2004 case study: The Taming of the Shrew + Oedipus Rex

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composition \'kam-pe-"zi-shen\ noun [ME composicioun, fr. MF composition, fr. L composition-, compositio, fr. componere] (c)1999 Prentice-Hall, Inc.
1. a : the act or process of composing; specif : arrangement into specific proportion or relation and esp. into artistic form
Dramatic Literature class Fall 2002 [lost page] Freytags Structural Points:
A. Exposition
B. The inciting incident
C. Rising and falling dramatic action
D. Crisis Climax
E. Resolution
F. Denouement

Playscript Analysis Spring 2003 (too late to talk about the craft! must be done in 213!)

SHOWS: 12th Night
Terms: rising action

Must trace the evolution of dramatic forms (composition, for example) from the Greeks to Beckett. Could be done study only one element -- exposition.

new: 2003 *


Get the comp. page from 200X!

[ 2002: the problem -- I have no time to place my notes on the web regarding the change "Grammar of Drama : Analysis for Actors and Directors" ]


Why the new title? Because I have them (actors and directors) in my other classes. Second, they are the majority of our majors.


Compare the task of actor/director in dramatic analysis of composition.
Pygmalion, Shaw -- good for analysis.


Aristotle's Six Parts of a Tragedy : Poetics * 1. Plot 2. Character 3. Thought (theme, idea) 4. Diction (Language) 5. Music (sound) 6. Spectacle
2005: Total Acting & Total Directing *
Quotes & Thoughts:

Technique of the Drama: An Exposition of Dramatic Composition and Art (1863) *

DRAMATIC ANALYSIS in Film (my first page on the subject) *

"A play is a dramatic composition in verse or prose that has been written for theatrical performance and tells a story of conflict and emotion using action and dialogue." Drama, the Literature of Plays (each word must be explained!)


"A dialogue without action can never please like an union of the narrative and dramatic powers." Samuel Johnson: Milton (Lives of the Poets)


"Milton would not have excelled in dramatic(k) writing; he knew human nature only in the gross, and had never studied the shades of character, nor the combinations of concurring nor the perplexity of contending passions. He had read much and knew what books could teach; but had mingled little in the world, and was deficient in the knowledge which experience must confer."

"Comedy has been particularly unpropitious to definers; for though, perhaps, they might properly have contented themselves with declaring it to be such a dramatic representation of human life as may excite mirth, they have embarrassed their definition with the means by which the comic writers attain their end, without considering that the various methods of exhilarating their audience, not being limited by nature, cannot be comprised in precept. Thus, some make comedy a representation of mean, and others of bad men; some think that its essence consists in the unimportance, others in the fictitiousness of the transaction. But any man's reflections will inform him that every dramatic composition which raises mirth is comic; and that, to raise mirth, it is by no means universally necessary that the personages should be either mean or corrupt, nor always requisite that the action should be trivial, nor ever, that it should be fictitious." Johnson: Rambler #125 (May 28, 1751)

"There is scarcely a tragedy of the last century which has not debased its most important incidents, and polluted its most serious interlocutions with buffoonery and meanness; but though perhaps it cannot be pretended that the present age has added much to the force and efficacy of the drama, it has at least been able to escape many faults, which either ignorance had overlooked, or indulgence had licensed."

"Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes punished and virtue rewarded, yet, since wickedness often prospers in real life, the poet is certainly at liberty to give it prosperity on the stage. For if poetry has an imitation of reality, how are its laws broken by exhibiting the world in its true form? The stage may sometimes gratify our wishes; but, if it be truly the mirror of life, it ought to shew us sometimes what we are to expect." Johnson: Addison (Lives of the Poets)

2006: Beckett Year!
stagematrix.vtheatre.net: before 2009 : 2005 pages -- UAF Play fest * 2004 * Playscript Notes * biblio * Chekhov 5 * cover page * playwright * references *
* March 2006: Go.dot -- 100 years since Sam Beckett's birth *
* Caligari 2009 - Lul 2010

2007 : DramLit Pages :

... Why "3 Little Pigs" is not tragedy?

... exposition 2008 : R/G are Dead

Script Index * Thr w/Anatoly Index * PLAYS * 215 DramLit * 413 Playscript Analysis * Themes Scripts subdirectory! *
Acting: Method * Biomechanics * Directing * Write * THR Books * Theatre Theory * Book of Spectator * 200X Aesthetics * Film *
* FILM-NORTH * Film Books * Mining Film * Film & Drama * Shows * Virtual Theatre * Web * CLASSES * * My Nonfiction (webtexts): Theology of Technology * POV * PostAmeriKa * Father-Russia * Bookmark vTheatre! Mailing List & News -- subscribe yourself * Film600: Bad Theory, Wrong Subjects (new) * Anatoly's Blog *

Dramatic Composition

Kids, I talk so much about composition, I feel that I have no brains...

