the affective fallacy, New Criticism privileged the internal coherence of a text as perceived by an educated reader over both authorial intent and the idiosyncrasy of any one reader’s response. Although New Criticism grounded itself in a faith in the power of interpretive processes by way of a close reading, it honored the fluidity of human experience in its appreciation of "tension, irony, ambiguity, and paradox" (Tyson 253).

States-"[O]ur sensory experience with empirical objects"; Bachelard, "[T]he original amazement of the naïve observer."

The awareness or recognition of those elements within a performance that call attention to themselves beyond or apart from their semiotic function. These elements – fire or water are examples – have a kind of sensual liveliness that resists categorization. These elements have a tendency to lose their effectiveness with repetition so that a fresh or innovative element (e. g. – nudity) may in time become not unusual but conventional, even a cliché, which might, in turn, be parodied (see States, Bert, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms). On the other hand, they may, especially when first introduced, be so phenomenologically hot as to be distracting. Nonetheless, theatre makers draw upon these raw materials that have the ability to arrest those habitual processes of perception that tend to recognize, name, and sort one element of a play after another.

No form of critical theory arouses more suspicion than a psychoanalytic approach: it is frequently, especially when practiced by individuals without formal training, as both amateurish and reductionistic. Nonetheless, it is difficult to separate ourselves from its legacy. It suggests that individuals have an interior aspect of the self that is not completely knowable, but that manifest itself on the surface of my behavior and language (a surface/depth metaphor). The reasons for the actions of individuals or characters are often somehow beyond that person, even if they think they can clearly understand them. Individuals may never fully know themselves, but they will profit from an increased awareness of this unknown. Individuals will be healthier if they pursue self-knowledge.

The self is divided. Eros is an important part of human identity. Individuals have strong drives; the channeling of these drives is a part of the developmental process. It is not wrong to have these drives, but the self must find some way to deal with these drives: it cannot just have whatever it wants whenever it wants it; at the same time as the self is I learning this, it is also learning language; language, according to some psychoanalytic theories, language becomes a compensation for what it cannot have.

The self is divided in a particular way: id/ego/superego are one set of names for this division, although it not be tripartite at all. The self lives in a very complicated family: it is first of all bound to the mother but at some point must break this bond; if the identifies with my father then it will love what the father loves and this will put it into competition with him; the self must therefore make some kind of deal that will work all this out; following the theorist Jacques Lacan, I solve the conflict with the father by entering the Symbolic Order (father's world) in exchange for surrendering the mother and so the family becomes "the factory within which patriarchal culture reproduces itself" (Silverman149). In any event, family life poses a complicated set of negotiations for both men and women. We go through a series of key moment: differentiation by sex within the womb; birth; separation from the mother (loss, lack, absence, longing); in Lacan, the perception of the self as an idealized Other at the mirror stage: "Lacking controlled motor development, the infant sees its image in the mirror as a coherent whole, thus misrecognizes himself . . . as a complete autonomous Other. Introjecting this mirror image as an ideal ego, or identification model, he spends the rest of his life desiring versions of its--at, for example, Hollywood movies. In Lacan identification, always in the register of the imaginary, is always narcissistic; the perceived other is a version of me. Difference, contradiction are all occluded in the subject’s initial and continuing capture in the mimetic mirror" (395). The body is partitioned into erogenous and non-erogenous zones as opposed in generalized, undifferentiated pleasuring. The eyes are important: the gaze is important; a look that longs for, that desires, that objectifies. The playscript is like a dream to be interpreted for what it will tell us about the self. This notion valorizes literature as a place of psychological insight; the role of the writer or actor is to release the unconscious from the constraint of the ego and superego.

Some key concepts for psychoanalysis as described by Tyson in Critical Theory Today are healing, the unconscious, surface/depth, a divided self (id, ego, superego), family/family history, pleasure, repression/guilt, knowledge (self-knowledge), defense mechanisms, selective perception, selective memory, denial, avoidance, displacement, projection, regression, fear of intimacy, anxiety, return of the repressed, latent content, condensation
phallic symbols, dream analysis, crisis or trauma, fear of abandonment, drive theory (eros, thanatos, etc.), pleasure principle, libido, primacy of work and love, oedipal complex, Freudian slip.

This phrase is taken from John Caputo’s book by the same name. In “Openness to Mystery," the concluding chapter of his book, Caputo emphasizes responses to suffering. Caputo’s topic is germane to theatre making, in part because suffering (and pleasure) are central to many plays. Indeed Gerald Else in Origins and Early Forms of Greek Tragedy suggests that suffering is central to the development to the dramaturgy of Greek tragedy. He argues that a moment of suffering, enacted and drawn from the rhapsodic tradition, became the keystone in the invention of Greek tragedy. From that moment of suffering, the narrative of Greek tragedy moved in two different directions: backwards in time in an effort to understand or at least describe the events leading up to that moment of pathos; forward in time in an effort to understand what might follow from that moment of pathos. Caputo posits two approaches to suffering: religious and tragic. The religious position identifies with the victim of suffering and opposes it. The tragic position, after Nietzsche, affirms suffering as fundamental to human experience. For Caputo, these positions are incommensurate: both are necessary, neither is sufficient in and of itself. Caputo’s either/or, both/and paradigm may be problematic – Caputo insists on openness and mystery but still advances a fundamentally dualistic approach to human experience – but his work is theoretically useful to the extent that it suggests a search for those over-arching ideas that contribute to the aesthetics and ethos that inform our theatre making. It is also relevant to the extent that what Caputo names as a religious response – the effort to stop or alleviate suffering – under girds various theoretical positions, particularly much of cultural studies. What Caputo refers to as a tragic response to suffering might find parallels in theoretical approaches that are more individualistic, existential, formal, or aesthetic.

Elam- "[A]ll that is on the stage is a sign."

It is possible to analyze a play in terms of its semiotics or signs, usually broken down into two major elements: signifiers and signifieds. This usually begins with noticing primary signifiers (e.g. – the colors assigned to the costumes of various characters) and speculating on (a) their meaning (what intentionally or unintentionally they signify, denotatively and connotatively) and (b) their effectiveness. Semiotics encourages an active reading or decoding of a play. One strategy, often employed by cultural studies, is the search for signification that is at first hidden or at least subtle enough to not be immediately noticed. For example, according to Roland Barthes a work might signify its reality, its naturalism, by appearing to be unmediated by rules, conventions, composition, editing. Other examples of this idea would be the activity of clipping images of women from glossy magazines and from these images deducing what messages they are sending about women and beauty. A certain reading of semiotics suggests that all that consciousness has to work with is this play of signifiers and signifieds, that we cannot know the “real" world directly, without their mediation.

SIGNIFIER, SIGNIFIED: two of the central terms of semitics as definend by Wallis and Shepherd
“A ‘sign’ consists of two elements: a word or visual image (a red traffic light) and a concept (stop: danger). Without the concept the traffic light is a metal pole with a red light on it: the signifier and the signified have an arbitrary relationship, but they also depend on each other to make the sign. Performance depends substantially on the use of signs: an audience will understand two armchairs and a small table to signify a living room, or an antique shop (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 173)."

Relations and structures between objects; "sees itself as a science of humankind, for its efforts to discover the structures that underlie the world’s surface phenomena— whether we place those phenomena, for example, in the domain of mathematics, biology, linguistics, religions, psychology, or literature — imply an effort to discover something about the innate structures of human consciousness" (Tyson 199).

One way to review theoretical approaches is by recalling the language various approaches employ. Here then is a list of theoretical approaches.

For each of the following critical categories, a list of terms or areas of interest often associated with that form of criticism is below. Most of these terms are taken from Lois Tyson's book, Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide (Garland, 1999), although they are certainly found across a wide range of primary and secondary sources. The purpose of this listing is NOT to give students a facile way of employing a critical method. Indeed, one goal is to alert students to language, often highly specialized language, that should perhaps not be used without a thorough understanding of its provenance. Another goal is to remind ourselves of Kenneth Burke’s notion of terministic screen, which at the simplest levels suggests that the terms we bring to a phenomenon will screen in or out, filter in or out, what we notice, what we observe. Although phenomenology holds out the promise (hope, illusion), of a kind of unmediated perception, most if not all of what we perceive will be mediated by past experience, by language, by categories and concepts. The following lists in this sense, various sets of terministic screens. We need, at least, to realize that much of what we see will be determined by the pre-conceptions, prejudices, inclinations of the language we carry with us. The term lists that follow are therefore meant both as quick reminders of the issues and concerns that different methodologies bring to the table. The goal then is not to adopt a critical language and then simply overlay it on a text, but to identify by way of these languages legitimate areas for further exploration and to further understand the ways in which these perspectives, even if we are not familiar with them, already inform our work and thought.

African American

(culture/race: Civil Rights movement, 1950s and 1960s)

hegemony, Eurocentrism,
racialism, racism, institutionalized racism
internalized racism
intra-racial racism
double consciousness
storytelling, orality, human voice, call and response, rep. and rev.
blues, jazz, rap
trickster, healer, conjurer, matriarch, storyteller, religious leader, folk hero
role of song, role of ritual
naming, signifyin(g)


(text: recurrence of characters, narrative patterns, etc.; most associated with work of Northrop Frye)

mythoi of comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony

cultural studies

(culture: a primary theoretical method or approach at the end of the 20th century)

see Marxist, feminism(s), lesbian/gay/queer, postcolonial, African American as examples of cultural criticism
high culture, low or popular culture, an interest in all forms of culture, cultural work
cultural as process not product
oppression, resistance, mobility
values, ethics
close cousin to New Historicism, which, to some extent, it replaced



play/chain of signifiers
problematizing of binaries
awareness of logocentrism


(culture/gender: most recent wave began to emerge in 1960s)

with respect to theatre: who’s making it, how it’s made, what is being represented
questioning the construction of a literary canon built on the equation of male experience with universality; questioning the idea of universality itself as a literary value
patriarchy: "any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles . . . men as rational, strong, protective, and decisive; . . . women as emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and submissive" (Tyson 83); patriarchal modes -- "rationalist rules of logic (logic that stays 'above the neck,' relying on narrow definitions of cognitive experience and discrediting many kind of emotional and intuitive experience), and linear thinking" (Tyson 92).
sexism: "the belief that women are innately inferior to men" (Tyson 84).
subjectivity: "one's own selfhood, the way one views oneself and others, which develops from one's own individual experiences" (Tyson 94).
sex ("biological constitution")/gender ("cultural programming") (Tyson 84)
other: woman is "defined only by her difference from male norms and values" (Tyson 90).
gender roles, good/bad girl (madonna/whore)
biological essentialism
phallogocentric thinking: "male oriented in its vocabulary, rules of logic, and criteria for what is considered objective knowledge" (Tyson 91).
écriture feminine: "a kind of writing that is different from patriarchal modes of writing . . . fluidly organized and freely associative" (Tyson 92).
sisterhood and its relationship to race and class-based oppressions



internalized homophobia
heterosexism, heterocentrism
biological essentialism, social constructionism
minoritizing: ways "of understanding gay and lesbian experience that focus on their minority status" (Tyson 321)
universalizing: ways "of understanding gay and lesbian experience that focus on the homosexual potential in all people" (Tyson 321)
lesbian continuum: "include(s) a range -- through each woman's life and throughout history -- of woman identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman" (Adrienne Rich as cited in Tyson 325)
coded: gay or lesbian "meaning in an apparently heterosexual narrative" (Tyson 327)
gay sensibility: "How does being gay influence the way one sees the world. . . ?" (Tyson 331)
queer: increasingly an "inclusive category for referring to a common political or cultural ground shared by gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and all people who consider themselves, for whatever reasons, nonstraight" (Tyson 336)


(culture/socioeconomic; Karl Marx 1818-1883)

socioeconomic class
oppression; exploitation
American dream
rugged individualism
the natural
alienated labor
use value, exchange value, sign value
historical/material cond.

New Historicism

(culture/reader: writing of Foucault were pivotal)

emphasizes the role that interpretation plays in the writing of history
impossibility of object analysis
history is complex, over determined
questions linear, causal analyses
human subjectivity is in play with culture: we shape culture and are shaped by it, with usually
power is multivalent; an interest in power exchanges
an emphasis on discourse: "a social language created by a particular cultural conditions" (Tyson 281)
resists reductionism, totalizing, monolithic explanations
a close cousin to cultural studies

New Criticism
(text: dominant, 1940s-1960s): "a literary work is a timeless, autonomous (self-sufficient) verbal object." Tyson 120)

formal elements; interplay between form and content
close reading
intentional fallacy
affective fallacy
organic unity
diction/image/tone/order/structure/rhyme/meter/figurative language/symbol/metaphor
intrinsic/objective criticism vs. extrinsic criticism



"The role of art is to restore the sensation of life." Victor Shklovsky
emphasis on processes of perception, even prior to processes of naming and categorizing emphasizes deep attentiveness to phenomena
(see Bert States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms).


col. ideology
colonial discourse
self/other: demonic other, exotic other
colonial subjects
double consciousness
cult. imperialism
postcolonial themes: disruption, journey, othering, mimicry, exile, exuberance, alienation, hybridity, and many of the above
reinforcement, resistance
historical trauma


(author/text: Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939)

unconscious, surface/depth, a divided self (id, ego, superego)
family, family history
pleasure, repression/guilt
knowledge (self knowledge), defense mechanisms, selective perception, selective memory, denial, avoidance, displacement, projection
regression, fear of intimacy, anxiety, return of the repressed, latent content, condensation
phallic symbols, dream analysis
crisis or trauma, fear of abandonment
drive theory (eros, thanatos, etc.), pleasure principle, primacy of work and love
oedipal complex
Freudian slip

reader response/reception theory

(reader: emerged, 1970s)

determinate and indeterminate meaning
interpretive communities
informed reader/literary competence


(text/reader; the study of sign systems)

signifier/ signified
transformability of the sign
foregrounding and frame
denotation/ connotation
types of signifiers: 1. icon (signifier resembles), index 2. (signifier points to; causal; tends to have a natural connection), 3. symbol (signifier arbitrary; tends to have an artificial or conventional connection to the signified)
transformability of the sign
(terms are from Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama)


(text/culture: began to emerge in the 1950s)

structure: three tests -- wholeness, transformation, self-regulation (e.g. -- a grammar)
langue (language) and parole (speech): structuralism focuses on the former
diachronic (over time); synchronic (system of relationships at a moment in time; landscape)
binary oppositions


The entry for CRITICAL METHODS gives some sense of the wide range of theories, schema, and methodologies that can be brought to a critical examination of a text or its performance. Critique resonates with critical methods that examine the relationship between and a play and culture. A cultural critique in particular would looks for the ways in which a play's form or content either reinforces or challenges cultural norms. A deconstructive critique might note, for example, the ways in which a play might seem to challenge norms but actually reinforce them, as, for example, a play that is critical of racism but that itself relies on racial stereotypes. It is not, however, necessary to limit the idea of a critique to the relationship between a work of art and the culture that informs it or that it informs. It is also possible to engage in an aesthetic or formal critique, although cultural critics are skeptical of such distinctions.





"Moment of untangling of plot, unraveling of mystery" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 171).





Dramaturgy can refer to an characteristic, a role, or a function. As characteristic we use the word to describe how a particular play or playwright employs theatrical form in order to create meaning, as in the dramaturgy of Twelfth Night or The Seagull, or the dramaturgy of Wagner or Brecht. In this sense, dramaturgy refers to how a particular play makes a story in time and space. It is as attribute that Patrice Pavis in Languages of the Stage defines dramaturgy as "treatment of time and space, the configuration of characters in the dramatic universe, the sequential organization of the episodes of the Story. . . . action, story, fable, catastrophy, rules, unities, etc."

Dramaturgy as a role refers to the person whose name appears on a program opposite the title "Dramaturg." Within university and regional theatres, the presence of this title on programs is increasingly common.

As function, dramaturgy refers to a set of activities necessary to the theatre-making process, centering around—most specifically—the application of an understanding of the dramaturgy of the play to the play making process from pre-production through opening night. By extension, this function might include research into a play’s historical, critical, and theatrical contexts for the purposes of production. It might include related tasks such as season planning, new play development, and season planning. As such, this function might be and often is performed not only by dramaturgs but by producers, directors, designers, and actors as well. Even though a dramaturg is not at work on a particular show, dramaturgical functions are still being performed. In this sense, it is possible to eliminate a dramaturg from the rehearsal process but impossible to eliminate dramaturgy. See Dramaturgy Northwest/definitions.

"What are the parts to this thing? How do they go together?"
Lee Devin, Dramaturgy in American Theater.



"Use your five senses to awaken memories of both physical sensations and emotions that can be filtered into the character's feelings" (Barton 121).


According to Robert Barton in Acting Onstage and Off, this is the key to acting: "You empathize with someone when you so completely comprehend what that person is going through that you share his [her] feelings, thoughts, and motives" (Barton 118).

Empathy is closely related to the concept of contact.


"Project onto people and objects, real and imagined, qualities from your imagination and experience that bring them to life" (Barton 106).


A play in which the plot moves forward through a series of scenes that move from the present into the future, as opposed to an analytic structure.


“Having the same name. Hamlet is the eponymous hero of Hamlet" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 172).


"Moments when the other person says or does something that makes you pause, consider, and reject several different answers before choosing a reply" (Barton 12).


As defined by David Ball in Backwards and Forwards: "Exposition is the revelation of information needed by the audience to understand the play's action" (43). Ball distinguishes between exposition that all of the characters know but the audience does not, which can be difficult to write, and exposition that comes to the audience because one character possesses information that another needs or wants. Ball also notes that what the audience does not know is often as important as what it does. He notes that "ignorance is bliss": that an audience's pleasure, as Ubersfeld also notes in "The Pleasure of the Spectator," comes from putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The author needs to give enough exposition to make it possible to start assembling the puzzle, but not so much as to take from audience sthe joy of making the story in their heads.

David Ball examines the difference between exposition in which both characters know the information (more difficult to justify) and in which one character knows and another does not.

"There are two kinds of exposition. The first involves information known to everyone on stage, . . . The second kind . . . involves information known by some or one of the characters" (Ball 39). Two methods for the second of these: 1. a messenger speech; 2. "An important character reveals expositional information as a tool to get another character to do something" (Ball 42). "[W]ith a writer you trust, assume the exposition's information is directly relevant to the action" (Ball 40); cf. Johnstone's idea of reincorporation.


From Bert States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms:

"There is a point where scrupulous attention to detail--for example, a photo of the pores of the skin--leads one back, or out, to the universe of geometric mass."

"we hear the pace and detail of real speech, speech concerned with a real out there; but we also have the feeling that speech is referring to another landscape that can be seen only with the metaphysical eye."

"If you squint out the paraphernalia of random reality in Chekhov and think of his people as a kind of collective consciousness, you are left with a monologue of the soul much like that in Treplev's playlet . . . "

"When drama arrives at the point where it is about people who dream, rather than act, it is on the verge of giving birth to the dream play, or to the drama of the interior of the human mind."

"However distinctive the look of the expressionistic stage, it was doing the work of the naturalist premise. . . . The distinctive thing about the naturalists and the expressionists was theirs was an art of fierce signification."

"based on 'a passion for truth, in strictly human and contemporary terms.' "

Naturalism's two problems: 1. "could no longer answer questions raised by its own discoveries", 2. "crisis of self-perfection"; "must have something new to do"

Expressionism: "an almost atomic release of stylistic energy"; "Ostensibly, the naturalist's art is marked by the disappearance of style."

Naturalism and expressionism: (and perhaps romanticism) share in a passion for truth, (for Brustein, the key word is revolt), whereas neoclassicism focused on the perfection of "traditional form"

"If exp., as a content, was naturalism turned inside out, as a style it was naturalism cut into pieces somewhat along the lines of Tristan Tzara's newspaper-poems: an art of sudden juxtapositions as opposed to an art of gradual transitions; and most important, a style that could juxtapose various degrees of realism and nonrealism, from the filthiest cellar of hard-core naturalism to the most flagrant symbolism."

"This confinement of the action to a single loaded locale, or at most two or three, is one of the realistic theatre's greatest affective advantages--or, to put it a better way, it is the limitation on which it capitalized most successfully."

"Part of the wonder of a good realistic play is how skillfully it manages to charge such a small space with so much energy." (Gothic vs. the Baroque of Expressionism); expressionism breaks out of this

In expressionism, the little room is the character's mind.


Elements of Expressionism

1. focus on the internal world; subjectivity; the attempt to make"consciousness subject to principles of aesthetic organization" (this is an outgrowth of the realist impulse and still modernist; the search for truth shifts from the objective view to the subjective view); usually a strong, central protagonist

2. other characters become embodiments of choices or aspects of the self; these characters may be named in terms of their relationship to the central character

3. tendency toward archetypal characters/settings: father/son; mother/daughter; lover; boss; THE OFFICE; THE MATERNITY WARD; THE KITCHEN

4. use of metaphor rather than an environment: in Emperor Jones, "the little Formless Fears"; crocodile; in Machinal: the subway

5. structure: open, episodic, journey motif

6. language: direct from consciousness; varies by mood, not naturalistic convention; stripped staccato; long, bombastic monologue

7. "new man" theme; "new woman" theme: drive for rebirth and regeneration

8. hope and naivety vs. despair and disillusionment; could be somewhat humorless

If you were going to make an expressionist drama of your life, what would be some of the key moments.




Words used to describe recurrent characters and character types: agroikos or rustic, alazon, blocking character, braggart, buffoon, dirty old man, earth mother, eiron, exotic other, hero, heavy father, nerd, scapegoat, seductress, sidekick, shrew, sissy, student idealist, tom boy, trickster, victim, villain, virgin (male or female), whore, wise old man, younger brother, young lovers, zanni

Familiar faces or stock characters types have long lineages: for example, in Atellan farce (3rd cent. BCE to 1st cent. BCE), Bucco was a vivacious braggart (in commedia d’elle arte, Capitano); Pappus was a foolish old codger (in commedia, Pantalone); Dossenus was a hunchback, buffoon; Maccus was a gluttonous simpleton

Characters who we recognize because we've seen them in other plays or stories


"Family relationships are at or near the center of almost every play" (Ball 85).


Step one: Affirmation
Step two: Artist as questioner
Step three: Responses ask the [neutral] questions
Step four: Opinion time
Step five: Subject matter discussion
Step six: Working on the work


“Krogstad has himself committed a misdemeanour in the past, one not dissimilar from Nora’s forgery. Since then he has been treated as a social outcast. It has been very difficult for him to find work. His plight contrasts with Nora’s outwardly comfortable position. In the play’s design, he is a foil to Nora—a point of comparison" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 14).


“Sheet of paper. Renaissance ‘folio’ editions, such as the posthumous First Folio of Shakespeare which collected all his plays, were large format, printed on unfolded sheets. Quarto editions of single plays—often published just after the first performances—are printed on sheets folded twice, making the pages one-quarter size" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 172).




"Dramatic tension requires that the audience desire to find out what is coming up. The greater the desire, the greater--and more active--the audience's involvement. Playwright's employ many techniques--forwards--to increase the thirst for what's coming up. Such techniques are also a key to spotting elements the playwright considers important" (David Ball, Backwards and Forwards 59).

"[A]nything that arouses an audience's interest in things yet to come."

"Playwrights employ many techniques . . . to increase the thirst for what's coming up."




Words use to describe a plays genres include comedy, romance, melodrama, satire, tragedy; see Diderot on genre

Ex: Melodrama, Tragedy, Comedy, Farce


“Willett (1977:173) usefully glosses this word as referring at once to ‘gesture’, a physical attitude, and ‘gist’, an outline" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 104).


"Learn all the relevant facts that influence this person's behavior" (Barton 106).

"Any piece of information or activity written into the script or demanded by the director comprising the imaginary framework within which an action is performed" (Bruder 88).




“Shakespeare’s verse-line is sometimes called an IAMBIC PENTAMETER, which is a horrible phrase and I try not to use it. But what it means, and what BLANK VERSE consists of, is basically the alternation of light and strong stresses. . . . Ten syllables, with light and strong stresses alternating, five light ones and five strong ones. That is the norm of blank verse. It’s been pointed out that this rhythm approximates more closely thank any other to our natural everyday speech" (John Barton. Playing Shakespeare 26).



"Times when you do not speak but are actively thinking, so a speech is going on in you head" (Barton 12).


"Often the core of dramatic tension resides in keeping information from the audience." This is the phrase does David Ball use to describe this concept that "Ignorance is bliss" (Ball 32).


The sense that a character has an inner life is central to a character's believability; many of the terms in this list have, as their ultimate goal, the creation of at least the illusion that a character has an inner life; inner life is in opposition to the "saying lines" or acting with the face; when a character has an inner life, the face knows last; see, in particular, intention and subtext.


For States, these are three stages of a new theatrical image or device: first it's new, perhaps baffling; then it's recognizable as a theatrical element; in this stage, it's often extensively explored (e.g. --- realistic elements in a setting going from eating a meal on stage to cooking and eating a meal on stage); then cliché --- it's been done so often that people groan when they see it; this is the stage in which parody is most possible



How does the dramaturgy differ from one playwright to the next?

Changes in the Role of the Chorus: The chorus becomes less important over the course of the fifth century, so that eventually (although not really in the Bacchae) they become a kind of incidental music

Changes in the Number of Actors: There is also a move from a single actor rule to a two actor rule to a three actor rule (three speaking parts on stage at any one time): Aeschylus is credited with adding the second actor; Sophocles, the third. (The Oresteia employs three actors)

What does this mean? more actors, less chorus.

The single actor allowed for a moment of suffering, for the telling of a story, for a moment of deliberation and choice, for a messenger speech

The second actor opened the way for conflict and agon.

Three models for interaction between two actors from scholarship on Greek theatre:

Model #1: A laments/reflects upon/rejoices at news brought by B (reactive)
Model #2: A fights/debates/meets B (balanced)
Model #3: A coerces/influences/offers B (active)

With the addition of a third actor, it is easier to get along without the chorus; you no longer need someone to fill in while an actor goes off to change his/her mask; more importantly, a third actor can bring in news that will change the status of the other two.

The Development of Scene Painting: Scholars credits Sophocles with introducing scene painting. What might scene painting suggest (in time): the identification of scenic space with a specific locale, potentially limiting the flexibility of the theatrical space and increasing the importance of visual, as opposed to acoustic imagination. When in the 16th century AD, Palladio and Scamozzi created the Teatro Olimpico—a miniature, indoor version of a Roman theatre—they finished it with perspective vistas behind each of the doorways leading onto the stage. Soon the facade would recede to a proscenium arch, a single opening would offer a perspective by way of wing and drop or chariot and pole settings of a single locale. For the next 300 years, western theatre would live with this constellation of theatrical space.
G. Proehl 3/6/2003


"I have endeavored to show in these pages that the art of scene design must be based on the only reality worthy of the theatre: the human body."
Adolphe Appia, "Light and Space," Directors on Directing: A Source Book of the Modern Theatre, Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy, eds. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963) 146.

"The fundamental principle on which the staging of Tristan and Isolde should be based is this: the audience must see the world of the protagonists as they themselves see it."
Adolphe Appia, "The Staging of Tristan and Isolde (1899)," Theatre and Drama in the Making, Vol. Two, John Gassner and Ralph G. Allen, eds. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964) 690.

"When Isolde enters she is aware of only two things: Tristan’s absence and the torch (last glimmer of the first act) which motivates this absence." Theatre and Drama in the Making 690.

Adolphe Appia was a designer and theoretician who along with the English designer Gordon Craig did much to revolutionize the way we think about stage design in the late 19th and early 20th century. He had gone to Bayreuth to see the work of Wagner at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and was disappointed by what he saw there, for despite the innovations of the auditorium, the setting itself was still grounded in a painted, illusionistic, chariot and pole machinery that Giacomo Torelli (1608-1678, Italy) had perfected between 1641 and 1645 at the Teatro Novissimo. Appia felt that the new tone-drama needed a new method of production. Like Wagner, his goal was to draw the spectator into an ideal realm. While Wagner rejected separate arias and recitatives, while Appia discarded "perspective tableaux" and scenic painting to the extent that it drew light and focus from the actor.

Appia wanted to use light to reflect changes in mood, tonality, and rhythm. Scene painting on flats, borders, and back drops was the enemy because it required flat, unchanging light. Appia also advocated the use of three-dimensional settings to eliminate the disparity between "the living, moving body of the actor" and the scene in which s/he is placed. He believed that the use of various levels, stairs, platforms would energize and animated the human form. By moving away from painted flats, he hoped to make the floor an integral part of the scenic environment. Appia did not ask the question, "Where is the play set and how can I create a life-like representation of that setting?" Instead he studied intently the dramatic score and from its dramaturgy derived an approach to the scenery. His fundamental points of departure were the presence of the human body and the nature of the dramatic action within a given scene. He was determined to use scenic space to express not the objective environment, but the subjective mood, soul, or atmosphere of the play as formed by the meeting of his imagination and skill with his understanding of a play’s deep structure. Although he acknowledged the role of Antoine and the realist is creating a dimensional environment, he was most interested in those operas like Wagner’s that had moved closer to the spoken play and those spoken plays like Maeterlinck’s (a symbolist), that had moved closer to the music drama. In general, this sensibility lead to designs that suggestive, simple, and symbolic.

Not everyone, however, appreciated Appia’s work on Wagner’s operas: Eric Bentley, certainly a partisan voice, has attacked Appia and Wagner's work for its bent towards what he calls the "lurid prettiness of cute symbolism, of semidarkness, of mysticism, illusion, and fantasy," qualities not generally found, according to him, in two of his more favorite authors, Ibsen and Brecht. This tension between a more aesthetically or even existentially oriented theatre (Wagner, Meaterlinck, Beckett, Robert Wilson) and a more politically or ideologically oriented theatre runs (Ibsen, Brecht, Miller, Mamet, Boal), despite its reductionistic tendencies, frequently surfaces in writings about theatre, particularly from the late 19th century to the present.

Finally, a fundamental question from Appia, appropriate to anyone who attempts to understand the dramaturgy of a play and then use that understanding to create a work of art: "How will the stage designer embody all this [Appia has just presented his reading of the second act of Tristan and Isolde] so that the spectator in the course of this act does not rationalize what has happened, does not analyze it intellectually, but is carried away by in inner emotional surge?"

Appia’s solution is to "indicate point by point" a "method of staging." Appia goes back to the beginning of the act two and retells the story but now with concrete details of staging and design. Theatre and Drama in the Making 691. G. Proehl 2/26/2003.


"For it is the environment that determines the movements of the characters, not the movements of the characters that determine the environment." Antoine

A few points:

Antoine founded the Theatre Libre in 1887.

He connected directing to furniture, new plays, and anti-commercialism.

He advocated for creating a scene that matches an environment that we might encounter in the world outside the theatre.

He advocated for the illusion of the 4th wall.

He wanted to hide the theatrical machinery. There is in his working the ongoing dialogue/tension between the real and the theatrical, between remembering that we are in a theatre and forgetting.

In his staging practices, he built on work of others such as Saxe-Meiningen and Henry Irving. He was against footlights. He would transfer real life, in some instances directly, to the stage. In Antoine’s theatre actors might turn their backs on the audience, talk rather than recite, play an individual rather than a stock type.

He ran by his theatre by subscriptions to raise capital, making the theatre a private organization, thus avoiding conflicts with the censor. He played to small audiences, but still had an impact. He performed plays by Hauptmann, Tolstoy, Ibsen, and Strindberg.

He helped to begin an alternate theatre movement: the Independent theatre Movement that would find theatres in Russia, France, England, Ireland, and the United States.


Aspect #1: Critique

Artaud's manifestoes included an intense, incensed, blistering, radical critique of theatre as he found it: (see "No More Masterpieces," 1938)

Of commercial theatre
Of institutional theatre
Of theatre of masterpieces: "[W]e must rid ourselves of our superstitious valuation of texts and written poetry"; he liked in Oedipus the motifs of incest, destiny, and the plague, but found it in a manner and language, in a form that no longer touches us
Of domestic, bourgeois, psychologically derived theatre that enshrines language (discursive language) and sub-ordinates theatricality, mise-en-scene (music, dance, plastic art, pantomime, mimicry, gesticulation, intonation, architecture, lighting, scenery; addressed to the senses, not the mind)

Aspect #2: Vision

A metaphysical theatre; a holy theatre (beyond the material, as important as it is to destroy the current way in which the material world is oriented; an anarchist)
A theatre of cruelty: to inflict pain in order to release it; to heal a "mad, desperate, sick society; to lance the boil; a serious/rigourous theatre; a difficult theatre
A theatre of laughter (Nietzchean)
A poetry of the senses (phenomenal, not linguistic)
A semiotic theatre, but a semiosis of the body, of gesture, of rhythm, not of words but of the total body
A theatre of danger: not to leave the public intact, but to "shake the organism to its foundations and leave an ineffaceable scar"
"this idea of a detached art . . . is a decadent idea"

Bert States in Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: the pleasures of realism are "the pleasure of miniature which allows us to see a replica of the familiar world contained," whereas the pleasure of Artaud and Grotowski are the pleasures of magic, trance, and participation.


His methods would include light that might pierce and shred as arrows to produce heat, cold, anger, fear (different from Appia): "new ways of spreading the light in waves, in sheets, in fusillades of fiery arrows."
Incantations and intonations, of sounds, noises, and cries that would communicate more through their vibrations (as to the body of a snake, long, coiled on the earth) than through anything else.
An almost environmental notion of theatrical space that would place the spectator in the midst of the spectacle not within a proscenium arch but in some hanger or barn: we abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single side, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theatre of the actions"
As poor theatre is the catch word for Grotowski, theatre of cruelty is the catch word for artaud and by that he means not so much a literal cruelty visited upon actor or spectator as a notion of a difficult theatre, of a challenging theatre, a challenge to a certain kind of discipline and holiness: "violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of higher forces."

Artaud as An Icon for Various Impulses Important to Theatre in the Twentieth Century

semiotics and a critique of language (see also Dada)

Artaud refers to a "rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation" (923; these page numbers refer to the Artaud reading in the Worthen anthology; that reading is excerpted from The Theatre and Its Double, 1938); "To break through language in order to touch life is to create or recreate theatre" (924); Ball, "How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada"; "I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. . . . Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzche"; "Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch and Pluplubasch when it has been raining?" (Dada Manifesto, 1916)

critique of objectivity, cause and effect reasoning, literalism, realism; rejection, to some extent, of Antoine and Stanislavski (see Meyerhold)

"If our life lacks brimstone, i.e., a constant magic, it is because we choose to observe our acts and lose ourselves in considerations of their imagined form instead of being impelled by their force" (923); Breton, "the realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit. It is this attitude which today gives birth to these ridiculous books, these insulting plays."
sacredness of theatre/life; anti-commercialism (see Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism) "for far from believing that man invented the supernatural and the divine, I think it is man's age-old intervention which has ultimately corrupted the divine within him" (923). "What has lost us culture is our Occidental idea of art and the profits we seek to derive from it" (924).

rejection of the cultural past, of museum culture (see Realism, Expressionism, Dada, Futurism, Surrealism)

"A protest against the senseless constraint imposed by reducing it to a sort of inconceivable Pantheon, producing an idolatry no different from the image-worship of those religions which relegate their gods to Pantheons" (923); Ball, "I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowles and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own" (Dada Manifesto, 1916); Marinetti, "We want to demolish museums and libraries. . . . (The Futurist Manifesto, 1909).

A return to nature (Romanticism, Primitivism, Expressionism, Surrealism)

"It is right that from time to time cataclysms occur which compel us to return to nature, i.e. to rediscover life" (923); "all true culture relies upon the babaric and primitive means of totemism whose savage, i.e., entirely spontaneious life I wish to worship" (924); "a stone comes alive when it has been properly carved" (924)

A rejection of pre-ordained forms in search of a revitalizing impulse (Realism, Expressionism, Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, Apollo/Dionysus); value of interiority (Freud and psychoanalysis)

"when we speak the word 'life,' it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signalling through the flames" (925); Marinetti, "We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness" (The Futurist Manifesto, 1909).


The Living Theatre (founded, 1946 under a different name; first performances in a living room) is most remembered for a series of productions in the fifties and sixties: number of its productions (The Connection, 1959; The Brig, 1963; Mysteries and Smaller Pieces, Frankenstein, 1965; Paradise Now, 1968). Along with the Open Theatre (Joe Chakin) and the Performance Group (Richard Schechner), they are an iconic experimental theatre group of the sixties in the United States and Europe. They are notable for their militancy, for the physicality of their work, for their appreciation of the theories of both Piscator (a pioneer of epic theatre), Brecht and Artaud.

On The Connection (1959): the action is fundamentally simple: while musicians play and a documentary is supposedly filmed, addicts wait for their fix. Although Beck and Malina were in search of a radically poetic theatre, they embraced this ultra-realistic performance, so intense that audience members fainted. Although this piece was tightly scripted, later work would increasingly depend on elements of "improvisation and chance" (Brockett and Findlay, Century of Innovation, 2nd ed., 391; this entry relies heavily on this source and on Theodore Shank's Beyond the Boundaries).

On The Brig (1963): focuses on a day in the life of a Marine prison. "The prisoners' activity is totally controlled by the prison system codified in the regulations of the brig. A white line is painted on the floor across each doorway. Even when carrying out an order a prisoner is required to ask permission to cross the line - to enter the toilet, the compound, the storeroom. Speaking to other prisoners is strictly forbidden. No movement or speaking without orders is allowed" (Theodore Shank, Beyond Boundaries, 11).

In 1964, after having their theatre closed for not paying taxes, the group moved to Europe where it worked and continued to develop its aesthetics and its political philosophies.

On Mysteries and Smaller Pieces (created during voluntary European exile, 1964-1968): described as "'a public enactment of ritual games'": "There was no text, no set, the performer's wore their own clothes and did not play defined characters. For the first time there was an opportunity for spectators to participate phyisically and in one segment some of the performers sometimes performed in the nude. . . . It contained most of the innovations for which the Living Theatre became known during their years in Europe - audience confrontation, spectator participation, breaking down the separations between stage and auditorium, collective creation, performance improvisation, performance without text, set, or costumes, nudity, focus on real time and place rather than fictional illusion, and actors devoid of stage mannerisms, voice, and bearing" (Shank, 13, 15).

On Paradise Now: "by far the Living Theatre's most radical work. It was divided into eight triads, each focusing on an obstacle that had to be overcome before the next level on the way to revolution could be reached. The distinctions between audience and performer were almost totally abolished, since both roamed the stage and auditorium indiscrimately. Furthermore, the company cast spectators (especially those who by dress and behavior seemed most conservative) as opposers to change, confronted them directly, met objections with insults and obscenities until they overrode opposition, and then prooceeded triumphantly on the next level of revolutionary development. At the end, the audience was urged to move into the streets and continue there the revolution begun in the theatre" (Brockett and Findlay, 391).

The tour of Paradise Now from Europe back across the United States, along with other pieces from the repertoire, marked the high point of the groups influence, although the theatre still exists today. (See web site.)

Some tensions: a profession of peaceful anarchistic philosophy vs. the aggressiveness and manipulativeness of performance; the emphasis on collective creation and the strong centrality of Beck and Malina as personalities/leaders.

Resource: Malina, Judith.. The Enormous Despair. New York: Random House, 1972.
See also video resources available through the library and "Theatre in Video" on the Theatre Arts Library Gateway page.



(Material below is drawn from a variety of sources including Brockett’s History of the theatre.)

We remember the Duke because he demonstrated an unusual care for theatre as an art form, because he provides an image/prototype for the director/producer of the 20th century, because his work influenced people like Antoine in Paris and Stanislavski in Russia, particularly through a series of international tours from 1874 to 1890. In his time, his was the most admired theatre company in the world

Saxe-Meiningen was a transitional figure from the techniques of mid-19th century to those of the late 19th: for the most part, he did not work with realistic scripts, they were in a sense still being written or just being written. (He eventually did a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts.). The Duke worked with Shakespearean and Romantic drama (Schiller). He mixed painted detail and three dimensional elements.

Here are some specific elements of theatre making in which the Duke was a leader.

1. An major increase in the time, discipline and detail devoted to the rehearsal process.

2. Actors were required to act, not just walk through the play; the Duke also did not allow them to tamper with costumes. He emphasized ensemble over the star system. For this reason, he avoided supernumeraries in his memorable crowd scenes: each member of the crowd was individualized; small groups of actors were lead by more experienced actors; crowds were massed at the side to increase a sense of their size.

3. He used design to create an illusion of reality with an emphasis as well on historical accuracy. He created a greater unity in his settings by integrating the overhead (foliage, banners, arches, beams instead of borders) and floor (fallen trees, rocks, hills, steps). He used steps, platforms, levels and asymmetrical arrangements.

Saxe-Meiningen contributed to the development of the director, is often credited with being the first director in the modern sense of the word, this person who assumed control of all of the elements of production

In reviewing Saxe-Meiningen’s role in theatre history, I’m struck by a number of additional points: the narrative of an origin (in this case, of the director); the narrative of the "exceptional man" who provides a breakthrough; the sense of a how-to-do-it book that comes with trying to learn from the work of innovators; this ongoing struggle with actor/scene; the role of unity; the awareness of the past as a different subjectivity, as radically different; the need then for a dramaturg.

GROTOWSKI, JERZY (1933-1999)

As Artaud's name is linked with the "theatre of cruelty," Grotowski's name associates itself with the phrase "poor theatre." Here are some ideas he espoused:

1. Against eclecticism: "In the first place, we are trying to avoid eclecticism, trying to resist thinking of theatre as a composite of disciplines. We are seeking to define what is distinctively theatre, what separates this activity from other categories of performance and spectacle" (Grotowski, "Towards a Poor Theatre," 1968, 15). In this, Grotowski's notion of a "poor theatre" is contrasted, by Grotowski himself, with the idea of a "Rich Theatre" ("artistic kleptomania"), a theatre that sees itself as an amalgamation of narrative, painting, sculpture, dance, music, singing, and acting. Although it is tempting to quickly juxtapose Grotowski's poor theatre with Wagnerian opera, it is important to realize that Grotowski's attempt to identify what is for him central to theatricality is a project that Wagner, Appia, Craig, Stanislavski, Brecht, and Artaud also, at least to some extent, embraced.

2. Emphasis on actor/audience dynamic: "[O]bur productions are detailed investigations of the actor-audience relationship. That is, we consider the personal and scenic technique of the actor as the core of theatre art" (15).

3. Emphasis on stripping away (via negativa): "By gradually eliminating whatever proved superfluous, we found that theatre can exist without make-up, without autonomic costume and scenography, without a separate performance area (stage), without lighting and sound effects, etc." (`19). Grotowski is for a theatre in which signification is evident ("A sign, not a common gesture, is the elementary integer of expressions for us") and rarified in that he wants the actors to be the primary producers of signs.

4. Taboo: "I have therefore been tempted to make use of archaic situations sanctified by tradition, situations (within the realms of religion and tradition) which are taboo. I felt a need to confront myself with these values" (22). Also, absent the "common sky" of myth, Grotowski's in a sense take the human organisim as myth incarnate and so, for him, "The violation of the living organism, the exposure carried to outrageous excess, returns us to a concrete mythical situation, an experience of common human truth."

5. Why theatre? "Why are we concerned with art? To cross our frontiers, exceed our limitations, fill our emptiness--fulfill ourselves" (21)

6. On acting: "Here everything is concentrated on the 'ripening' of the actor, which is expressed by a tension towards the extreme, by a complete stripping down, by the laying bare of one's own intimity--all this without the least trace of egotism or self-enjoyment. The actor makes a total gift of himself" (16).


Meyerhold was critical of Stanislavski’s later productions of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Meyerhold objects to Stanislavski’s tendency toward literalism, historicism, antiquarianism. He thought an over-attention to detail design or in an analysis of the play script prevented a full realization of whole, that it tended to flatten the performance, that it did not allow for the relative importance of one scene over another, one aspect of the scene over another. He regretted what he saw as a loss of mystery and imagination, in the overly explicit, almost pedantic approach that Stanislavski was developing. He lamented a loss of rhythm and musicality, as well as a loss of plasticity, these elements being sacrificed to psychology and analysis.

Meyerhold comes to stand for the director as hauteur, as recreator, as maker of mise-en-scene, not as faithful interpreter.

Biomechanics: an emphasis on the body, as opposed to the somewhat more language oriented approach of Stanislavski: "Since the art of the actor is the art of plastic forms in space, he [she] must study the mechanics of the body. . . . The fundamental deficiency of the modern actor is his [her] absolute ignorance of the laws of biomechanics. . . . Only a few exceptionally great actors have succeeded instinctively in finding the correct method, that is, the method of building the role not from inside outwards, but vice versa" (199).

Meyerhold drew on sports, acrobatics, clowning, juggling, oriental theatre, time/motion studies, commedia: at one point he seemed determined to cross-match the work of the actor and the work of someone on an assembly line; one wonders to what extent he was serious in this and to what extent he was following a party line.

"If we place him [her] in an environment in which gymnastics and all forms of sport are both available and compulsory, we shall achieve the new man [woman] who is capable of any form of labour" (200).

Meyerhold believed that the positions "of an actor's body determines his emotions and the expressions in his voice"; for him the physical work of the actor was fundamental: "the art of actor is the art of plastic forms in space," therefore the actor "must study the mechanics of the body" (199).

Four characteristics of good movement for any skilled worker: "(1) an absence of superfluous, unproductive movements; (2) rhythm; (3) the correct positioning of the body’s centre of gravity; (4) stability" (Meyerhold on Theatre 198).

The goal of training for Meyerhold was physical responsiveness: N (actor) = A1 (artist who conceives) + A2 (one who executes): "The actor embodies in himself both the organizer and that which is organized (i.e. the artist and his material).

The Parts of an Action: Intention (preparation), pause, Realization (action itself), Pause, Reaction (example, the "Shooting a Box" exercise)

Examples: in the Magnanimous Cuckold, the protagonist does acrobatic stunts at impassioned moments; in The Forest: two lovers becoming enthusiastic and planning to run away, "soared higher and higher in their swings"; a character's stupidity is shown by having him "balance on two chairs while conversing"

Constructivism: "A movement in modern art originating in Moscow in 1920 and characterized by the use of industrial materials such as glass, sheet metal, and plastic to create nonrepresentational, often geometric objects" (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000). The stage as a machine for action (skeletal, kinetic, theatrical) as opposed to the realistic box set (stage as an environment for action; illusionistic, static, real); this could mean the removal of curtains, borders, tormentors, backdrops; exposed lighting instruments; full light, no make-up, blue overalls instead of costumes

"[A] new kind of setting which broke away from the conventional framing of the acting area with wings and a proscenium arch. The aim was to lay every line of the setting completely bare, and the device was pursued to the limit of schematization" (Meyerhold on Theatre 204).

Examples: in Cuckold, to discover his wife's lover a husband gets all the men in the village to pass through her bedroom; characters ran, jumped, swung like acrobats; instead of "true emotion," athletic exercises, movements to jazz orchestra accompaniment; truth best expressed not by words but by gestures, steps, attitudes, poses

A Meyerhold moment: a falling star carried by a stage hand (lighted torch on end of a bamboo pole) making a circle of flame in the air, then extinguished in a bucket held by another stage hand


"Only by a strongly developed sense of truth may he [she] achieve a single inward beauty in which, unlike the conventional theatrical gesture and poses, the true condition of the character is expresses in every one of his attitudes and outward gestures" (Stanislavski, "Direction and Acting" (1929) in The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama, W. B. Worthen, ed., 5th ed., 936). Notice the focus on truth and inwardness that then has an outward manifestation. Another way of expressing this idea is to say that the face and voice are the last to know when it comes to the expression of a thought or desire: "actors often elaborate, especially when declaiming poetry, with those artificial vocal . . . cadences . . . not influenced by the corresponding emotion of the part, and therefore impress the more sensitive auditors with a feeling of unreality. But there exists another natural musical sonorousness of speech. . . . In the perfect production of the dramatist every word, every letter, every punctuation mark has its part in transmitting his inward reality" (936).

Stanislavski emphasizes terms like the seed or germ of the play in describing his system: "In the first place, each actor, either independently or through the theatre manager, must probe for the fundamental motive in the finished play--the creative idea that is characteristic of the author and that reveals itself as the germ from which his word grows organically. . . . On reading the actor's mind, the seed must wander around, germinate, put out roots, drinking in the juices of the soil in which it is planted, grow and eventually bring forth a lively flowering plant" (933, 934). At the center of this idea of a seed or a germ is the attempt to discover a play's actions, beginning, as noted above, with the performer asking what it is that his or her character wants. For Stanislavski, this search for a play's seed or germ is a conscious, imaginative act that has the potential to stir the emotions and the unconscious. (As opposed to the attempt directly produce an emotion--"The actor must catch the mind axes of the emotions and temperaments, but not the emotions and temperaments that give color to these sections of the part" (937).

For Stanislavski, observation of daily life is an important aspect of the actor's work, but while for Diderot, observation and mimicry is perhaps the central element, for Stanislavksi, imaginative analysis that aims at discovering and then assuming a character's wants in the given circumstances of the play seems central, so that the actor can say to himself, "'I know that all around me on the stage is a rough counterfeit of reality. It is false. But if all should be real, see how I might be carried away to some such scene; then I would act.' And at that instant, when there arises in his mind that artistic 'suppose,' encircling his real life, he loses interest in it [the rough counterfeit], and is transported to another plane, created for him, of imaginary life" (936). This is sometimes called, "The Magic If."

This process is not, however, without need of a physical or vocal technique. It does require selection and refinement, not unlike that for which Diderot calls. Stanislavski writes, "The score of each part must be condensed, as also the form of its transmitting, and bright, simple, and compelling forms of its incarnation must be found. Only then, when in each actor every part not only organically ripens and comes to life but also all emotions are stripped of the superfluous, when they all crystallize and sum up into a live contact, when they harmonize amongst themselves in the general tune, rhythm and time of the performance, then the play may be presented to the public" (937).

Meyerhold is critical of Stanislavski for an overly psychological approach. His critique is, however, to some extent answered by this notion of condensation, brightening, and simplification. Meyerhold can be seen as in opposition to Stanislavski or as another iteration of ideas Stanislavski was pursuing. Stanislavski would not disagree with Meyerhold's observation that "The actor must train his material (the body), so that it is capable of executing instantaneously those tasks which are dictated externally (by the actor, the director)," but this statement does not contain the emphasis on interiority and truthfulness so central to Stanislavski's teachings (Meyerhold on Theatre 198). Nor is it easy to imagine the following statement coming from Stanislavski: "The Taylorization of the theatre will make it possible to perform in one hour that which requires four at present" (199) or "the art of the actor is the art of plastic forms in space" (199).

Stanislavski on Action: "[W]hen studying each portion of his [sic] part, he must ask himself what he wants, what he requires as a performer of the play and which definite partial problem he is putting before himself at a given moment. The answer to this question should not be in the form of a noun, but rather of a verb: 'I wish to obtain possession of the heart of this lady'--'I wish to enter her house'--'I wish to push aside the servants who are protecting her,' etc. Formulated in this manner, the mind problem, of which the object and setting, thanks to the working of his creative imagination, are forming a brighter and clearer picture for the actor, begins to grip him and to excite him, extracting from the recesses of his working memory the combinations of emotions necessary to the part, of emotions that have an active character and mould themselves into dramatic action." from "The Actor's Responsibility," in Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavski Method. Compiled by Toby Cole, 30-31.

Stanislavski on the economics of theatre given its difficulties: "the staging of a play, which will satisfy highly artistic demands, cannot be achieved at the speed that economic factors unfortunately make necessary in most theatres" (937). Stanislavski represents a recognition of theatre as an art with imposing challenges, so much so that it makes the doing it an almost impossible task without some form of subsidy.

Stanislavski developed a comprehensive theory of acting. Here are some of its key elements:

1. Intense reflection about the nature of the acting process

2. An emphasis on the role of what he called the creative mood

3. An emphasis on the role of relaxation: "It was easiest of all for me to notice this likeness (referring to great actors) in their physical freedom, in the lack of all strain. Their bodies were at the call and beck of the inner demands of their wills."

4. An emphasis on the role of concentration and the focusing of attention: in particular, turning the actor’s focus away from the audience and toward the "given circumstances" of the scene

5. An emphasis on a sense of truth, a feeling for truth: Stanislavski writes of an actor he observed, "He recognized the true tone, came to understand it, to feel it, placed it, directed it, believed in it, and began to enjoy the art of his own speech. He believed!"

6. An emphasis on the magic if as a key to a sense of truth: "What would I do if I were King Lear in this given situation?": "He says to himself, as it were, 'I know that all around me on the stage is a rough counterfeit of reality. It is false, But if all should be real, see how I might be carried away to some such scene; then I would act'" (Worthen 936).

7. An emphasis on emotion memory (also sometimes called affective memory) as a means of achieving emotional truth

8. An emphasis on action and intention as a means of achieving truthfulness: for example, in the Imaginary Invalid the actor plays the action, "I wish to be thought sick as opposed to I wish to be sick"; in Arsenic and Old Lace, "I want to help these little old men as opposed to I want to kill these little old men: "the objective is the conscious channel for the mass of unconscious creative energy that is available when the actor is relaxed and relating. It gives this creative energy coherence" (165).

9. An emphasis on psycho-physical action: on the ability of movement to excite emotions.

Other important elements: a community of actors; against a conventional, declamatory style (anti-theatricalism); most importantly, ethics, self-examination, ensemble, devotion to truth (modernist), abhorrence of mediocrity, giving of the self, anti-commercialism, discipline, love, aesthetic idealism; a new method for a new dramaturgy; conscious ways of releasing the unconscious; soul

From Leonid Anisimov, a Russian director and specialist in the work of Stanislavski: elements that Anisimov underscores: how to establish or come in to the creative mood; actor cannot create by himself; actor = channel of nature (soul); must be pure, like a reflecting glass; not primarily a physical process or an intellectual process, but an emotional process; massaging the heart; love is the fund. source of energy

Anisimov identifies three parts of the system: a tree with (1.) roots = ethics; (2.) trunk = psychology of nature; (3.) branches = methods (physical actions/ biomechanics/ analysis of actions)

Other elements by way of Leonid: slow reading of the text; ensemble (do all you can for your partner); use of a doubler (a self that watches over you from above; protects you; allows you to suffer but keeps you safe)

Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, American followers of Stanislavski

1. American Lab. Theatre (1923): Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, two members of the Moscow Art theatre who were the first major teachers of Stanislavski’s methods in the U.S.: Adler, Clurman, Strasberg studied at the American Lab. theatre: there they learned the use of affective memory

2. Strasberg went on to play a critical role in the Group Theatre (1931-1941) and the Actors' Studio (founded in 1947 by Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Cheryl Crawford)

3. Strasberg may embody a kind of anti-intellectualism: according to Hornby in his book, The End of Acting. Strasberg would assert that "one can have brilliant theoretic, literary, critical, or philosophical concepts of a play and not be able to create reality on stage"; Hornby argued that what never occurred to Strasberg was that "the opposite might be true, that one can 'create reality on stage' as an actor, and yet botch a performance."

4. Hornby argues in his book that Strasberg and Stanislavski shared an "insensitivity to dramatic literature," but that Stanislavski "had great respect for the play in performance"; for Hornby, Stanislavski was always searching, exploring; Strasberg did not change or evolve.

6. Tension between Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg: After Strasberg had begun to teach the Method, his version of Stanislavski’s system, Adler went to Paris, studied with Stanislavski, and then came back to report that the theory was not being properly taught.

According to Adler, Strasberg was (a.) over-emphasizing the role of affective memory, (b.) under-emphasizing the role of the "given circumstances" ("to experience the action in the circumstances") and the "magic if." (Brockett, Century 287)

Adler also wanted to return emphasis to the power of the imagination (as opposed to the practice of substitution): "to go back to a feeling or emotion of one's own experience I believe to be unhealthy. It tends to separate you from the play, and from the author's intention. All this has to be embodied in the action." This issue returns us to the question of how important we feel emotion is to and in the theatre; see Diderot, Wagner, Brecht, et al.

Hornby's proposals in response to the influence of Method acting: 1. A broadly humanistic education; 2. Speech and movement integrated into the teaching of acting; dr. lit. and theatre history "coordinated with studio acting classes and with public performance"; 3. The performance of plays in different styles, not just scenes; 4. Character acting encouraged from the very beginning of an actor's study.


What can we say about the dramaturgy of this play?

It has stage directions;
It has dialogue,
But it is sometimes difficult separating dialogue from stage directions, because dialogue and stage directions are formatted in a non-standard manner;
It has acts and scenes;
It has characters -- Faustus, Mephisto, ;
It makes allusions to another text/story;
It is short on punctuation;
It has a ballet and songs;
It uses repetition of phrases: "Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel"
It has conflict: e.g. between Mephisto and Dr. Faustus, between Mephisto and the Viper, between Marguerite/Viper and her lights, on the one hand, and Faustus, Mephisto, and electric light, on the other;
It has events -- the boy and the dog are bit by the Viper and die,
But it is difficult to understand what the characters are trying to say because they speak in a kind of repetitive, circular manner.

Stein's Theories:

1. Stein's early sense of theatre as light and air: "Generally speaking all the early recollections all the child's feeling of the theatre is two things. One which is in a way like a circus that is the general movement and light and air which any theatre has, and a great deal of glitter in the light and a great deal of height in the air and then there are moments, a very very few moments but still moments. One must be pretty far advanced in adolescence before one realizes a whole play" (XL).

Stein's essay "Plays" is an inquiry into the nature of theatre as an event "from the standpoint of sight and sound and its relation to emotion and time" (XXXV). This approach to theatre resonates with a phenomenological approach to art as articulated by Victor Shklovsky: "Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one fell things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are know. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar.'" Stein's mention of a child's feeling is also relevant given the child's freshness of perception and potential for wonder.

Stein wrote "The business of Art as I tried to explain in Composition as Explanation is to live in the actual present, that is the present, and to completely express that complete actual present" (Gertrude Stein, Last Operas and Plays. Edited by Carl Van Vechten. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1949: XXXVI).

2. Stein on time, narrative, and emotion:

Arnold Aronson on Stein: "[N]arrative did not exist for the young Stein. But as she approached adolescence and the narrative asserted itself in her evolving perceptions, she found the resultant experience increasingly unpleasant or disappointing. Part of the reason for her displeasure with the drama was a realization that within the temporal structure of drama there is always an emotional syncopation between the events on the stage and the response of the audience. The process of remembering information and anticipating action virtually precluded the possibility of experiencing the theatrical event in the present moment" (Arnold Aronson, American Avant-garde Theatre: A History. New York: Routledge, 2000: 26). Stein -- like the architects who created the proscenium arch in the 16th century (Serlio et al.), like those who created the box set in the early 19th century, like those who broke out of the constraints of neoclassicism (Hugo) and then out of the constraint of romanticism/melodrama and the well-made play (Buchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Stanislavski), like those who broke out of the constraint of Italian opera (Wagner), like those who broke out of the constraints of naturalism (Symbolism, Expressionism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Artaud, Brecht) -- challenged fundamental conceptions of what a play is or should be. In some senses, Stein's challenge is one of the most extreme in that none of these other innovators questioned as radically the centrality of narrative.

Stein begins her challenge by writing, "sentences are not emotional and . . . paragraphs are." She later writes that "the scene as depicted on the stage is more often than not one might say it is almost always in syncopated time in relation to the emotion of anybody in the audience." I think from this we might infer that the moment to moment of a scene is like a sentence and the whole of the play or an act, the connected chain of moments carried in the spectator's head is more like the paragraph. Emotion or what Stein will later refer to is nervousness comes from the process of trying to link all of those moments together, from the process of assembling moments of a plot into the totality of a story. The sentence is "the thing seen"; the paragraph is "the thing felt about the thing seen." This leads Stein to conclude, we can agree with her or not, that a play is exciting in a different way from a real life experience [which offers as its end a sense of "completion" as opposed to the end of a play that offers a sense of "relief"] or the reading of a book (with a book, we can control our relationship to the ending, because we can read ahead, with a play we cannot": "In the real thing it is a completion of the excitement, in the theatre it is a relief from the excitement, and in that difference the difference between completion and relief is the difference between emotion concerning a thing seen on the stage and the emotion concerning a real presentation that is really something happening" (XXIX-XXXII). This is roughly, perhaps, the difference between an intense game of Simon Says and an improvisation or telling a story one word at a time in a circle, or more crudely, having sex and a love affair. For David Ball in Backwards and Forwards a play is, almost by definition, a series of triggers and heaps: "An action is comprised of two events: a trigger and a heap. Each heap become the next action's trigger, so that actions are like dominoes toppling one into the next" (Ball 14).

Here is an example Stein gives of what she means: "In the first place at the theatre there is the curtain and the curtain already makes one feel that one is not going to have the same tempo as the thing that is there behind the curtain. The emotion of you on one side of the curtain and what is on the other side of the curtain are not going to be going on together. One will always be behind or in front of the other" (Stein XXX).

"I felt that if a play was exactly like a landscape then there would be no difficulty about the emotion of the person looking on at the play being behind or ahead of the play because the landscape does not have to make acquaintance. You may have to make acquaintance with it, but it does not with you, it is there . . ." (Stein XLVI).

G. Wilson Knight, quoted in Aronson: "One must be prepared to see the whole play in space as well as in time" (Aronson 22).

Traditional, Aristotelian, plot driven theatre = Train Travel
Stein's landscape drama = Airplane Travel

"Then I wrote Ladies Voices and then I wrote a Curtain Raiser. I did this last because I wanted still more to tell what could be told if one did not tell anything" (Stein XLIV).

Stein is to dramaturgy what Einstein is to physics (?).

Stein: "the theatre made me real outside of me which up to that time I never had been in my emotion."

Related topics: the role of empathy in audience responses to the performance of a play; see Aristotle, Diderot, Wagner, Stanislavski, Brecht, Artaud, Robert Wilson, et al.; see also phenomenology, semiotics; Happenings, Street Fairs, Re-Enactors; Anna Deavere Smith


For artist like Wagner and Appia and Jones, we want to think of how we use space in theatre. When I used to hear people talk about theatrical space, often in a kind of mystical way, I didn't really get it. For me, acting was about becoming another character and what did it matter where it happened. I was spatially illiterate. Character or character and action was content. Space was form and content was what counted. What I did not realize was that form is also content and that the content implied by form was often more powerful than any other content: e.g.--the well-made play; e.g.--the box set.

Theatre history and dramaturgy is essentially the study of the relationship between form and content; we will talk less in this class about what a play means than about how it means, about how theatre creates meaning

Wagner was a contemporary of Saxe-Meiningen

In oppostion to Italian opera
The move from aria connected by recitative to continuous melodic line; also a movement from song designed to show off the singer's talents to overall dramatic effect (cf. S-M)
Wagner's anti-realism
Mythmaker: "portray an ideal world through the expression of the inner impulses and aspiration of a people as embodied in its racial myths and so unite them as a 'folk'" (endeared him to the Nazis); what does it mean to say, “These are our stories."
Enter the ideal by leaving dialogue for music
Key elements of Wagernian opera: Teutonic myth + drama + music (Shakespeare + Beethoven)

Spoken drama imprecise (too easily altered by the actor)
Dramatist-composer controls performance through a score that "prescribed melody, tempo, volume, and rhythm"
Gesamtkunstwerk (total art work): "all the arts are synthesized through the sensibilities of a single master artist" (process)--artistic unity and the all-powerful director
Bayreuth Festspielhaus: revol. 20th cent. theatre arch., particularly in terms of the auditorium
Opened in 1876
Annual festival to the present

ZOLA, EMILE (FRANCE; 1840-1902)

A number of motifs or ideas appear over and over in Zola's writings on naturalism. Here are some of the high points:

1. A sense of historical movement and progress from former periods of theatrical activity toward the present. Earlier periods he identifies include Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages (simple dialogues, "primitive staging and sets"), the Neoclassical era (characterized by tragedy; roughly the 17th century and 18th centuries; Corneille and Racine), and the Romantic era (roughly from the French Revolution up until the 1870s in theatre; up until Balzac in the novel; connected to the work of Victor Hugo; "prodigious adventures and superhuman love affairs"; the link between classicism and naturalism). He also mentions the attempt to revive historical drama, an attempt that he distrusts. He describes different sorts of plays as being the functions of different formulas, but this word (formula) in and of itself is not all bad: he talks about finding the formula for naturalism.

2. Zola sees theatre trailing behind other forms with respect to naturalism, particularly the novel.

3. Zola sees the theatre improving over time, particularly in his time, as it moves out of tragic and romantic drama into naturalism.

4. Zola associates the following words or ideas with naturalism: innovation; truth (he stresses this idea over and over); nakedness; a connection to natural sciences, history; bourgeois protagonists; environment (that produces a character); daily life, reseeing daily life, finding the poetry in it; family; psychology; physiology; character; taking costumes from daily life; detailed reproduction; the interdependence of all theatrical elements. He emphasizes in particular what he calls physiological man: "The whole history of our theatre is in this conquest by the physiological man, who emerged more clearly in each period from behind the dummy of religious and philosophical idealism" (Worthen, 4th ed. 905). This is an idea that Auerbach picks up in Mimesis with his discussion of creaturalism and its relationship to the development of realism.

5. Zola associates the following words or ideas with certain theatrical forms that came or might compete with naturalism: "improbabilities, cardboard dolls," manufactured, standardized, rhetoric, confidants, declaiming, "endless speeches," non-physical, abstracted.

6. From Zola, a definition of tragedy emerges that is, fundamentally, his description of that to which theatre at its best aspires: "I believe, then, that we must go back to tragedy--not, heaven forbid, to borrow more of its rhetoric, its system of confidantes, its declaiming, its endless speeches, but to return to its simplicity of actionand its unique psychologial and physiological study of characters" (Worthen, 4th ed. 903).



"Word pictures, used allusively to intensify meaning in speech" (Robert Cohen, Acting in Shakespeare 222).

Victor Shklovsky as quoted in States' Great Reckonings in Little Rooms: "Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.It exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. . . . Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important."

Images are--in one of their most recognizable forms--words, phrases, and sentences that when read or heard appeal to one or more of the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. As such, imagistic language connects us to the physical or material world. Images have a concrete ("the salty taste of sweat") rather than an abstract quality ("He accomplished his goals.") They tend to be specific, particular, detailed rather than general: "His eyes were blue" (specific); "She was in love (abstract)." We can describe the world in the present using imagistic language. The past as well comes to us perhaps most powerfully not through general ideas but through specific images of people, places, and events. Memory often begins with an image: a color or a smell; the sound of someone's voice or the wind across the skin. Stanislavski, the Russian teacher and theorist of acting, observed that the memory of specific images will release emotional energy. He and others such as Lee Strasberg, a disciple of Stanislavski and the teacher most connected to what is often called "Method Acting," argued that the actor who wants to be emotionally truthful should begin not with the emotion itself, but with a recollection of the images or details within the scene that created that emotion.

These links between image and emotion are often idiosyncratic: the smell of garlic and spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove might evoke happiness for one person and sadness for another depending on the life events that accompanied these details. If spaghetti was the favorite Friday night meal, connected with times of family relaxation and togetherness the recollection of its smells and tastes and sights will evoke happiness; if, on the other hand, that meal often lead to fights and confrontations, perhaps as the amount of wine consumed increased, then its smells and tastes and sights might evoke great sadness or despair.

Imagery also takes us into the future. The word imagination refers to the ability to form a sensual setting in our heads even though we have not yet actually experienced it. We imagine, for example, going out to dinner on Friday night with a friend. Even though this event has not happened, our imagination of this future event usually combines a degree of creativity with past images projected in our minds onto a moment that has not yet happened. The imagined event might in time take the form of experience, more or less like what was imagined, or it might live only in the imagination, as in novel or stories about futuristic worlds. In any event, imagination tends to combine some sense of fictional play with some sort of past experience. Defined this way, it's clear that imagination is a common part of conscious experience. In this light, we should be skeptical of an individual's assertion that he or she lacks imagination.

In theatre, an images are not, however, only verbal. Directors, designers, and actors create images using a wide range of materials, including the human body. These stage images are like verbal images in that they appeal to the senses: usually of sight and sound, less often, but not inconceivably, to smell or touch. G. Proehl 1/22/07

From David Ball's Backwards & Forwards: "An image is something we already know or can easily be told that is used to describe, illuminate, or expand upon something we don't know or cannot easily be told . . . . Originally image meant something strictly visual . . . . But now the term means a reproduction in any form of anything we can perceive with our senses, visual or otherwise" (69-70). Ball encourages readers to pay particular attention to the titles of plays as images (The Glass Menagerie) and to the ways in which a play repeats its images (references to the moon in A Midsummer Night's Dream).



“Ironic language conveys the opposite of its apparent literal meaning," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 163).

“Sarcasm is ultimately unambiguous and closes debate, while irony keeps all possibilities open. Irony lies in the word and its context," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 163).

“Those characters who use irony are generally of high intelligence, and they resort to its indirection when ‘straight talking’ hasn’t worked or is inappropriate. It is a device often used where what is being said is so fraught with peril that it can only be witnessed aloud by in disguise," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 164).

“Language is a sparring weapon and irony is one tool in the armoury. It doesn’t go for the frontal assault but finds openings in any clash of intellect where a direct attack is unwise or impossible. It is the stone in David’s sling that can slay the giant Goliath," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 167).

-ISMS: Just the high points (sources include Oscar Brockett's Century of Innovation)


Attempt to make objective experience subject to aesthetic representation; 1870s to the present; the "existential, value-free, scientific, and experiential exploration of reality" (Esslin); a focus on "ordinary everyday people" (Strindberg) or "ordinary, insignificant characters" (Ibsen) or "ordinary, colorless, subsidary characters" (Zola); "For chemists there is nothing unclean on earth" (Chekhov); search for truth; often focuses on moment of crisis or transition, but mundane aspects of human experience need not be avoided; often tries to avoid what Chekhov calls the "tomfooleries of action" ("people do not shoot, hang, fall in love," deliver "clever sayings" all the time, Chekhov); rejects verse, the aside, the monologue even as it discovers subtext, cross-cut monologue, pause, indirection, at times the general inadequacy of language; causaulity will play a role in the plotting of plays, particularly to the extent that it is observable (not God or fate); causality's sources found in the past in the form of heredity and environment (milieu and moment); what it means to live in a room, to sit in a chair, to be part of a complex physical environment: "If we reduce the realistic theatre to its single most important property, we arrrive, in effect, at the chair. . . . to sit is to be, to exist suddenly and plentifully in the material world ('I sit, therefore I am here'); overdetermination and subjectivity not eliminated; drama might give serious consideration of all classes, breaking down the class-based genre distinctions of Classicism and Neo-Classicism.

Techniques include prose, subtext, cross-talk, materials drawn from daily life.

The reality effect, essentially tricks us into believing that what we see on stage matches (to a high degree) what we might see in daily life; it tends to hide the conventionality of the style, rather than making it manifest. It’s goal is to convince us that it is not constructed, not subject to conventions, that it is natural.


"As we listened at the last faint prayer of the old canal and the crumbling of the bones of the moribund palaces with their green growth of beard, suddenly the hungry automobiles roared beneath our windows. . . .

1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.
2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.
3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.
4. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
5. We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit.
6. The poet must spend himself with warmth, glamour and prodigality to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
7. Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.
8. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.
9. We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
11. We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds." (Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto)

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944); Italy; manifesto 1909 into the 1930s; began at about the same time as expressionism; shared with expressionism rejection of past and desire "to transform society" (Brockett, Century of Innovation 159); literature then "visual arts and music (159); no to museums, libraries, yes to the motor car, technology; glorification of speed and the machine; lost favor during WWI, gained favor with politics of Mussolini after the war

Techniques include simultaneity, collage, brevity, provocations (sell the same seat to a performance twice; wet paint on seats); see also Dada (below)

Six significant characteristics per Brockett's History of the Theatre: 1. "rescue theatrical art from a museum-like atmosphere"; 2. "confrontation and intermingling of performers and audience members"; 3. "multimedia performances"; 4. "simultaneity and multiple focus"; 5. "antiliterary and alogical bias"; 6. "breaking down of barriers between arts." (6th ed., 532)

Sintesi (short plays): "the curtain rises on a deserted road at night; silence; a gunshot, the curtain falls. . . . in five short scenes Sempronio moves from the age of five to ninety as he eats lunch. . . . the curtain rises; total darkness which continues until the audience is provoked into shouting for light; sudden blinding light, the curtain falls" (Brockett, Century of Innovation 161).


"How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smack of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanized, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr. Rubiner, dada Mr. Korrodi. Dada Mr. Anastasius Lilienstein.

In plain language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.

I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it." (Ball, Dada Manifesto, 1916)

1916 to the early 1920s; Zurich, Switzerland Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball (1886-1927); Tristan Tzara (1896-1963), Romanian, spokesperson for the movement); "Dada Manifesto" (July 14, 1916).

“Dada was grounded in disgust with a world that could produce a global war." (Brockett, Century of Innovation 163); it valued madness, spontaneity, freedom, color, contradictions, inconsistencies, the grotesque; celebration of music halls, night clubs, circuses.

From Brockett, "every 'manifestation' was something of a collage composed of lectures, readings, dances, concerts, visual art, and plays" (Century of Innovation 163): "[T]hey rented a glassed-in court which could only be reached through a public urinal where a young girl, dressed as if for her first communion, recited obscene poems; one art work featured a skull emerging from a pool of blood-red liquid from which a hand projected; a wooden sculpture had a hatchet chained to it for the convenience of those who wished to attack it. The event was closed by the police" (164).

Techniques (several shared with futurism) include dynamic music (bruitisme), simultaneity, collage, confrontations with audiences

Chance poems: "cutting sentences from newspapers, mixing them up in a hat, drawing them out at random, and reciting them" (163).

Sound poems: "composed of nonverbal vocal sounds" (163).


Attempt to make subjective experience subject to aesthetic representation; emphasis on unconscious; key figure, Andre Breton : "Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express--verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner--the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exampt from any aesthetic or moral concern. . . . Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought." (Andre Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism," 1924). \

"Surrealism resembled expressionism in locating its primary point of reference within the human being, although for the surrealists the unconscious was the key, whereas for the expressionists the human spirit (vague and undefined) was the focus. Surrealism looked inward (to a freed subconscious mind) whereas expressionism looked outward (to a reshaped nonmaterialist society) in the search for transformation and fulfillment" (Brockett, Century of Innovation 165).


Attempt to make subjective experience subject to aesthetic representation; emphasis on social conditions of a materialistic culture that block realization of human potential, of the human spirit, the desire for transcendance in performance; criticized by some for taking itself too seriously; Brecht's earliest plays (e.g. -- Drums in the Night, 1922) begin in a late Expressionist style and then he breaks from it; a major force in theatre from around 1910 to mid-1920s, later in the United States.

Techniques include montage, episodic structure, journey play motif (as in the "Stations of the Cross"), focus on a single protagonist who often has Christ-qualities; universalized images; emotive, often declamatory language; strong emphasis on theme or message.

(See longer entry above.)

To be added Constructivism, Symbolism




elements necessary to an understanding of the plot and action of the play



What is the simple meaning of any given word or reference?
What are the connotations of any given word or reference?
Words used to describe a play’s language (diction, denotation, connotation) and, its figures of speech (hyperbole, metaphor, metonymy, paradox, etc.)





Often it may be best not to begin with this word when we approach the dramaturgy of a play, but this finally is a matter of choice and method. The danger perhaps in beginning here is the danger of trying too quickly to fit 120 pages of text into a single sentence. That exercise can be valuable, even essential, but it might not be the ideal first task after setting the play down. G. Proehl 2/14/2003.


Theatre historians use the word melodrama to stand for one of the best known shortcuts for describing the worlds of a play: genre and, in particular, the most familiar of genres, a world of heroes, villains, and victims, of right and wrong. No one in history has seen more melodramas than today's audience, at least, that is, if they have grown up watching television and movies. In the nineteenth century, an avid playgoer might have seen three or four melodramas a week. We can now see that many in a single evening of earnest television watching: police dramas, alone, count for thousands of instances, with science fiction now nearly what westerns were in the 1950s. Melodrama, of course, finally tends toward an image of the self that we understand to be fundamentally good or evil, and the result is the reassurance, however illusory, that some sort of basic order exist in the midst of our chaos. It fosters in turn a persistent tendency for us as theatre makers and audience members to examine characters with respect to their ability to either incite or discourage empathy. It does not ask us, as does tragedy, to consider a self so divided—so flawed, fragmented, or fated—as to make moral judgments retreat in the face of a harrowing, and yet, also strangely wonderful, awareness of our sheer capacity for suffering. So then, as we read a play, whether or not we will it, one of the first measures we take is whether or not this play is a melodrama, whether, in particular, we do or do not empathize with a given character and with the way or ways a play’s structure does or does not effect empathy for a character. It is difficult to begin free of assumptions because our exposure to melodrama has created such a profound awareness of this one particular genre. We also carry these concerns when considering a play for production, whether or not we want to create a melodramatic landscape, because we realize that at some level most audience members have had the conventions of melodrama hard-wired into their aesthetic sensibilities. In broader terms, melodrama stands for the ways in which our perception of the world of any one play is shaped by the gravitational pull of other worlds, other plays, we have visited.
G. Proehl 2/05/07

Definitions on the Web
a genre with an opposition between good and evil, in which good prevails.

A play characterized by stereotypical characters, exaggerated emotions, and simplistic conflict.

plays with elaborate but oversimplified plots, flat characters, excessive sentiment, and happy endings

a film or literary work marked by "good guys" vs. "bad guys," unexpected plot twists, surprise endings, action and suspense. Examples: Most horror movies and detective thrillers.

Originally a term for musical theatre, by the nineteenth century this became the designation of a suspenseful, plot-oriented drama featuring all-good heroes, all-bad villains, simplistic dialogue, soaring moral conclusions, and bravura acting.

Exciting, emotional story. Often unsubtle and romantic.

the dramatic genre characterized by an emphasis on plot over characterization; typically, characters are defined as heroes or villains, conflicts are defined along moral lines, and the resolution rewards the good and punishes the wicked. Spectacle and action are important to the melodramatic effect.

n. a play in which there are so much violence, feelings and exaggerations that it does not seem to be true.

A play which suspends the audience through action and tension but contains the conventional "happy ending."

is a rigidly conventionalized genre of popular drama, theatrical rather than literary in appeal, characterized by rapid and exciting physical action, sharply contrasted and simplified characters, and colorful alternations of violence, pathos, and humor. The central situation in melodrama--victimization of helpless innocence by powerful evil forces--gives rise to four basic characters: the hero and the heroine, a comic ally who assists them, and the villain against whom they are pitted. ...

an extravagant comedy in which action is more salient than characterization

A melodrama in a more neutral and technical sense of the term is a play, film, or other work in which plot and action are emphasised in comparison to the more character-driven emphasis within a drama. Melodramas can be distinguished from tragedy by the fact that it is open to having a happy ending.

For example, see:

(1822-1890; IRELAND, ENGLAND)

This play, a rent-day play, was performed just prior to the Civil War. W. B. Worthen (The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama) notes some of the way this play utilizes the "standard devices of melodrama: a strong and sensational plot; a central conflict between a malevolent villain and his virtuous and vulnerable victims; and a highly-colored emotional palette . . . each scene ends with a striking TABLEAU, a highly charged scene that focuses on change in the plot and that usually involves some elaborate stage effects--McClosky discovering the error in Zoe's manumission papers and vowing to own the Octoroon himself; McClosky murdering Paul, and seizing the fateful letter that would save Terrebone Plantation (and Zoe) from sale to creditors; McClosky fleeing in his canoe, pursued by the relentless Indian Wahnotee" (991-92). The heroine is Zoe. She is the octoroon, one eighth African American. The villain is Jacob McClosky. George, raised in Paris, nephew to plantation owner, Mrs. Peyton, is the conventional hero. McClosky, the former overseer, is also an example of the "Yankee type" (a negative version), along with Salem Scudder, the current overseer (a positive version). Other types, most recognizable as negative stereotypes, are those of slaves and Indians. The slaves would have been played by white actors in blackface. As Worthen notes, the slaves are presented as "virtuous, loving, and beloved members of the Peyton extended family," but also as "simple, fun-loving, and often lazy," just as the Indian Wahnotee (whom Boucicault acted) is both the "implacable agent of justice" but also "addicted to rum" (992).

Elements here that are also found in the well-made play (as described by Stanton) are the "[1.] a plot based on a secret known to the audience but withheld from certain characters . . . ;" (there is money to save the plantation from auction) [2.] a pattern of increasingly intense action and suspense, prepared by exposition . . . . (this pattern assisted by contrived entrances and exits, letters, and other devices);" "[3.] series of ups and downs in the hero's fortunes . . . . ;" "[4.] counterpunch of peripeteia and scène á faire. . . ;" (Wahnotee about to be lynched and at the last minute evidence discovered that implicate M'Closky) "[5.] a central misunderstanding or quid pro quo. . . ;" (something for something); (the act two scene between George and Zoe in which he describes his love for her, but she thinks he is describing his love for Dora) "[6.] a logical and credible dénouement."


A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money) (Miriam-Webster)


"The 'measure' of verse; the number and regularity of stresses in verse line: 'trimeter' = a three-foot line; 'tetrameter' = a four-foot; 'pentameter' and 'hexameter' = five-foot and six-foot, respectively (Robert Cohen, Acting in Shakespeare 222)



“Late fifteenth-, early sixteenth century drama of moral instruction, employing personified abstractions" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 172).




That which seems given, pre-ordained, universal; Brecht used the Alienation Effect to encourage audience members to question what we assume to be natural.


Plays as texts or performances have the power to release forces --- intellectual, emotional, and physical --- found within the individual and society; plays have the power to release energy; studying theatre allows us to observe the release and enable it; we are able to notice the ways in which plays release energy.



"Something you want" (Barton 12).

William Ball in A Sense of Direction refers to the verbs "to get" and "to make" as the crowbars for finding what a character wants:
"What are you trying to GET from him?"
"What are you trying to MAKE him give you?"
These two questions require an answer from the actor, and the answer has built into it three components needed for the most effective statement of an objective. The answer must—
1. Contain a verb: "I am trying to CONVINCE."
2. Contain a receiver: "I am trying to convince HIM."
3. Contain a desired response: "I am trying to convince him TO GO WITH ME" (Ball 91).


According to David Ball, "An obstacle is any resistance to what a character wants" (Ball 28).

"Something in the way" of what a character wants (Barton 12).


" An adjective modifying a noun in an ironically contradictory fashion: “terribly good" (Robert Cohen, Acting in Shakespeare 222).





Peripeteia, famously described by Aristotle in The Poetics, generally refers to a reversal in a character’s fortunes either from good to bad or from bad to good. Its classic form is when a character expects good or bad fortune but receives its opposite. It is often combined with a moment of anagnorisis.

One example of the use of reversals is in Moliere’s Tartuffe. The classic reversal is a change in fortune, good when bad is expected or the opposite. I use the terms somewhat more loosely here for twists and turns in the plot. For example, Dorine tries to persuade Mariane to stand up for her rights. But when Dorine becomes exasperated with her timidity, Mariane must then convince Dorine to give her the assistance she had offered only moments before. Valere enters and we expect him to run and embrace Mariane, but instead he pouts. We expect Mariane to immediately disabuse Valere of his suspicions, but instead she pouts. At one moment, Dorine is fighting to bring Mariane and Valere together; the next she must fight to keep them apart. Damis believes he has finally gotten the best of Tartuffe, only to have his father command him to beg Tartuffe’s forgiveness. In their first encounter, Tartuffe tries to seduce Elmire. In their second encounter, Elmire must seduce the seducer. Orgon finally sees Tartuffe as a liar and orders him from the house, only to have Tartuffe order Orgon to leave. Orgon recognizes Tartuffe for the fraud he is, but Orgon’s mother. Finally, Tartuffe is ready to destroy the family’s fortunes only to have the king step in and save them at the last minute.

What I’m describing here is a bit more like the ups and downs of a well-made play or melodrama than the moment in Oedipus the King when Oedipus is on the brink of frightful hearing, but they still fall under a more general understanding of this device. The result of these twists and turns is a kind of dynamic, torquing motion that passes energy back and forth within the play and then into the audience. G. Proehl 3/4/2003.

A reversal; generally refers to a reversal in a character's fortunes either from good to bad or from bad to good. Its classic form is when a character expects good or bad fortune but receives its opposite. In its most classic form, it goes along with a moment of recognition or realization (Anagnorisis, see above).


"pertaining . . . to our sensory experience with empirical objects"; the ability of theatrical elements to grab our attention, to pull us from the semiotics or signs of a performance into its sensuality; powerful but potentially distracting (States 21).

"Lose the sight of your phenomenal eye and you become a Don Quixote (everything is something else); lose the sight of your significative eye and you become Sartre's Roquentin (everything is nothing but itself) (States 8). The tension is between the sign (meaning) and sensuality (being).

Shklovsky "the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known" (a phenomenological perspective).

As examples of "phenomenologically hot" elements on stage, States lists a working clock, a child, water, and fire.



Dutchman was produced in 1964 in New York.That's five years after A Raisin in the Sun. Like Raisin, it marked the emergence of African-American writers into a more central position in theatre in the United States. Their approaches are, however, different. Raisin focuses on the representation of a working class African-American family as it makes the move from the city into the suburbs, as it moves fully into the dream of the American middle class, however illusive that dream might be: good job, good home, good education, stable family life. A strong part of its theme is the connection between working class African-American family life and the traditional American family drama. Raisin helps the audience empathetically finds itself in the struggles of the Younger family. It uses the device of the prodigal husband/son; the patient wife/mother; the innocent child. Dutchman questions the pursuit of this middle class dream. Here, Clay, an African-American man, has dressed himself in the clothing of the white middle class. He could well be the son of Walter Lee Younger, moved from Chicago to New York. He is, however, seduced, manipulated by Lula, a kind of iconic image for the allure of white society, one moment promising the bliss of fulfillment, the next moment, destroying, castrating. Both plays move toward scenes of assertion: urged by him mother and wife, shamed by the image of his child, Walter Lee finally asserts his family's refusal to be bought off; catalyzed by being called an Uncle Tom, Clay finally asserts his dignity and identity in a speech to Lula that articulates his rage at white ignorance and presumption. Walter's speech promised a move to the suburbs; Clay's speech threatens murder. Walter and his family succeed in their move, we are lead to believe. Clay, for his candor, is murdered.

(1732-1799; FRANCE)

On Marriage of Figaro: Suzanne says of Figaro, "Intrigue and money -- you are in your element now." But intrigue does not only belong to Figaro in Beaumarchais’s play of 1784. In act one, no less than four intrigues are launched, First of all, Figaro anatomizes the challenges that he faces from which he hopes intrigue will need to rescue him: "Look to the day’s work, Master Figaro! First bring forward the hour of your wedding to make sure of the ceremony taking place, head off Marceline who’s so deucedly fond of you, pocket the money and the presents, thwart His Lordship’s little game, give Master Bazile a good thrashing, and . . ." Marceline and Bartholo will intrigue to marry Figaro to Marceline, a housekeeper old enough to be Figaro’s mother, which of course we eventually find that she is. Chérubin, Suzanne, and Figaro intrigue to protect him from being dismissed, after the Count catches him with Fanchette. The Count, appointed an ambassador to London by the King of Spain, intrigues to take Figaro and Suzanne with him so that he can have his way with Suzanne apart from the watchful eyes of his wife. The Count continues to try throughout the play to seduce Suzanne; Figaro, Suzanne, and eventually the Countess plot to thwart his desires. They will make use of deceptions, lies, notes, and disguises.

Figaro follows many classic elements of comedy, but also alters the formula.

The play has several elements that Northrop Frye describes in his much anthologized essay on the mythos of comedy:

Two lovers (but in this case, not so young) desire to consummate their feelings for one another in marriage;

In their way, stand not one but two blocking figures. The most powerful is the Count. He wants to bed Suzanne and in doing so claims the rights of an archaic law: the droit du seigneur (the right of a lord to sleep first with a bride of any of his vassals). At the same time, Marceline will also attempt to use the power of the law to force Figaro to marry her: her evidence is a note in which Figaro pledged to marry her or repay the money he had borrowed;

There are several comic types: clever servants (Figaro and Suzanne), lovers (Figaro and Suzanne), the foolish pedant (Bazile), the foolish doctor (Bartholo; Dottore in commedia), the buffoon or rustic (Antonio, Gripe-Soleil; Frye’s uses the term agroikos to describe this garden bumpkins); older blocking characters (The Count, Marceline, Bartholo);

The play moves toward marriage and celebration, toward song, dance, and feast (perhaps more so in Mozart’s opera than in Beaumarchais’s comedy)

A major innovation, however, occurs in the relationship between servant and master. In The Barber of Seville (Beaumarchais, 1775), Servant Figaro helped Master Almaviva to win Rosine in the face of opposition from Bartholo (her ward, a blocking character): this was the model in Greek New Comedy, Roman Comedy, commedia, Moliere. Now Figaro, the servant, goes up against his master, Almaviva, to claim his rights as husband in this play written nine years after Seville and just five years prior to the French Revolution of 1789.

There is another story here: the switch from intrigues before marriage to the problems of marriage in the story of the Count and Countess—an adultery plot, a prodigal plot. We see here the problematizing of marital issues that will be a major thread of the drama from the late 19th century the early 21st: the patient wife and the errant husband is no longer such an entirely comic plot. Middle class problems, issues, begin to be given more serious attention.

Now, servant stands up to aristocrat, "You cannot have this girl, just because you are the head of the house, just because you are the lord of the house. This violates the idea of family. Certain privileges of class do not stand above the rights of the individual." Now the servant will use his craft, his ability to pursue an intrigue, for his own purposes.

THE ROVER (1677)

The Rover provides a jumping off place for a number of conversations. One of the first might be the role of women in theatre. Behn is England's first female professional playwright. Although she is writing within the tradition of Restoration Comedy (theatre created in the years following the return of the monarchy to Great Britain following the Interregnum), it is interesting to speculate on the degree to which she perpetuated or challenged conventional representations of women on stage, beginning perhaps with the Angelica scenes and the scenes in which the virtuous Florinda is threatened, first by a drunken Willmore and then by her own brother. This discussion segues into a consideration of the representation of gender roles in this and similar plays. Women, for example, are treated quite differently, not only according to their class or occupation, but even according to where they happen to be: in the street for example or a garden. Even in doors, seeking refuge, they may not be safe. Men, especially men on the town in a foreign land (English men in Italy no less) after months at sea, are primarily interested in quick satisfaction. (All men, however, are not the same: Willmore will say or do almost, but not quite, anything to satisfy his appetites; Belville will be true to his Florinda, even if a woman throws herself at him. Masks and disguises play a double role: they both allow women, particularly women of quality, freedom of movement and action that they may not ordinarily possess, but they also reveal the degree to which women are protected by the semiotics of class and station.

Another starting point is the idea of Restoration Comedy itself: its audience, its appeal, its language, its elaborate plotting. (As example of the comic intrigue, Wilmore fights Antonio; Wilmore injures him; Belville is arrested; Antonio forgives Belville for supposedly injuring him; Belville now indebted to his rivals, goes off to fight Don Pedro, whom Antonio assumes is Belville - yes, Belville is, essentially, fighting himself; Don Pedro is fighting Antonio to defend the honor of sister; he then attempts to force the person whom he thinks is Antonio to marry his sister, although he's really compelling Belville to marry his sister, the exact opposite of what he wants.) Beyond Restoration Comedy, The Rover provides strong examples of venerable stock comic characters, or what I like to call, familiar faces. As in Tartuffe, the fundamental tension is between two lovers (Belville/Florinda) and a blocking character: in this case a brother, acting as a surrogate for the father, and two different potential matches (an older man, Don Vincentio, and a younger, Don Antonio). Other types include a version of the country bumpkin (Blunt), the prostitute with a heart (Angelica), the rake (Willmore), and the clever girl, who even, like Rosalind and Viola, shows up in breeches (Hellena). Willmore and Hellena also are examples of those lovers, who though strongly attracted to each other or because they are so strongly attracted to each other, spend most of their time at odds with one another (Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado; Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting).


Some words from Chekhov that begin to establish a context for this play.

Chekhov's oft-cited words on love: "Either is it a remnant of something degenerating, something which once had been immense, or it is a particle of what will in the future develop into something immense, but at the present it is unsatisfying, it gives much less than one expects."

Several key moments in the play focus on when a character chooses to speak his or her love: Vanya for Yelena, Sonya for Astrov, Astrov for Yelena, Yelena for Astrov. In each instance, the timing is off or feelings are not reciprocal.

Chekhov on melodrama or what he calls the calls "tomfooleries of action": "people do not shoot, hang, fall in love," deliver "clever sayings" all the time.

Chekhov on dramatic decorum: "For chemists there is nothing unclean on earth."

Chekhov on knowledge: "It's only fools and charlatans who know everything and understand everything."

"My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom imaginable--freedom from violence and lies no matter what form [they] . . . take."

UBU ROI (1896)

Jarry’s letter to Lugne-Poe:

". . . the scenery was painted to represent, by a child’s conventions, indoors and out of doors, and even the torrid, temperate, and arctic zones at once. Opposite you, at the back of the stage, you saw apple trees in bloom, under a blue sky, and against the sky a small closed window and a fireplace . . . through the very midst of which . . . trooped in and out the clamorous and sanguinary persons of the drama. On the left was painted a bed, and at the foot of the bed a bare tree and snow falling. On the right there were palm trees . . . a skeleton dangled. A venerable gentleman in evening dress . . . trotted across the stage on the points of his toes between every scene and hung the new placard on its nail." Arthur Symons as quoted in Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France 1885 to World War I. Rev. Ed., (New York: Vintage, 1968) 207.

Yeats on the First Performance of Ubu Roi: "I go to the 1st performance of Jarry’s Ubu Roi, at the theatre de L’Oeuvre, with Rhymer, who had been so attractive to the girl in the bicycling costume. The audience shake their fists at one another, and Rhymer whispers to me, "There are often duels after these performances," and explains to me what is happening on the stage. The players are supposed to be dolls, toys, marionettes, and now they are all hopping like wooden frogs, and I can see for myself that the chief personage, who is some kind of king, carries for a sceptre a brush of the kind that we use to clean a closet. Feeling bound to support the most spirited party, we have shouted for the play, but that night at the Hotel Corneille I am very sad, for comedy, objectivity, has displayed its growing power once more. I say, After S. Mallarme, after Verlaine, after G. Moreau, after Puvis de Chavannes, after our own verse, after the faint mixed tints of Conder, what more is possible? After us the Savage God." William Butler Yeats as quoted in Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France 1885 to World War I. Rev. Ed., (New York: Vintage, 1968) 209.

Is Ubu is man, If Ma Ubu is woman, then what is man, what is woman?

Without honor
Without courage
Driven by greed and appetite
In Ubu Roi, we have an inversion of the classical division of styles: the world of kings and queens has now become the world of low comedy, scatological, excremental, light years from Racine's tragic kings and queens who lived on air and thought and feeling alone. In Ubu Roi, we have a preview of the horrors of World War I.

But perhaps even more telling than the play was the life Jarry himself lived, adopting the persona of Ubu, performing a life, living a performance. G. Proehl 3/11/2003.

TARTUFFE (1664, 1665, 1669)

It took three attempts to this play into a run. A first and second version were banned by the clergy. A final version, in 1669), was allowed by the king (Louis XIV)..

The controversy was over the representation of the clergy. In Moliere's words, his comedy was denounced as "diabolical" and he was condemned as a "devil garbed in flesh and disguised as a man." Moliere maintained, however, that his comedy was not corrupt, even though some comedies may be, and in so doing, provided a definition of comedy: "As the duty of comedy is to current men by amusing them, I believed that in my occupation I could do nothing better than attack the vices of my age by making them ridiculous; and as hypocrisy is undoubtedly one of the most common, most improper, and most dangerous, I thought, Sire, that I would perform a service for all good men of your kingdom if I wrote a comedy which denounced hypocrites and placed in proper view all of the contrived poses of these incredibly virtuous men, all of the concealed villainies of these counterfeit believers who would trap others with a fraudulent piety and a pretended virtue." So it was that he changed the title of his play, in its second incarnation to The Imposter to make it clear that he was not acting the clergy, but men who pretended to be clergy.

As noted above (see Tartuffe, above, under ACTION), much of what makes this play so effective is the way in which it combines strong plotting, brilliant incarnations of archetypal comic characters, and wonderful language. As an example of the first, act two begins a series of scenes in which one or more character's wants are deftly played against another's: Orgon wants to convince Mariane to marry Tartuffe; Dorine wants Orgon to let Mariane marry Valere; Orgon wants Dorine to keep her mouth shut; Dorine wants Mariane to stand up for herself; Valere want Mariane to apologize to him for being unfaithful to him; Mariane wants Valere to apologize to her, etc.

Other elements of note: Tartuffe as an example of neo-classical comedy; Tartuffe as an example of archetypal comedy; Tartuffe as an example of classic character types; Tartuffe as an example of the kinds of ups, downs, revelations (moment of anagnorisis) and reversal (moments of peripeteia) that would be central to melodrama and the well-made play; Tartuffe as an example of the way in which class structures are written into plays and would be re-written by writers such as Beaumarchais and Strindberg.


Scrap of Paper and the Well-Made Play

Although the well-made play has its antecedents in Beaumarchais, Moliere, Plautus, and even in Greek tragedies like Oedipus Rex, theatre historians, such as Stephen Stanton from whom these notes are mostly taken, trace its birthplace to the plays of Eugene Scribe in the early years of the 19th century, spreading them from their throughout Europe.

What is the dramaturgy of the well-made (piece bien faite) play as created by Scribe and his followers?

From Stephen S. Stanton. "Introduction the Well-Made Play." Camille and Other Plays. New York: Hill and Wang, 1957.

"[1.] a plot based on a secret known to the audience but withheld from certain characters . . . ;"

In Scrap of Paper, this is the letter that Clarisse wrote Prosper three years prior to the beginning of the play, just before her mother, now deceased, took Clarisse away to Paris for an arranged marriage to Vanhove, who, as the play begins, is her rigid, paranoid husband. The discovery of the note in which Clarisse professes her love for Prosper would at least be embarrassing. It might even destroy their marriage. Vanhove has many of the qualities of the "heavy father" found in many comedies. His propensity to jealously is similar to the humor or obsession that possesses many older male comic characters.

"[2.] a pattern of increasingly intense action and suspense, prepared by exposition . . . . (this pattern assisted by contrived entrances and exits, letters, and other devices);"

In Scrap, the action and suspense is the struggle to find and control the letter. The principal antagonists are Prosper, to whom the letter was originally addressed, and Suzanne, Clarisse’s cousin and ally. Prosper until the middle of act two wants to use the letter to blackmail Clarisse into letting him marry her younger sister, Marthe. Charmed by Suzanne’s intelligence, beauty and character, he relents only to unwittingly throw it out his window, so that in the final act he and Suzanne must work together to retrieve the letter and save Clarisse’s reputation.

A sense of contrivance is often a sure sign that we are in the presence of a well-made play. The icon of contrivance is the letter that appears or, in the case of Scrap, disappears. When the letter appears in All My Sons (1946), the effectiveness of the play, at least for some, is undercut by the dated quality of this plot device.

Exposition was necessary to lay out the basis from which the plot would then grow. In Scrap, the servants are there to deliver much of this vital information, another fairly common device.

"[3.] series of ups and downs in the hero's fortunes . . . . ;"

Most of the ups and downs in Scrap center on the competition between Prosper, on one side, and Suzanne/Clarisse, on the other, for possession of the letter, until Prosper decides to join forces with Suzanne/Clarisse and then the three of them are ranged against Vanhove and chance.

"[4.] counterpunch of peripeteia and scène á faire. . . ;"

Stanton locates the peripeteia in Scrap at the end of act 2 when Prosper throws the letter out the window, when he loses control of the paper, ultimately putting himself at Vanhove’s mercy. Peripeteia generally refers to a reversal in a character’s fortunes either from good to bad or from bad to good. Its classic form is when a character expects good or bad fortune but receives its opposite. Stanton with respect to the well-made play specifically identifies peripeteia with the hero's’s worst moment. This fits with the idea of peripeteia as reversal, as in the worst of a series of reverses, escalating into a "darkest before the dawn scene" that will be saved at the last possible moment. To my mind, the actual moment of peripeteia in Scrap comes closer to the scène á faire, also called the "obligatory" scene: a culminating moment in the drama, a moment of maximum dramatic tension and its resolution. Stanton describes this as the moment of "Thirion and Vanhove both reading the letter and Vanhove almost comprehending it," a comprehension finally averted by the team work and lies of both Prosper and Suzanne, who will end the play as soon to be husband and wife.

"[5.] a central misunderstanding or quid pro quo. . . ;" (something for something)

In Scrap, this is the scene toward the end of the play in which Vanhove believes he is talking about the relationship between Prosper and Suzanne (his wife’s friend), while Prosper believes that Vanhove has discovered a former relationship between Prosper and Clarisse (Vanhove’s wife). Prosper is then surprised when Vanhove (thinking of Suzanne) tells Prosper (thinking of Clarisse, Vanhove’s wife): "it shall not be said that a gentle and good woman trusted to your love and that you refused her the satisfaction which she has a right to expect." The sexual innuendo, the momentary image of Prosper satisfying Suzanne, is common to many quid pro quo situations. One of the better known scenes of this sort is in Fiddler on the Roof: the conversation between Tevye and Lazar Wolf in which Tevye believes he is having a conversation about cattle and Lazar Wolf believes he is having a conversation about marrying one of Tevye’s daughters.

"[6.] a logical and credible dénouement;"

In Scrap, Sardou goes to great expository lengths in act one to make it credible that a note placed in a room three years earlier should still be there. Logic and credibility underscore the role of plot and plotting in the well-made play. These dramas take to an extreme Aristotle’s privileging of plot among his six elements: plot, character, thought, diction, music, spectacle. Sardou prided himself on the ability to read Scribe's first act and then plot his own ending, comparing his results with Scribe’s.

"[7.] the reproduction of the overall pattern in the individual acts."

Of the various elements Stanton describes, this one feels the most forced.

Although these elements are specific to the well-made play as created by Scribe, Sardou and those who followed closely in their footsteps, in general we use the term well-made to refer to a play, novel or short story that is driven by an obvious narrative formula: a mystery story; a Perry Mason episode; a James Bond movie. Compared to these narrative needs, truthfulness of character or environment or situation is subsidiary. Settings are not so much chosen for their ability to represent a deterministic milieu as for their ability to provide places in which to hide scraps of paper. The skill for the writer (and it is not necessarily a minor skill) is as a contriver/arranger/plotter. Sardoodledom was Shaw’s name for this kind of play, often commercial, often marketed to middle class audiences. Any number of playwriting texts, especially older ones, are essentially guides on how-to-write well-made plays.


“Tradition of writing and art depicting country life which is often idealised, idyllic; it becomes the ornamental play-acting of courtly society, but it also develops towards more realistic comment on agrarian problems" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 173).


In an article entitled, "The Pleasure of the Spectator" (Modern Drama 25:127-39), Anne Ubersfeld argues for the role of pleasure in theatrical experience. Here are some aspects of theatrical pleasuse that she notes:

it is "not a solitary pleasure"
it is "made of all kinds of pleasures"
it is never "pure, passive reception; it is related to an activity, a series of activities"

She then discusses various kinds of pleasure:

the pleasure "of never heard stories in which suspense is at the root of pleasure"
"the pleasure of the sign": "What is a sign, if not what replaces an object for someone under certain circumstances. It would not be going too far to say that the act of filling the gap is the very source of theatrical pleasure": a. the pleasure "of seeing, of hearing"; b. the pleasure of 'Bricolage': "the spectator enjoys the specifically theatrical pleasure of doing 'his own thing' with the elements offered to him'; c. "pleasure of memory" (the "superimposing of the preceding element on the new one makes a new construction possible"
the "pleasure of understanding"
the "pleasure of invention"
the "pleasure of travel"
pleasure "in transgression": a. "absence"; b. anxiety; c. the impossible: the "high peak of theatrical pleasure is perhaps that it allows us to participate in a concrete even which is a representation of the impossible, of what cannot have any concrete existence in the course of our own lives."

"Theatrical pleasure is multiform; it is made up of all kinds of pleasures, sometimes contradictory ones. It varies with the forms of theatricality. It cannot be reduced to a univocal notion . . . : it is the pleasure of an absence being summoned up (the narrative, the fiction, elsewhere); and it is the pleasure of contemplating a stage reality experienced as a concrete activity in which the spectator takes part" (Ubersfeld 128).





Comments following a day of auditions at the Walnut Street Theatre on August 1, 1991 (10 to 1; 2:30 to 5:30; five minutes each): Presence makes you want to follow, to go with, identify with, to align with the actor: notice the reoccurrence of the word with). It gives us the sense that whatever the actor does, it comes from within, that s/he makes the words his/her own. With presence, we're willing to give the actor some of our time, not so willing for the stage manager to say "Thank you," while in other instances we cannot wait for the audition to be over: we shuffle our papers, we squirm in our seats, we want to get away, "Get that actor out of my presence, please!"

The stage managers usher actors in and out of the presence of the auditors. How do we respond when an actor says, I will be doing an original piece: "Oh no, not that!" But then, if it's good, our admiration is so much the greater. (The monologue is about a boy and his father; the actor did not say it was autobiographical, but we assume the connection and are impressed. The guy's another Bill Cosby or Spike Lee; I figure he must do stand-up comedy somewhere; here's the next Spike Lee.)

The relationship between auditioner and text is interesting. Some announce it: "I will be doing True West, The Miser, an excerpt from Whoopi Goldberg's original show, "Send in the Clowns." Others just begin, perhaps confusing us for a moment as to whether we're hearing the voice of the actor or the voice of the character. Some of the best use this technique: the message is "You know and I know what this is all about so let's get on with it and not waste any of my five minutes citing authors and plays." The worst are painfully formal and the very worst even explain where this moment comes in the play, adding context to context, as if we cared. Actors with "presence" make you forget the writing of it and enjoy the speaking of it. Presence does celebrate the self. It engenders words like enraptured, enthralled, captivated; we use phrases like "fire in the belly" or make references to our own physiology: "hairs stand-up on our arms or the back of our neck." This presence is primarily vocal, I usually don't know if someone will have "it" until they open their mouth to speak or sing (no dance auditions today; the stage is not lit very well; I'm sitting at the back of the house; presence is, of course, not just a matter of words; it can be visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.). Several actors come alive only when they sing. For some, music releases what dry words cannot touch. For others, words are music.

Auditioners should avoid any accent but their own or limit themselves to one accent for the entire audition, including introductions. The shift into accent is alienating. It dispels presence. It makes the actor seem immediately false. It undercuts the phonocentric. Moving in and out of accents would undercut phonocentric presence.

I wonder if we aren't kidding ourselves when we critically speculate on deconstructing the theatrical presence of the actor. Most of us in academic theatre work to create a sense of presence in the actor. After all, how can you deconstruct presence when it is not there in the first place?

I listen and watch the video of the final act of Our Town. She's crying. This performance is special. They really felt it this time, for the taping, more than in the regular run; the camera stays on her so that we see the tears come to her eyes; no glycerin. Emily (Penelope Ann Miller) has an amazing presence. I don't want to trade that presence away or mask it. I'm in love. I'll do whatever she wants. Emily realizes that she wasn't really there for her life, that she missed her life, was absent. And I tell my students that theatre exists to make us present to ourselves for a few moments. To put us into contact with what's within and without. Old-fashioned, I know. Presence is exactly what our lives lack. Theatre creates an illusion that dispels that lack for a few moments. G. Proehl 3/4/2003.


A judgment the audience makes with regards to the degree of likelihood we assign to the unfolding of a play's plot.


"Not verse; without metrical pattern; ordinary writing or speech" (Robert Cohen, Acting in Shakespeare 222).


"Stanislavski discovered that there is an unbreakable tie between the psychological and the physical in a human being. In every physical action there is always something psychological" (Moore 21); "The word, said Stanislavski, is the physical side of the psychophysical process; images and the meaning behind the words for its psychological side" (Moore 22).
"Purposefulness connects the simplest (physical) action with the most complex (psychological) action" (Ershov, quoted in Moore 26).





Increase the emotional intensity of a scene by imagining conflicts and resolutions to conflicts that are more important to both the characters and us.


“Open a novel and you’ve got everything you need right in front of you; open a playtext and you have to start imagining the things that aren’t there—how it might look and sound, how an audience might react" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 1).

“The words…are designed to produce that performance. How do they produce a performance? At a basic level they do so by instructing not only what is to be said but how it is to be said, and to whom, and in what context, and with what actions, and in what space" (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 2).


Dramatic realism is a phrase that can be used to describe a kind of writing that found in certain plays of Ibsen, Zola, Strindberg, and Chekhov. It describes a way of writing plays that asserted itself toward the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Its direct literary antecedent is the realistic fiction -- novels and short stories -- found earlier in the nineteenth century. In discussing realism in literature, critics often make a distinction between realism and naturalism, with the latter usually described as darker and more deterministic, as in the naturalist plays of Zola or Zola's naturalism. Although this distinction between realism and naturalism has its uses, this glossary primarily uses the phrase "dramatic realism" to describes a general way of writing that appears in what some would categorize as either realistic or naturalistic.

One of the best ways to begin to approach a definition of dramatic realism may be by listing a series of characteristics shared by many of those texts commonly referred to as realistic or even naturalistic. It may be easier to develop an initial understanding of this style if instead of seeing it as a representation of the real, we describe it as a series of assumptions or conventions that contribute to our sense that the stage is representing the real: in other words, a key to understanding the dramaturgy of realism is to see it as a rhetorical technique that has as one of its primary goals the creation of the impression that what we are witnessing is a representation that matches closely what we perceive to be daily reality: it creates this impression most effectively when what we perceive seems not constructed but natural, self-evident: "Yes, that's just the way life as I experience it is."

Here are some of those assumptions and conventions:

That realism is the "existential, value-free, scientific, and experiential exploration of reality" (Esslin); that its focus is "ordinary everyday people" (Strindberg) or "ordinary, insignificant characters" (Ibsen) or "ordinary, colorless, subsidary characters" (Zola).

That it takes all of life for its material, regardless of specific content, regardless of moral pre-judgements or theatrical decorum: "For chemists there is nothing unclean on earth" (Chekhov);

That it embodies a search for truth;

That truth is to some extent verifiable;

That science and sociology have materials to contribute to theatrical representation;

With regard to action, that it may well focus on a moment of crisis or transition, but that more mundane aspects of human experience need not be avoided;

That what might be avoided, are what Chekhov calls the "tomfooleries of action" ("people do not shoot, hang, fall in love," deliver "clever sayings" all the time, Chekhov)

That language in order to match daily life must reject verse, the aside, the monologue even as it discovers subtext, cross-cut monologue, pause, indirection, at times the general inadequacy of language;

That causaulity will play a role in the plotting of plays, particularly to the extent that it is observable (not God or fate);

That causality's sources can be found in the past in the form of heredity and environment (milieu and moment);

That plays might focus on what it means to live in a room, to sit in a chair, to be part of a complex physical environment: "If we reduce the realistic theatre to its single most important property, we arrrive, in effect, at the chair. . . . to sit is to be, to exist suddenly and plentifully in the material world ('I sit, therefore I am here'); and in this sense classical characters are bodiless: they exist in a vague intersection between elsewheres established by poetry. But when characters begin to sit as naturally as they stand, the body comes fully into its own as the center of a new spatial concern, and this is the sense in which realism and comedy are two faces of the same coin" (Bert States, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, 43-45).

That overdetermination and subjectivity not eliminated

That drama might give serious consideration of all classes, breaking down the class-based genre distinctions of Classicism and Neo-Classicism.

See Diderot on Realism; See Auerbach's Mimesis

A theatrical style that has as one of its primary goals the creation of the impression that what we are witnessing is a representation that matches closely what we perceive to be daily reality: realism creates this impression most effectively when what we perceive seems not constructed but natural, self-evident: "Yes, that's just the way life as I experience it is"; similar to representation vs. presentational.



According to Johnstone, a good way to create a narrative is to first free associate and then look for ways in which earlier materials repeats with a difference or are reincorporated.


"Some way of defining what you and this other person mean to each other" (Barton 12).


Repetition refers to following strands of images, sounds and ideas as they weave in and out of the text: look for "recurring references to sights and sounds (even to those never actually seen or heard by an audience) and to the manner in which diction and rhythm affect the sonorous, or musical, properties of the text’s language. Ideational motifs and leitmotifs refer not only to governing thematic ideas,but also to the strands of thought that form discernible, repeatable patterns. This culling and winnowing process need not be exhaustive; on the contrary, the selection and foregrounding of certain patterns over others reveals an orientation to the text that bears the presenter’s signature" (Olf 158).

Repetition, for example, is central to the structure of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child (1979). One series of repetitions surrounds Tilden’s trip to the back yard. In act one, he brings an arm load of corn, later spreading its husks over a sleeping Dodge; in act two, he enters with an arm load of carrots; in act three, the bones of a buried child. The first two entries help prepare for the third. Here, as well, there is both repetition and change: from act one to two, the change from one sort of vegetable to another; from act two to three, from one sort of life to another, from plant life to human life and from newly harvested to nearly decomposed — “The corpse mainly consists of bones . . . ." These associations of plant life with human life at different stages also contributes to the play’s use of metaphor. From the beginning, the mysterious, quasi-religious treatment of the corn and carrots invites consideration of these vegetables as metaphors, even if we do not quite know for what: regeneration, fertility, primal powers, nourishment, a lost innocence. They become part of a string of vivid, concrete elements central to the play: rain, whiskey, corn, spit, hair clippers, hair, a bleeding scalp, fur, carrots, beef bouillon, roses, breaking glass, a wooden leg, a blanket, a corpse. In some senses, the story of the play is the story of this sequence objects.
G. Proehl 9/15/2003.

Any part of a play --- image, key word, situation, gesture --- that occurs more than once; one form of repetition is reincorporation.


The rhythm of a play can be a function of many different theatrical elements. The rhythm can, and often does change: faster or slower (as in the action of a play), longer or shorter (as in the juxtaposition of episodes of various lengths), louder or softer. The change itself can be abrupt or gradual. Greek plays move back and forth between the rhythms of choral sections or sets of long speeches and quick, terse dialogues (stichomythia). The change can be between laughter and seriousness: one moment we might be laughing at a character, the next identifying with, and then, a moment again laughing at. G. Proehl 2/22/2003

A fundamental source of a play’s energies is in the consistencies and variations in one sort of rhythm or another. Some plays derive their power from the relentlessness of an almost single rhythm, although, like plays without closure, majors plays without significant, even if subtle, variations in rhythm are rare. Most plays derive their energy from a variety of rhythms, from rapid changes and shifts: Greek dramas, Shakespeare’s plays, and contemporary plays influenced by the quick cuts of film are obvious examples.

In most instances, derailing a play’s rhythms, particularly with blackouts to move scenery on or off a stage, is a major mistake. Of course, it might also be a mistake to run together acts that were originally written for curtains and intermissions. An awareness of the dramatic conventions for changes scenes used in the original production of a play, is a first step toward finding a symbiotic relationship between the spoken text and the stage as a machine. G. Proehl 2/14/2003.


Word endings that sound similar or the same, especially in poetry, often as the final word in the line.

“Equally, rhyme can be used in counterpoint to the content. The disturbance this creates is extremely effective: our ears are unsettled, the meaning gains texture and odd—often sinister—tensions are established," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 126).

“Good rhyming works subliminally in our ears, pulling us along on an invisible thread through the lines it twins together. Less skillful rhyme can feel clumsy and annoying to the ear—yet used deliberately it too can serve a dramatic purpose, telling us something about the situation or the character who uses it," (Patsy Rodenburg, Speaking Shakespeare 127).


"The role of art is to restore the sensation of life" (Victor Shklovsky).

The "business of Art . . . is to live in the actual present, and to completely express that complete actual present" (Gertrude Stein).



The study of signs, of signifiers and signifieds.




from McAllister, David P. "Shootingway, an Epic Drama of the Navajos," Southwestern Indian Ritual Drama. Edited by Charlotte J. Frisbie. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1980: 199-237.

McAllister, in his conclusion, notes several interesting features of Navajo ritual drama. With respect to the world of these dramas, McAllister first of all notes that it is "a world of immanent forces." ("Twigs, stones, trees, and almost any living creatures have great power to do harm and to protect one from harm.") Secondly, he notes that the "desired state is harmony, balance, . . . with oneself, one's family, and all the parts of nature. . . ." Third, he notes that it is "a world with a sharp awareness of kinship." And finally, that it is "a practical world." ("The aesthetic, for instance, is functional in the service of harmony, rather than a consideration for its own sake alone.")

With respect to the structure of the Navajo ritual drama he notes the following elements:

"Duality." Pairs, alternations, reciprocals could be seen all the way from minute details in the sandpaintings to the overall structure of the entire nine-nights' performance."

"Progression, sequence." "The progression is often in geographical location either mythical or mundane. There is plentiful evidence of a universe ordered down to minute detail."

"Symbolism of color, position, direction, material, and the like." The symbolism in Navajo ritual drama indicates a "system of breathtaking complexity."

"Repetition." "It is there in ceremonial acts and gestures, in motifs in sandpainting, song, and prayer."

"Mirror image/radial design." ("an important principle of organization in the reversal from night/day to day/night in the overall structure of the ceremony."

Finally, McAllister wonders whether "unquestioning conformity to ritual expectations" is a function of compulsion or reciprocity.


"A 'sign' consists of two elements: a word or visual image (a red traffic light) and a concept (stop: danger). Without the concept the traffic light is a metal pole with a red light on it: the signifier and the signified have an arbitrary relationship, but they also depend on each other to make the sign. Performance depends substantially on the use of signs: an audience will understand two armchairs and a small table to signify a living room, or an antique shop (Wallis and Shepherd, Studying Plays 173)."


Spontaneity is one way of talking about the tension between the release of energy and the blocking of energy: intellectual, emotional, physical. Brainstorming, for example, is an activity that encourages spontaneity, it encourages the release of ideas. Spontaneity is often understood as being in tension with repression, censorship, fear, and yet, the equation is not quite as simple as "spontaneity good, restraint bad." Keith Johnstone in his book, Impro, devotes a chapter to the topic. For him, spontaneity has been severely constrained by education and culture, particularly through fear: fear of the imagination and the judgement it might bring upon us. He takes, as one of his tasks, finding ways for theatre makers--particularly student actors and improvisers--to be more spontaneous, less imaginatively constrained. Johnstone quotes Schiller's reference to "the watcher at the gates of the mind" as that which examines "ideas too closely" (79). Johnstone identifies three primal fears that block our spontaneity: 1. the fear that, if we act or speak spontaneously, people may think we are crazy ("psychotic thought") and laugh at you; 2. the fear that people may think we have a dirty mind ("obscenity"); 3. the fear that people will not find our ideas original. He develops a variety of exercises to combat the "watcher at the gates." One of the central strategies is to imagine the writer as a transmitter, as a conduit for ideas, images, emotions that come from elsewhere, as opposed to notion that "art is self-expression" (79). For Johnstone, imagining should be as effortless as percieving: "An artist who is inspired is being obvious. He's not making any decisions, he's not weighing one idea against another. He's accepting his first thoughts" (88)

"My feeling isn't that the group should be 'obscene', but that they should be aware of the ideas that are occurring to them. I don't want them to go rigid and blank out, but to laugh, and say 'I'm not saying that' or whatever" (87)

He also introduces the concepts of "offer," "accept," and "block" as ways of thinking about creativity and improvisation. He argues for saying "yes" to offers, as opposed to blocking them. For example, a father might say to a son at home, "Have you fed the seal today?" A block would be to say, "What seal?" An accept would be to say, "He's not hungry" or "Just a moment ago" or "I was waiting until you came home."

In a later chapter on "Narrativity," Johnstone argues for an emphasis on structure instead of content. He writes, "Content lies in structure, in what happens, not in what the characters say." He urges students to free associate, then connect or reincorporate ideas. This idea of narrative can be compared to David Ball's definition of an action: "something happens that makes or permits something else to happen" (Backwards and Forwards 9). Also compare to Ball, Johnstone's idea that the "improviser has to be like a man walking backwards. He sees where he has been, but he pays no attention to the future. His story can take him anywhere, but he must still 'balance' it, and give it shape, by remembering incidents that have been shelved and reincorporating them" (Johnstone 116).

Exercises: 1. the "Yes" "No" exercise, person A asks questions, person B ("who knows the story") answers "Yes" or "No"; 2. imagine a box. What's in it? (notice tendency to censor); two people tell a story together, one free associating (disconnected material), the other connecting or reincorporating

Spontaneity tries to get around what Schiller called “the watcher at the gates of the mind." According to Johnstone this watcher often rejects ideas because it deems them psychotic, obscene, or unoriginal.


Audience surrounds the performance area.


(Paraphrase): CONJUNCTIVE STAGE DIRECTIONS explain the dialogue, whereas DISJUNCTIVE STAGE DIRECTIONS “act in tension with or against dialogue"; IMPLICIT STAGE DIRECTIONS “When Shakespeare gives the actress Desdemona the line, ‘Here I kneel’, he indicates quite directly that the speech is to be played kneeling" (Wallis and Shepherd 10).



Fan-shaped audit.: 30 rows of stepped seats; no aisles; each row opening onto an exit (1,345 with sm. box at rear, 100 seats);
Balcony for 300; uniform price for all seats
Stage: traditional--raked, 7 sets of wings, chariot and pole
Stage innovation: jets of steam that created a curtain or provided atmospheric effects
Hidden orch. pit: sunken and extended under the stage; curved wall reflected sound toward the stage and "hid the pit" (for Wagner, seeing the conductor destroyed the illusion; cf. Brecht's making the musicians visible; game of absenses and presences; wanted to pull the audience into an alternative presence; an other place)
Double proscenium arch
Mystic chasm created by pit and the double arches: sep. the world of reality (audititorium/daylight) and the world of ideality (stage/dream) (cf., environmental theatre; box set)
To increase illusion: musicians could not tune-up in the pit; discouraged applause; no curtain calls; darkened auditorium (usually, lights left on since the Renaissance); costumes and scenery relatively realistic and historically accurate; moving panoramas
Goal: unify and give meaning to a whole culture through a communal experience; wanted to provide a sensual experience so overpowering that it would induce the audience into a "spiritualized state"; wanted to arouse an empathetic response; success determined by ability to engage audience's emotions and draw them into the world of the play (cf. Stanislavski and Strasberg; Brecht and Mei Lan Fang)
Art a substitute for religion (see also symbolists, expressionists, Artaudians)
Romantic realist himself although appealed to an anti-relistic tendency in the 20th cent.


The Bowery theatre (opened in 1826; see map) of New York's 19th century is an important icon for American theatre. It stands, first of all for the way it stands in juxtaposition to Broadway, located along an avenue just a few blocks to the west. As Sante writes in Low Life, there has "consistently been some kind of dichotomy ever since: stage plays countered by moving pictures, the legitimate theatre countered by vaudeville and burlesque, the native drama by ethnic drama, 'big' theatre by little theatre, Broadway by Off-Broadway, Off-Broadway by Off-Off-Broadway."

These tensions, for example, reveal themselves in the famous Astor Opera House riots of 1849. Twenty-two people were killed by militia called out to quell rioters, who were protesting the performance of British actor William Charles Macready in Macbeth over and against their passion for American actor, Edwin Forest. The actors stood for different performance styles ("subdued, scholarly, genteel" appealing to the upper classes--and by extension, aristocrats and the British--versus "muscular, histrionic" acting appealing to working classes--and by extension, recent immigrants, particularly the Irish), differences reflected to this day in distinctions made between British (Olivier) and American (Brando) acting. The riot was not, however, so much about acting styles as class tensions and their exploitations by both sides for their own political purposes.

The Bowery also stands for two traditions that marked 19th century American theatre: melodrama and black face minstrel shows. The latter should not erase performances by African Americans apart from this tradition, in particular, the establishment of the African Grove, and later, African (American) Theatre: 1821, William Henry Brown, at various locations, but initially at 38 Thomas (between Chapel and Hudson). Nor should it make us forget the work of Ira Aldridge who performed Shakespeare there until he was eventually forced to take his career to Europe, where he would "play Othello at the Royal Theatre, and become the rage of Europe for a quarter century" (Burrow and Wallace, Gotham 488).

The origins of black face (white actors applying burnt cork to their faces to perform "black" stereotypes such as Jim Crow and Zip Coon) are somewhat obscure, but one of its most significant creators was Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice in the late 1820s. According to Burrows and Wallace, "Crow and Coon were paradoxical creations. Their primary import was racist ridicule. Slavery was presented as right and natural; slaves as contented, lazy, and stupid; northern blacks as larcenous, immoral, and ludicrous. At the same time, Rice's act (like those of his colleagues) was laced with envy. At a time when employers, ministers, and civic authorities were demanding productivity, frugality, and self-discipline, Crow and Coon shamelessly indulged in sensual pleasures" (490). Perhaps even more significantly by "constructing a spurious image of 'blackness,' it [minstrelsy] helped develop a category of 'whiteness.' At the Bowery Theater, Anglo- and Irish-Americans, in laughing together" at African Americans "forged a common class identity built on a sense of white supremacy" (490).


Much of the following information is based on materials found in Brockett and Findlay’s History of the theatre.

Madame Vestris (1797-1856) was the proprietor of the Olympic Theatre in London. Married at 16, she made her stage debut at the age of 18. Vestris sang and acted in light entertainment. She was known for the care and detail she took with the productions at her theatre. She eventually moved into weightier fare: Covent Garden, Lyceum.

She is mentioned in this context, because she is credited with introducing in the 1830s the box set complete with a ceiling and dressed with "real" properties: doorknobs, dishes, rugs, tables, chairs, curtains (instead of painting them on), costumes from everyday life.

Historically, the development of the box set coincided with the advent of the well-made play: the technology for doing a box set was on hand at least 40-50 years before dramatic realism began to take hold.

To some extent, the box set is a continuation of move that began with the development of perspective and the proscenium arch (Teatro Farnese, Parma, Italy, 1618): from wing and drop to three walls and a ceiling. The whole in the wall with changeable wings has become a hole in the wall with walls, but far less changeable than chariot and pole.

Diderot's suggested the idea of the fourth wall in the 18th century. An interim position is perhaps characterized by the convention of the aside: "Here I am within this world, within this proscenium, but I can still turn and speak to you now and then." With the full advent of dramatic realism, Diderot's notion of the 4th wall would win out and the aside as a convention would be set aside, at least for awhile.

Stage lighting would change from footlights to overhead, sides, and sourced lights.

The transition was not, totally smooth. See for example Strindberg’s critiqued of staging practices at the time he wrote Miss Julie.

Actors did not know at first what to do with this new arrangement. They were more used to standing around the prompt box or walking down to the forestage and speaking most of their lines directly out to the audience.

Bert States in Great Reckonings in Little Rooms notes that Montigny revolutionized blocking by putting a table and chair upstage of the prompt box as a way of forcing actors out of that semi-circle. According to States, when furniture first arrived on stage it had a real shock value. It was one of those innovations that would of course in time move from innovation to convention, cliché, and even parody.

The box set should be seen in comparison with various other methods of staging: the facade stages of Noh, Greek, and Elizabethan Theatre; the locus and platea arrangements of medieval drama. The box set tends toward a process of matching over making, of metonymy over metaphor, of little room over empty platform.

Question: What are the implications of this invention for the dramaturgy of playscript and performance? For consideration:

What does it mean to move from a more two dimensional world to one more three dimensional, from parallel flats to flats joined together to make a room?

What does it mean that the box set makes it more difficult to change the setting?

What does it mean for the actor to be able to move in, around, and within the scenery in a way that was not possible with perspective scenery?

What does it mean to feel that a character is is subject to that interior space as an environment that along with heredity is formative?

What does this interior space do to the idea of doors and windows? How do they then become particularly important as ways in and ways out of that room?

How does the box set create a tension between that interior, often domestic, private space that is represented and the space beyond that exit, the space outside its windows and doors? A private space as opposed to the public spaces of Greek tragedy, for example; a place worked out in some detail as opposed to that space beyond the walls of the box set upon which the imagination can project itself.

How does dramatic realism in the late 19th and early 20th century alter the use of the box set from when it primarily served were well-made plays and melodramas


Six Axioms of Environmental Theatre from Richard Schechner's book Public domain; essays on the theatre (Bobbs-Merrill, [1969]).

A continuum--textual analysis only covers a portion of this continuum; performance analysis takes in the entire range.

"Impure; life" -- public events -- intermedia -- environmental theatre -- traditional theatre "Pure art"

What is theatre? "The theatrical event is a complex social interweave, a network of expectations and obligations. The exchange of stimuli--either sensory or ideational or both--is the root of theatre. What it is that separates theatre from more ordinary exchanges--say a simple conversation or a part--is difficult to pinpoint structurally. On might say that theatre is more regulated, following a script or a scenario; that it has been rehearsed. Kirby would probably aruge that theatre only presents the self in a more defined way than usual social encounters" (158).

Theatre than as "an image of character in time and space" (Charles Lyons) or, somewhat more loosely, theatre as composed behavior.

For Grotowski, according to Schechner, "theatre is a meeting place between a traditional text and a troupe of performers" (theatre as meeting), compared to Diderot, theatre as cool mimicry based on observation; Stanislavski, theatre as imaginative being or becoming ("He says to himself, as it were, 'I know that all around me on the stage is a rough counterfeit of reality. It is false, But if all should be real, see how I might be carried away to some such scene; then I would act'") or Brecht, theatre as showing ("The alienation effect does not in any way demand an unnatural way of acting. . . [W]hen the actor checks the truth of his performance (a necessary operation, which Stanislavsky is much concerned with in his system) he is not just thrown back on his 'natural sensibilities', but can always be corrected by a comparision with reality (is that how an angry man really speaks? is that how an offended man sits down?) and so from outside, by other people. . . .") or John Cage, as cited by Schechner, "theatre is something which engages both the eye and ear," or Stein, theatre as landscape ("anything that was not a story could be a play"; it could not be a story for Stein, because stories push us into the past or the future, taking us out of the present and for her, the "business of Art . . . is to live in the actual present, and to completely express that complete actual present").

The Six Axioms

1. The theatrical event is a set of related transactions.


1. among performers (see Stanislvaski's advocacy of Public Solitude)
2. among members of the audience (today, we might even add between members of the audience and those individuals outside the theatre to whom they are sending text messages)
3. between performers and audience (see Brecht's obervations about Mei Lan Fang and other Chinese Opera performers; see Mike Daisey video of solo performer's interrupted performance; see Schechner's example of a production in which audience members were asked to move onto the stage and represent the victims of a massacre, but refused to do so, only to have the production stopped until they would move)


1. among production elements
2. among prod. elements and performers
3. among prod. elements and audience
4. between the total production and the space in which it takes place

2. All the space is used for performance; all the space is used for the audience: giving up "fixed seating and the bifurcation of space" (167); the possibility for exchanges "of space between performers and spectators" (166). (This is paralleled by an exploration of borders, such as between actor and character; a kind of simultaneity or alteration between actor and character, as opposed to the submersion of actor in role.)

3. The theatrical event can take place in a totally transformed space or in a "found" space.

to transform: not just the scenery, but the whole environment

to find: explored, not disguised; random elements are valid; scenery, used to point up, not disguise or transform; spectators, may create new spatial possibilities

4. Focus is flexible and varied (e.g. — a performer may go into a crowd and talk softly to just a few spectators; all spectators will not necessarily see all of the scenes; simultaneity as a positive element; this element, along with other concepts described here, has antecedents, as in Dada, Futurism, and the writings of Antonin Artaud)

5. All productions elements speak in their own language, as opposed to the idea of a single point of focus that works off of a synthesis of the arts.

The does not put the actor at the top of a prod. triangle.

6. The text need not be the starting point nor the goal of the production: cries, screams, physicality, theatricality, the creation of a theatrical image beyond or in addition to the text; perception of the text as material for theatre making, not a recipe to be followed or interpreted; intertextuality — weaving new texts into the old.

Cage's attitude, according to Schechner, "treat the repertory as materials, not models" (179).

Cage, as cited by Schechner: "Our situation as artists is that we have all this work that was done before we came along. We have the opportunity to do work now, I would not present things from the past, but I would approach them as materials available to something else which we are going to do now. . . ." (179).

Grotowski, as cited by Schechner: "[The actor] must not illustrate Hamlet, he must meet Hamlet. . . . One structures the montage so that this confrontation can take place. We eliminate those parts of the text which have no importance for us, those parts with which we can neither agree nor disagree. Within the montage one finds certain words that function vis-à-vis our own experiences" (179).

Several of these ideas show-up in Performance Art.

Schechner: "You don't 'do' the play; you 'do with it'--confront it, search among its words and themes, build around and through it . . . and come out with your own thing.

That is the heart of environmental theatre" (180).


Audience/actor arrangement more fluid that arena, thrust, or proscenium arrangements.


"Acknowledging the audience, the theatricality of the event, and playing generally to the house" (Barton 189); see platform stage, breaking the illusion of the 4th wall, asides, narrators, Alienation Effect


The tendency to admit in one way or another that a stage is first and foremost a place for actors to act as opposed to a meticulously realized milieu for characters to inhabit; one version, some planks on barrels or saw horses with a curtain at the back; another version is an architectural façade (Greek theatres; Shakespearean theatres; Noh stage) that does not change from one production to the next (occasionally a set piece will be brought on to suggest a locale); a platform might use the same performance/audience arrangement as a proscenium set, but could also be used in thrust, arena, or flexible settings


Two tendencies: first, for the stage setting to represent only one place at a time either through painting on flats or an arrangement of furniture within a room or rooms that, classically, has had the 4th wall, on the audience's side, removed; second, the tendency to place the audience in rows facing one direction on one side of a line and the stage, facing toward the audience, on the other side of that line


"Creating the impression that the audience is not present, that a real-life situation is being represented onstage so the audience seems to be eavesdropping" (Barton 188); see proscenium arch, perspective scenery/box set/dramatic realism


Multiple locales on the same stage at the same time; called locus and platea or mansion staging in medieval drama; a convention more likely on a platform stage than on a proscenium arch stage


Introductory Notes

The source for many of these introductory notes is Oscar Brockett’s and now also Franklin J. Hildy’s well-known History of the Theatre, although much of this material will be found in a wide range of sources from Margarete Bieber’s The History of the Greek and Roman theatre (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1961) to more recent scholarship. These notes should be no more than a brief bridge to the library.

The principal occasion for the performance of tragedies beginning in the 6th century BCE was an event called the City Dionysia, which was reorganized and enlarged in 534 BC by Pisastratus to include the public performances of plays. The City Dionysia was an annual festival associated with Dionysus and the making of grapes into wine. It was one of four Dionysian festivals spread throughout the year. The others were the Rural Dionysia, the Lenaea, and the Anthesteria. The City Dionysia was held in the month of the stags (Elaphebolion): the last half of March and the first half of April. It was the primary occasion for the performance of plays, although performances of various sorts were possible on these other occasions, especially the Lenaea. The Great or City Dionysia unfolded over several days along the following lines:

1. Prior to the festival proper, an announcement of participants and the subjects of plays;

2. The night before the performances Athenians paraded a statue of Dionysus paraded through the city, ending at the theatre with libations and sacrifices to the gods. At one festival in the 4th century we are told that 240 bulls were sacrificed. The procession might include the carrying of phalloi by torchlight procession. It was led by young men of military age whose fathers had died in the wars;

3. On subsequent days, competition for the best dithyrambic choruses (a dithyramb is a hymn sung to the honor of Dionysus), competition for the best comedy, and ultimately, the performance of three tetralogies each on its own day. A tetralogy consisted of three tragedies or a trilogy and a satyr drama (a kind of anti-tragedy). We have no complete tetralogies. The closest is the Oresteia of Aeschylus.

4. An assembly to award prizes and hear complaints.

Performances of Greek drama continued through the Hellenistic period and into the time of the Roman empire albeit with fairly radical changes in the nature of the stage first in the Hellenistic world and then under the Romans. According to historians, new plays were being written up until the 2nd century AD, with performances continuing, although in decline as late as 500 A.D.

In classical Greece, theatrical performance filled a religious and a civic function. Wealthy citizens were called upon to underwrite the costs of these performances as part of their civic duty.

According to Francis Fergusson, the original audiences for these plays had an "appetite for thrills and diversity" and was "alert for the fine points of poetry." They brought to the theatre a ritual expectancy for these works that would imitate and celebrate "the mystery of human nature and destiny" in a "quest of the whole city for its well-being."

The theatre could accommodate as many as 17 thousand people. Audience members were responsive to the plays. The would stamp their feet, cheer, hiss, applaud, throw nuts and raisins, drink, and even relieve themselves. The cost for a ticket was roughly equivalent to a day's wages. Ticket income went to the upkeep of the theatre. Historians have argued as to whether the audience included women, with opinion weighted toward their presence.

"Given the terraced structure of the Greek theatre, rising in concentric arcs, each spectator could quite literally survey the entire cultural world about him and imagine himself, in the fullness of seeing, as a chorist . . ." (Nietzsche)

The question we might begin with is what are the necessary elements of a theatre and to what extent does the architecture of the classic Greek stage (that one might have found for example, for a performance of the Oresteia at the theatre of Dionysus in Athens) lead us to consider just what a theatre is or might be.

In Athens, those elements included most of the following:

1. The orchestra or dancing place with an altar to Dionysus at its center; we connect this large circular area most directly with the singing and dancing of the chorus, which might include as many as fifty participants, although more frequently twelve to fifteen individuals.

2. The theatron or seeing place: a hillside that sloped down toward the orchestra. Eventually the Romans would engineer free-standing theatres but for the Greeks, a hillside was the usual pre-requisite for the large, semi-circular amphitheatre of mid-fifth century. The first constructed seating was of wood, only later of stone.

3. The skene from which we derive the word, scene. The skene was a hut with one to three doors for entrances. It too was first constructed wood, then stone. There is much discussion about the nature of the stage in front of it, although consensus favors a relatively low stage in front of skene with a step or two to the orchestra. Nietzsche will find in the relationship between orchestra/chorus and stage/hero an expression of and metaphor for the parts played by Apollo and Dionysus in what he sees as their co-creation of tragedy. The roof of the skene could also be used as an acting place, particularly for the appearances of the gods.

The skene might serve to represent the exterior of palace but it was fundamentally an architectural facade that did not have to represent the scene of the play. In this sense it is similar to the façade theatre of both the English renaissance (Shakespeare’s theatre) and Noh drama (classical Japanese theatre). Façade theatres do not necessarily attempt the visual representation of a specific time, place, or environment. They will often use language to create in the spectator’s mind an image of the setting.

4. The paradoi or entry ways for the chorus and audience just below the part of the theatron closest to the orchestra. Tragic playwrights had to write material to bring the chorus on at the beginning of the play and off at the end.

5. The ekkyklema, a small wagon, was rolled out through the skene doors at the appropriate moment to display the dead. It was a way of bringing interior scenes out of doors.

6. The mechane or machine was a crane that could be use to swing characters, particularly gods, over the stage in simulated flight. It’s maximum load was probably two characters and a chariot. It could also be used to fly a single god by way of a parachute-like harness.

7. Periaktoi were triangular prisms mounted on pivots. Their use has not been established in the 5th century. They were a way of introducing a scenic image into the theatrical façade, as in an image of a cave or woods. Each side of a periaktoi could be painted with a different scene so that up to three different scenes could be shown to the audience. G. Proehl 2/26/2003

TEATRO FARNESE (completed in 1618, Parma, Italy)

First theatre with a proscenium arch - opening that masked exits, entrances, and stage machines, opening behind which a painted perspective vista could be seen painted on flats that could be switched out via one method or another developed over time: periaktoi (spun on an axis to reveal one of three sides); chariot and pole (slid on and off via a system of pulleys beneath the stage floor or above the stage (developed by Giacomo Torelli, 1608-1678, Italy); wing and drop (flown in and out or slid in and out via grooves in the floor).

TEATRO OLIMPICO (completed 1584, Vicenza, Italy)

The oldest theater still with us that was constructed during the Italian renaissance. Begun by Andrea Palladio, completed by Vicenzo Scamozzi. Premiere production was Sophocles's King Oedipus. An attempt at a miniature Roman theatre with its architectural facade, but with perspective vistas that point toward the proscenium arch.


Audience on three sides of the acting area; stage as peninsula projecting into the audience


David Ball uses these two terms in Backwards and Forwards. For Ball, "Stasis is the staus quo that has existed in the play's world up through its beginning. Intrusion is something is something that upsets the status quo, causing or releasing forces that compose the play's conflict and progress" (24).

"Dramatic stasis occurs when things would go on the same forever if something didn't come along and happen" (Ball 23).
"Dramatic intrusion is the thing that comes along and happens, setting free the irresistible forces that run a play from that point on" (Ball 23).



"Your plan to get what you want" (Barton 12).


Although understanding the parts of a play and how they work together is fundamental to the rehearsal process, when a play is most effective, the audience will often be so caught up in the world of the play and the pleasure of the performance that it will not notice or even want to notice the dramaturgy that made that world, that pleasure, possible.

See Johnstone


Some words used to describe a play’s style: absurdism, dada, expressionism, futurism, neoclassicism, realism, surrealism, symbolism, well-made play

Ex: Realism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Romanticism, etc.


"Things implied but not really said" (Barton 12). The thought going on beneath the words a character uses.





"Specific maneuvers within your overall plan" (Barton 12): to charm --- validate/soothe/open up/play/stir; to threaten --- command/intimidate/outspeak/scrutinize/yell.


Between characters or perspectives, between empathy and objectivity


"Since it will be useful to have a name for the energy which defines the actor's art, I shall refer to it a "terrific energy"" (Goldman 7).


"Things said by you and the other person" (Barton 12).


"The theme of a play is an abstract concept which part or all of the play is 'about'" (Ball 76).



In The Secret Art of the Performer Barba makes a distinction between lokadharmi and natyadharmi: "lokadharmi stands for behavior (dharmi) in daily life (loka); natyadharmi stands for behavior in dance (natya)." In making this distinction and other observations based on similarities and differences amongst and between various performance traditions (his chief juxtaposition is Occidental, he asserts that he is tracing "recurrent principles" not "proof of the existence of a 'science of theatre' nor of a few universal laws, although it is difficult to agree that, as he writes, he is doing no more than describing, bits of 'good advice.' A third state, which he talks less about, is virtuosity, as in acrobatic virtuosity.

Indeed, Barba concludes his introductory essay on theatre anthropology with a list that feels like a structural analysis of performance:

"Having followed the trail of the performer's energy, we have reached the point where we are able to perceive its nucleus:

1. in the amplification and activation of the forces which are at work in balance;

2. in the oppositions which determine the dynamics of movements;

3. in an operation of reduction and substitution which reveals what is essential in the actions and which moves the body away from daily techniques, creating a tension, a difference in potential, through which energy passes."

The three key words for points #1.-3 are balance, opposition, and omission.

Some key terms in his introductory essay:

otsukaresama: 'you are tired'

pre-expressive: "a level of extra- daily body techniques" that engage the performer's energy in a "pure state. His example is the kokken, "the men dressed in black who assist the main actor in Noh and Kabuki," who are asked to 'perform absence.'

koshi: "the right energy while working" in Kabuki; "To say he has koshi, he does not have koshi, means he has hips, he doesn't have hips."

keras and manis: aspects of oppositions; "strong, hard, vigorous" vs. "delicate, soft, tender"

tame: "the ability to keep energy in, to absorb into an action limited in space the energy necessary to carry our a much larger action" (an aspect of omission; as in breathing in and exhaling at the same time)

decided body: as in jo-ha-kyu--"The first phase is determined by the opposition between a force which tends to increase and another force which hold back (jo means 'to retain'); the second phase (ha, 'to break') occurs at the moment when one is freed from the retaining force, until one arrives at the third phase (kyu, 'speed'), where the action culminates, using up all of its force in order to stop suddenly, as if faced with an obstacle, a new resistance."

fictive body: "In the Occidental tradition, the performer's work has been oriented towards a network of fictions, of 'magic ifs' which deal with the psychology, the behavior and the history of his or her person and that of the character he is playing."

BRECHT, BERTOLT (1898-1956)

For Brecht, theatre was finally more than giving people a good night's entertainment. Theatre has the potential to be socially, historically, and culturally significant. It's how we work out the most central issues of our time. Lee Devin suggests that in this sense Brecht’s theatre resembles medieval theatre with its issues of heaven and hell, of working out one’s salvation within a huge cosmology. To this extent, one of the most important elements we can bring to our work on one of Brecht’s plays is the idea that the stakes are high. We approach the play, use the play, as a way of engaging, considering, working out issues of life and death. Much in Brecht’s work is playful, comic, ironic, but underneath the play are questions that of terrible significance. In Caucasian Chalk Circle, as Grusha ponders what to do about the child, a voice calls or seems to call to her, "Know, woman, he who hears not a cry for help/ But passes by with trouble ears will never hear/ The gentle call of a lover nor the blackbird at dawn/ Nor the happy sigh of the exhausted grape-picker as the Angelus rings." In turn, the decision to take the child with her is posed as a temptation, one that might cost Grusha her life, that will at least make her life much more difficult than it already is.

Brecht’s plays and his theories push us to consider the relationship between ideology (what we believe) and aesthetics (what we find beautiful or effective in our experience of a work of art). Brecht asks, "What is the relationship between what you believe and the kind of theatre you make?"

What Brecht came to believe, especially in the 1920s, was influenced by politics and the social sciences. Central to Brecht’s ideology is his interest in the material conditions of human beings as a function of time, place, culture, ideology, and history. We might more simply say that Brecht was a Communist or a Marxist, but such labels are over-loaded with meanings and connotations. Instead, here is Terry Eagleton, a literary critic, who in many ways shares Brecht’s perspective, on materialism and related ideas:

[H]uman societies, by virtue of the biological structure of the body, all need to engage in some form of labor and some kind of sexual reproduction; all human beings require warmth, rest, nourishment, and shelter, and are inevitably implicated by the necessities of labor and sexuality in various forms of social association, the regulation of which we name the political. . . . All human beings are frail, mortal and needy, vulnerable to suffering and death.

[I]t is these particular biologically determined facts which have so far bulked largest in the course of human history, and have set their imprint upon what, in a narrower sense, we call culture.

[B]ecause human beings are weak and unprotected, especially in their infancy, they are in biological need of the care and emotional sustenance of others. It is here, as Freud recognized, that the first glimmerings of morality are to be found, in the materially compassionate bonds between the young and their elders. . . . Such compassionate feeling, however, has to struggle hard in the course of our personal and historical development against a whole range of threatening factors—not only, if Freud is to be believed, against our originary aggressiveness and hostility, but also against the harsh conditions imposed by the need to labor, and the conflict and domination which arise when the appropriation of a surplus from the fruits of that labor lay down the conditions of a class-society.

Brecht and the Audience: For Brecht, the problem with traditional theatre (e.g. - Wagner, Stanislavski), almost any movie you see, and almost any drama you see on television and much of the news as well is what? It sucks you in; it employs empathy; you have a tremendous emotional experience; you leave the theatre or the movie or the program after some form of a catharsis or at least engagement and then return to the status quo. You get an emotional fix and that's it. In its most extreme form, we often call this process sentimentalism, but Brecht found it more widespread than simply sentimentalism. He linked it to the theatre both of Aristotle and Stanislavski. He distrusted "the ranting and emotional wallowing of the Greek stage."

Brecht wanted something more than emotional engagement and release with ahistorical human conditions. He wanted a degree of detachment that would allow the spectator to form an opinion about historically and culturally specific conditions, an opinion that might then lead to positive social change. He promoted for theatre the idea of a Verfremdungseffekt to use the German word, translated in different ways: alienation effect, A-effect, distanciation (in French), estrangement, making strange. It means "making strange": the goal is to force the spectator to think about the choices inherent in a situation enacted on the stage. It does not, finally, preclude empathy, but at least should create a tension between empathy and objectivity; between being pulled into the story being and pushed out.

Brecht writes: "The achievement of the A-effect constitutes something utterly ordinary, recurrent; . . . The A-effect consists in turning the object of which one is to be made aware, to which one's attention is to be drawn, from something ordinary, familiar, immediately accessible, into something peculiar, striking, and unexpected" (143). The A-effect = de-naturalization = breaking habits of perception.

Brecht on Chinese Opera and the Alienation Effect: Stanislavsky puts forward a series of means -- a complete system -- by which what he call 'creative mood' can repeatedly be manufactured afresh at every performance. For the actor cannot usually manage to feel for very long on end that he really is the other person; he soon gets exhausted and begins just to copy various superficialities of the other person's speech and hearing, whereupon the effect on the public drops off alarmingly. . . ."

"The alienation effect does not in any way demand an unnatural way of acting. . . [W]hen the actor checks the truth of his performance (a necessary operation, which Stanislavsky is much concerned with in his system) he is not just thrown back on his 'natural sensibilities', but can always be corrected by a comparision with reality (is that how an angry man really speaks? is that how an offended man sits down?) and so from outside, by other people. . . ."

"The Chinese performer is in no trance. He can be interrupted at any moment. He won't have to 'come round'."

Now this is something we all understand: if we're watching a movie and it gets too scary, we break the suspense by talking or eating or turning on the lights. For the same reason, we become annoyed with talking or eating in a movie theatre, especially if we want to be carried away by the emotional life of the film. Indeed some people don't like to see those films on how they make special effects for the movie, because they can create an A-effect and for some, this ruins the film: at a critically suspenseful moment in a story, when the dinosaur is about to crash through a car’s roof and devour a child, instead of being caught up in the danger to the child we are thinking about the robotic process used to control the plastic monster.

To some extent, Brecht reminds us of a relatively familiar dichotomy: the tension always felt on stage between the presence of the character and the consequential absenting of the actor in that moment as well its opposite, an awareness of the presence of the actor and the consequential absenting of the character. It is a tension between forgetting that we are in a theatre, watching a movie, and remembering it. An extreme example is the spectator who treats the actor outside of the soap opera as if he were the character in the soap opera. Amongst theorists of acting, we find Diderot (in his advocacy of the fourth wall), Wagner, Antoine, Stanislavski, and playwrights like Arthur Miller on one side and to some extent Diderot (in his advocacy of Garrick’s acting based on observation and imitation), Goethe, Meyerhold, Brecht, and Augusto Boal on the other. So how do we produce this "making strange" effect: masks, two-dimensional scenery, projections (screen titles and placards), visible lights and presentational lighting, songs that interrupt the action, lyrics and music that run counter to each other (i.e.—a ballad anatomizing the horrors of war; a dissonant, unromantic love song), narrators, historification, casting against sex or type.

Brecht did not want actors to disappear into their characters. For him, it was more preferable for an actor to show, rather than become their characters. For a Method acting teacher, for an actor "to indicate" an emotion or action is a cardinal sin. For Brecht, to indicate is essential. Brecht, for example, would use epicization exercises: prior to every speech the actor would insert, "He said," or "She said," indicating that the actor would then show you what the character had done. In this, Brecht used the analogy of someone telling another person about a traffic accident that she had just seen.

Inherently, comic actors, especially, stand-up comics as different from one another as Lily Tomlin, Bill Cosby, and Eric Bogosian are better instances of estranged acting than say Method actors or actors who continually perform a version of themselves. In "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting," Brecht uses Mei Lan Fang, a Chinese opera performer who performed in Russia and Europe, as the ultimate example of a Brechtian actor. In contemporary theatre, Anna Deavere Smith immediately comes to mind.

The problem with all this, according to critic Bert O. States (Great Reckonings in Little Rooms) takes no account of "the fact that distance" created by an A-effect "tends to close rapidly." States uses Wilder’s Our Town as an example: despite and maybe even because of its alienation effects, the play creates strong feelings of empathy in its audiences. Perhaps more precisely the goal may be to enjoy this movement back and forth, to heighten it. There's no guarantee that this will radicalize an audience. Audience’s are adept at assimilating the unusual and finding a way to process plays in the way they want to process them, A-effect or not.

Brecht summarized many of these ideas in a table contrasting dramatic and epic theatre:

Dramatic Theatre Epic Theatre
plot: "the strong centralization of the story, a momentum that drew the separate parts into a common relationship" (from "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction," 1935-36; this is source for following citations in this table, unless otherwise noted) narrative: "one can as it were take a pair of scissors and cut it into individual pieces, which remain fully capable of life"
implicates the spectator in a stage situation turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his capacity for action
wears down his capacity for action arouses his capacity for action
provides him with sensations forces him to take decisionss
experience: environment defined by "hero's reactions to it" picture of the world: "the environment in which the people lived had to be brought to bear in a big and 'significant' way"
the spectator is involved in something: "Yes, I have felt like that too--Just like me--It's only natural--It'll never change--The sufferings of this man apal me, because they are inescapable--That's great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world--I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh." (compare, sentimental comedy; Wagnerian theatre; some, but not all realism) he is made to face something: "spectator was no longer in any way allowed to submit to an experience uncritically (and without practical consequences) by means of simple empathy with the characters in the play. The production took the subject-matter and the incidents shown and put them through a process of Alienation that is necessary to all understanding. When something seems 'the most obvious thing in the world' it means that any attempt to understand the world has been given up. What is 'natural' must have the force of what is startling." (related to this, the work of cultural studies; in tension, at least to some extent, the idea of "universals") "The epic theatre's spectator says: I'd never have thought it--That's not the way--That's extraordinary, hardly believable--It's got to stop--The sufferings of this man appal me, because they are unnecessary--That great art: nothing obvious in it--I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh." (compare, documentaries, stand-up comedy)
suggestion argument
instinctive feelings are preserved brought to the point of recognition
the spectator is in the thick of it, shares the experience the spectator stands outside, studies
the human being is taken for granted the human being is the object of the inquiry
he is unalterable he is alterable and able to alter
eyes on the finish eyes on the course
one scene makes another each scene for itself
growth montage
linear development in curves
evolutionary development jumps
man as a fixed point man as a process
thought determines being social being determines thought
feeling reason
This chart is from "The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre" in Brecht on Theatre, edited and translated by John Willet (1957)

Bentley on Brecht’s theory and practice: "he does not eliminate stage illusion and suspense; he only reduces their importance. Sympathy and identification with the characters are not eliminated; they are counterpoised by deliberate distancing."

Other important concepts for Brecht:

1. Conscious use of contradiction: a more sophisticated way of thinking about v-effect: almost any char. = two different characters; playing the opposite ("precede each thought with its opposite")
2. Fabel: telling of the story with a strong point of view or bias; "chain of events must be clearly and strongly established"; part of the dramaturgs job; tell about Weber
3. Gestus: "even thoughts, even subtle internal developments should be depicted through the gestures and bearing of the actors"; to a high degree socially determined

Finally, Brecht on the liberal arts: (from "Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction" in Brecht on Theatre, edited and translated by John Willet (1957):

G. Proehl 2/17/2003; 4/13/2006

For Further Study (some beginning points):

Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Edited and Translated by John Willet. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.
Esslin, Martin. Brecht: The Man and His Work. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960.
Fuegi, John. Brecht And Company : Sex, Politics, And The Making Of The Modern Drama. New York: Grove, 1994.


Diderot on Genre: Diderot was a playwright, critic, and encyclopedist of the Enlightenment. In terms of theatre, we usually associate him with three topics: genre, staging, and acting. With respect to genre, Diderot argued that neo-classicism was too narrow in its restriction of genre to comedy and tragedy in the style of the Greeks. In the simplest terms, classical comedy focused on middle and lower class characters, ridiculing folly, vice, and ugliness. (See Frye on Fictional Modes and the kinds of characters associated with each.) Love itself to the extent that it figured in comedy was more often grounded in the body than the heart, frequently circling around a conflict between the desires of an older and a younger man for the same young woman. The human body -- eating, drinking, eliminating, procreating -- was often central to traditional comedy. A fool slipping on a banana peel, a parasite eating the banana and then throwing away the peel on which the fool slipped on, that same fool, cuckolded by his young wife, all are fair icons for the body/bawdy focus of this genre. Comedies had happy endings: marriage, banquets, dances, not death. The arbitrary laws and desires of lascivious fathers, braggarts, doctors, and pedants dissolve in the face of youthful energy and the cleverness of trickster servants. The audience’s attitude toward the comic fool was more likely to be disdain and superiority, not identification, respect, empathy, sympathy. Here is Aristotle’s definition:

Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type -- not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. To take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain. (

Classical tragedy, also in the simplest of terms, focused on the fall of the high and mighty, of characters who generally stood well above the rest of us: kings, queens, their children, generals. It is a set of characters that includes Oedipus, Creon, Medea, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello. "Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life" (Aristotle). Again, put most simply, tragedies have unhappy ending. Tragic characters usually experience a shift from good fortune to bad, a shift that causes us to feel pity for them and fear for ourselves, lest we, in our own way, experience a similar fall.

Diderot believed that the theatre needed certain "intermediate genres." He wanted for there to be a place for domestic tragedy, a "kind of tragedy that is concerned with domestic troubles." Such a drama need not have as its subject members of royalty. It might instead feature middle-class protagonists. In this, Diderot was forward to the kinds of domestic dramas and tragedies than would place such a significant role in theatre from the late 19th century until the present, dramas ranging from A Doll House and Miss Julie to Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Middle or lower class tragedy did not, however, begin with Ibsen and Strindberg. Historians point to earlier examples, most often, George Lillo’s The London Merchant (1731, England) in which the protagonist is an apprentice and Georg Buchner’s Wyozeck 1836, Germany) in which the protagonist is soldier.

Diderot also was an advocate of a kind of serious comedy that would have as its function the depiction of virtue and duty. The characters would face serious complications but the goodness of the people involved would bring them to a happy ending. This was to some extent the tendency of Greek New comedy and Roman comedy (Terence’s comedies could be re-fashioned without too much difficulty into sentimental comedies in the 18th century), as opposed to the harsher, more classically oriented comedies of Aristophanes and the Restoration. The genre closest to what Diderot was advocating were the sentimental comedies of his own century, comedies marked by (what many would consider to be) an overly optimistic appraisal of man's goodness and an obvious appeal to softer emotions, as in the heartwarming shedding of tears. Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (1722, England), based on one of Terence’s plays, is frequently cited as one of the best examples of this tendency in England. The kinds of plays, movies and television dramas that come to mind as contemporary examples of this kind of fundamentally comic drama are The Waltons (a television series about the joys and trials of a large, rural, depression era family), the Bill Cosby Show (another television series), Anne of Green Gables (as serialized for Public Television), You Can’t Take It With You (Kaufman and Hart, 1930, United States), Ah, Wilderness! (O’Neill, 1933, United States), even in its own way, A Raisin in the Sun (Hansberry, 1959, United States). All of the preceding invite us to identify with virtually all of their characters rather than look down upon them. Almost all of the characters in these play are fundamentally good. Examples of vice and folly are present, but relatively mild. Almost all of these characters are likeable, if not loveable. All of these plays are heartwarming, if not tear invoking. Good contemporary counter-examples of classical, hard edged comedy in various media would include Married With Children (television series), Lenny Bruce (or any number of other stand-up comics), Christopher Durang’s comedies (for the most part).

Diderot’s proposal was subversive in a way, subversive of the aristocracy. It signaled the rise of a middle class that would also make its presence felt in the revolutions of 1776 and 1789. What we have here is a signal of a transition from court theatre to a more popular, middle class theatre audience that would want to see images of themselves on stage that were more serious and positive. The serious story of a middle or working class divorce or of father/husband who wastes the family’s fortune with drink or gambling or even the death of a child was in a sense unthinkable within the confines of what Auerbach refers to as the division of styles. For example, in the 19th century audiences were deeply moved by stories of drunkard husbands. Afterwards, audience members would take a pledge of sobriety. It’s difficult to imagine Aristophanes or even Plautus and Terence finding a drunk on stage as anything other than a pretense for a joke, just as it’s difficult to imagine a stand-up comic, working in the tradition of old comedy, waxing sentimental in the middle of a set over a drunken dad. Richard Pryor even made a comic routine about setting himself on fire while freebasing cocaine. While for O’Neill, working in the domain of domestic tragedy, a mother’s relapse into addiction is as horrifying as for a king to discover that he has killed the former king who was his father and in marrying the current queen, he has bedded his mother.

Diderot on Realism: Diderot also argued that drama would move an audience more profoundly if it created a more complete illusion of reality. In this, his work foreshadowed the development of dramatic realism toward the end of the 19th century. Diderot advocated subject matter from everyday life presented in settings that duplicated real rooms. He favored the use of prose dialogue and detailed pantomime. He suggested the convention of the fourth wall in writing that the actor should "think no more about the audience than if it did not exist": "Imagine a wall across the front of the stage, dividing you from the audience, and act precisely as if the curtain had not risen." For Diderot, the "perfection of a spectacle consists in the imitation of an action, so exact, that the spectator, deceived without interruption, imagines that he is at the action itself." In the 1750s, managers would banish spectators from the stage in order to allow a more elaborate spectacle.

Diderot on Acting ("The Paradox of the Actor"):

Diderot outlines not one but several paradoxes in his comments on acting and spectatorship:

1. that actors "are fit to play all characters because they have none";

2. that we will tend to respond more fully to an representation of an event than the actual event: "neither the gladiator of old nor the great actor dies as people die in their beds; it is for them to show us another sort of death, a death to move us; and the critical spectator will feel that the bare truth, the unadorned fact, would seem despicable and out of harmony with the poetry of the rest."

3. that "what passion itself fails to do, passion well imitated accomplishes."

A number of other comments from Diderot’s writings support this notion:

"cool reflection must bring the fury of enthusiasm to its bearings";

"it is we who feel; it is they who watch, study, and give us the result";

"fill the front of the theatre with tearful creatures, but I will none of them on the boards."

Diderot was wary of "the unequal acting of players who play from the heart," of the actress who relies on inspiration, who comes on stage "without knowing what she is going to say." He wants instead the actor who has in himself "an unmoved and disinterested onlooker," "an attentive mimic," who has the ability to conform "action, diction, face, voice, movement, and gesture, to an ideal type invented by the poets, and frequently enhanced by the player."

To make his point, Diderot contrasts two actors of his own time: Clarion and Dumensil. Diderot associates Dumensil with words such as heart, intuition, loss of self, nature, and the sublime. He connects Clarion with words like head, memory, imagination, consistent, shaped, reflective, consistent, knowing. The former is nature; the latter is nature adorned," the "ideal type invented" and "enhanced":

What confirms me in this view is the unequal acting of players who play from the heart. From them you must expect no unity. Their playing is alternately strong and feeble, fiery and cold, dull and sublime. Tomorrow they will miss the point they have excelled in today; and to make up for it will excel in some passage where last time they failed. On the other hand, the actor who plays from thought, from study of human nature, from constant imitation of some ideal type, from imagination, from memory, will be one and the same at all performances, will be always at his best mark; he has considered, combined, learnt, and arranged the whole thing in his head; his diction is neither monotonous nor dissonant. His passion has a definite course -- it has bursts, and it has reactions; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The accents are the same, the positions are the same, the movements are the same; if there is any difference between two performances, the latter is generally the better. He will be invariable; a looking glass, as it were, ready to reflect realities, and to reflect them ever with the same precision, the same strength, and the same truth. Like the poet he will dip for ever into the inexhaustible treasure-house of Nature, instead of coming very soon to an end of his own poor resources.

He found in David Garrick, perhaps the most famous English actor of the 18th century, the epitome of the kind of actor he thought most effective. Diderot mentions with admiration Garrick's ability to let "his face run through the gamut of emotions without feeling anything himself."

Garrick will put his head between two folding doors, and in the course of five or six seconds his expression will change successively from wild delight to temperate pleasure, from this to tranquility, from tranquility to surprise, from surprise to blank astonishment, from that to sorrow, from sorrow to the air of one overwhelmed, from that to fright, from fright to horror, from horror to despair, and thence will go up again to the point from which he started. Can his soul have experienced all these feelings, and played this kind of scale in concert with his face?

A parallel to this example is a comment by Kevin Spacey in which he prefers in his own work and the work of other actors the ability to speak text quickly, more quickly than would usually be possible if an actor tried to find an emotional subtext for each thought.

Diderot’s observations provide a way into a series of discussion about acting and acting methods over a range of times and places that include Eastern and Western theatre, English and American theatre, and commentators as diverse as Zeami, Goethe, Stanislavski, Nietzsche, Meyerhold, Strasberg, and Brecht.

Plato for example:" For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed."

Or Nietzsche: "Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this enchantment the Dionysiac reveler sees himself as a satyr, and as satyr, in turn, he sees the god. In his transformation he sees a new vision, which is the Apollonian completion of his state. And by the same token this new vision completes the dramatic act."

Resources For Further Study:

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1953: source for the above discussion of the division of styles and the breakdown of that division.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1957: in a much anthologized essay, Frye describes what he finds to be the archetypal (or conventional) elements of comedy; Frye also discusses various Fictional Modes and the general kinds of characters that we associate with each of them. G. Proehl 2/26/2003.


Some excerpts from this work, many from sections 1, 2, 7, and 8:

A key idea: "[A]rt owes it continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysian duality."

The nature of the interaction that leads to Greek tragedy: "Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this enchantment the Dionysian reveler sees himself as satyr, and as satyr, in turn, he sees the god. In his transformation he sees a new vision, which is the Apollonian completion of his state. . . . Thus we have come to interpret Greek tragedy as a Dionysian chorus which again and again discharges itself in Apollonian images."

Specific words and phrases (in translation) that Nietzsche associates with Dionysus and the Dionysian: intoxication, awe, transport, depths of nature, shattering of the principium individuationis, rapture, physical intoxication, the powerful approach of spring, the individual forgets himself, song and dance, member of a higher community, forgotten how to walk (and) how to speak, on the brink of taking wings, enchantment, supernatural power, godlike, elation, ecstasy, sense of unity

For Nietzsche, the Dionysian is the group, the mob, the crowd; pleasure in music, the power of music; not shapes, but pure feeling, intoxication. It is the loss of consciousness that comes with trance. It is the irrational and the titanic powers of nature. It is that which shatters all boundaries, the energy of becoming, of change, an uncontrollable energy that will eventually turn upon itself and destroy itself only to be reborn again.

Specific words and phrases (in translation) that Nietzsche associates with Apollo and the Apollonian: dream, plastic, form, lucent, god of light, the fair illusion of our inner world of fantasy (in contrast to) waking reality, freedom from all extravagant urges, sapient tranquility, eye, sunlike.

For Nietzsche, the Apollonian finds itself in the individual and self-knowledge, in the hero, in the pleasure we take in beautiful forms (plasticity). Apollo the lucent one, the dreamer, for it is in dreams, according to Nietzsche, that we "enjoy an immediate apprehension of forms, all shapes speak to us directly, nothing seems indifferent or redundant." Apollo has a sunlike eye. He is the god of semblances and appearances. He offers us the illusion of order. He brings us cognition, concepts, abstractions, norms, boundaries, a sense of measure, distance, stability.

For Nietzsche, the Dionysic -- a violent, ultimately self-destructive, chaotic, primal force -- is "true reality"; Apollonian individuality and order is an illusion.

Nietzsche quotes Schopenhauer: "Even as on an immense, raging sea, assailed by huge wave crests, a man sits in a little rowboat trusting his frail craft, so, amidst the furious torments of this world, the individual sits tranquilly, supported by the principium individuationis and relying on it."

On the relationship between these two gods and Greek tragedy: "tragedy arose out of the tragic chorus and was, to begin with, nothing but chorus." For Nietzsche then, the audience of Attic tragedy discovered itself in the chorus of the orchestra. The chorus was "older, more central than the dramatic action proper."

An equation: the satyr, . . . stands to cultured man in the same relationship as Dionysic music does to civilization." And Dionysic music according to Wager as quoted by Nietzsche, stands to civilization as daylight to lamplight, the former absorbs the latter.

"What happens in the dramatic chorus is the primary dramatic phenomenon: projecting oneself outside oneself and then acting as though one had really entered another body, another character. . . the individual effacing himself through entering a strange being. . . not singular but epidemic: a whole crowd becomes rapt in this manner."

"[T]he stage with its action was originally conceived as pure vision and that the only reality was the chorus, who created that vision out of itself and proclaimed it through the medium of dance, music, and spoken word."

For Nietzsche, the stage is the place upon which an Apollonian vision arising from the Dionysic chorus is projected; the orchestra is that place in which the chorus sings, dances, and creates this image: chorus first, then the god; choral music and dance, then dialogue.

The role of the arts: to "make life possible and worth living." The metaphysical solace of all true tragedy is to persuade us "that, despite every phenomenal change, life is a bottom indestructibly joyful and powerful. . . ." A question: what convinces Nietzsche that this solace, so much an act of faith, is any more valid as an act of faith than any number of other beliefs. Is this his intuition? His perspective? What he finds or wants to find?

Speaking of a Hamlet-like sense of disengagement experienced in the wake of an encounter with the Dionysian: "[O]nly she [art] can turn his fits of nausea into imaginations with which it is possible to live. These are on the one hand the spirit of the sublime, which subjugates terror by mean of art; on the other hand the comic spirit, which releases us, through art, the tedium of absurdity."

G. Proehl 3/7/2003


A set of tactics; e.g. --- command, intimidate, outspeak, scrutinize, yell (Barton 17-18).



A classic definition of tragedy is a play about "the good person who gets into trouble through some error or shortcoming for which the standard term has become tragic flaw"; this often means a more divided sense of self that found in melodrama; as in the division between impulse and imperative. Tragedy asks us to confront human complexity in others and ourselves. Heilman writes, “In tragedy the conflict is within man; in melodrama, it is between men, or between men and things" (Heilman 79).

Aristotle on tragedy: "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions . . .. Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality --- namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody" (translation by S. H. Butcher).

A Tragic vision of life is sometimes contrasted with a Utopian or Religious Vision: the latter visions hold out more hope for improvement in the human condition either now or in some distant future.




"Playwrights rarely create people living out just another day in their lives. Something out-of-the-ordinary arises --- usually but not always early in the play --- and that cause a turn from ordinary events, a turn the rest of the play follows" (Ball 87); it (the UF) "renders the action of the play specific in time"; it bring us into a "specific now" (Ball 88); see stasis/intrusion; trigger/heap; action.



Jane Tompkins writes of the relationship between voice, the kinds of writing we do, and the tendency toward compartamentalization: " The thing I want to say is that I've been hiding a part of myself for a long time. I've known it was there, but I couldn't listen because there was no place for this person in literary criticism. The criticism I would like to write would always take off from personal experience. Would alway be in some way a chronicle of my hours and days. Would speak in a voice [emphasis added] which can talk about everything, would reach out to a reader like me and touch me where I want to be touched" (from "Me and My Shadow," in The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, 1993).


WELL-MADE PLAY (See Sardou under plays.)


"Composed behavior"
An "image of character in time and space" (Charles Lyons);
An audience and an actor (Goldman);
"A play is a series of actions" (Ball 9).
See, above, acting and empathy.


See Dramaturgy Northwest for overview


"Meaning: The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.

Origin: This term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions:
"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."
The state is arguably an essential element when experiencing any drama or work of fiction. We may know very well that we are watching an actor or looking at marks on paper, but we willfully accept them as real in order to fully experience what the artist is attempting to convey" (Phrase Finder).


See Elinor Fuch’s “Visit to a Small Planet"





A figure in which one word is made to refer to more than one of a sentence (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 197).

"A general term describing when one part of speech (most often the main verb, but sometimes a noun) governs two or more other parts of a sentence (often in a series). . . . 'As Virgil guided Dante through Inferno, the Sibyl Aeneas Avernus.' —Roger D. Scott
Through zeugma, 'guided' and 'through' are inferred for Sibyl and Aeneas: 'As Virgil guided Dante through Inferno, the Sibyl [guided] Aeneas [through] Avernus.' (

We included this term here in part because so many glossaries run short of Z words. Zeugma comes from Bertram Joseph wonderfully arcane, but still potentially useful, list of rhetorical devices found in Shakespeare's plays. Here are some additional terms from Joseph's lexicon. They cannot, of course, replace a first hand experience with his book:

The beginning of a sentence, phrase, line or clause with the concluding word, or any prominent word, of the sentence, phrase line or clause preceding (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

The repetition of a word but with a different, if not contrary, meaning (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

A figure in which the same words or ideas are repeated in inverse order (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

A figure in which the same word or clause is repeated after intervening matter (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

A figure in which contrary or incongruous terms are conjoined so as to give point to the statement: the giving of point by a statement which is literally impossible or absurd (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

A pun (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 196).

The repetition of a word or phrase in the same sentence in different inflexions or cases. A repetition of words derived from the same etymological root (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 197).

The association or coupling with one another of contrasted or heterogenous ideas or things (Joseph, Acting Shakespeare 197).


Ball, David. Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays. First ed. Carbondale And Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

Barton, Robert. Acting: Onstage and Off. Sixth ed. United States Of America: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012.