- -, , . ... , . [ Bunin about Chekhov ]

Dramatic Literature & Playscript Analysis

The laws of composition (visual composition -- in 200X).

ABC or 123: three parts.

Remember Aristotle's first element in STRUCTURE? Action. Plot or story? What is the difference betweet the plot in Hamlet and the story the story? Plot is the events we witness (5 acts), the story is always bigger. Should begger. The bigger the better for the plot.

Death of old Hamlet is before the plot begins. Fortinbrass at the end has big history (old Hamlet defeated his father) and so on.

                               /  \
                              /    \
                             / plot \
                           /          \
                          /    story   \
The bigger the base (past) the more dramatic is the present, the better for our speculations about the future (analysis of the dramatic composition in Oedipus). Consider any plot as a tip of the iceberg. Think about not only what takes place on stage, but off stage as well. [The same applies to every character: past -- present (immediate, what we see) -- future (our imagination = extrapolations)].

Notice: we, spectators, become a part of the drama machine (Bakhtin).

Connections between Action (plot-story) and Thought (Message-Idea).

[ Since I talked about the Aristotelean model in 200X pages, I should focus on pomo principles of dramatic composition (starting with Chekhov). Important, in order to get to Beckett! ]

[ Go 200X Files for the basic on Grammar of Drama! ]

Freytags Pyramid:

Another model frequently used to describe the overall structure of plays is the so-called Freytags Pyramid. In his book Die Technik des Dramas (Technique of the Drama) (1863), the German journalist and writer, Gustav Freytag, described the classical five-act structure of plays in the shape of a pyramid, and he attributed a particular function to each of the five acts. (For a schematic version of Freytags Pyramid see Animation Drama Structure source)
Act I contains all introductory information and thus serves as exposition: The main characters are introduced and, by presenting a conflict, the play prepares the audience for the action in subsequent acts. To illustrate this with an example: In the first act of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the protagonist Hamlet is introduced and he is confronted with the ghost of his dead father who informs him that King Claudius was responsible for his death. As a consequence, Hamlet swears vengeance and the scene is thus set for the following play.
The second act usually propels the plot by introducing further circumstances or problems related to the main issue (complicating action). The main conflict starts to develop and characters are presented in greater detail. Thus, Hamlet wavers between taking action and his doubts concerning the apparition. The audience gets to know him as an introverted and melancholic character. In addition, Hamlet puts on an antic disposition (Hamlet, I, 5: 180), i.e., he pretends to be mad, in order to hide his plans from the king.
In act III, the plot reaches its climax. A crisis occurs where the deed is committed that will lead to the catastrophe, and this brings about a turn (peripety) in the plot. Hamlet, by organizing a play performed at court, assures himself of the kings guilt. In a state of frenzy, he accidentally kills Polonius. The king realizes the danger of the situation and decides to send Hamlet to England and to have him killed on his way there.
The fourth act creates new tension in that it delays the final catastrophe by further events (falling action). In Hamlet, the dramatic effect of the plot is reinforced by a number of incidents: Polonius daughter, Ophelia, commits suicide and her brother, Laertes, swears vengeance against Hamlet. He and the king conspire to arrange a duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Having escaped his murderers, Hamlet returns to court.
The fifth act finally offers a solution to the conflict presented in the play. While tragedies end in a catastrophe, usually the death of the protagonist, comedies are simply resolved (traditionally in a wedding or another type of festivity). A term that is applicable to both types of ending is the French dnouement, which literally means the unknotting of the plot. In the final duel, Hamlet is killed by Laertes but before that he stabs Laertes and wounds and poisons the king. The queen is poisoned by mistake when she drinks from a cup intended for Hamlet. 2003-2004 * next: part IV (writing drama)

(c)2004 * Composition in Scenes and Monologues (writing samples)
Next: exposition

@1998-2001 script * Fall 2002 THR215 Dramatic Literature: subscribe to DramLit Forum * Open and Closed Drama

While traditional plays usually, albeit not exclusively, adhere to the five-act structure, modern plays have deliberately moved away from this rigid format, partly because it is considered too artificial and restrictive and partly because many contemporary playwrights generally do not believe in structure and order anymore (see poststructuralism).

Another way to look at this is that traditional plays typically employ a closed structure while most contemporary plays are open. The terms open and closed drama go back to the German literary critic, Volker Klotz (Geschlossene und offene Form im Drama, 1978), who distinguished between plays where the individual acts are tightly connected and logically built on one another, finally leading to a clear resolution of the plot (closed form), and plays where scenes only loosely hang together and are even exchangeable at times and where the ending does not really bring about any conclusive solution or result (compare open and closed endings in narrative texts).

Open plays typically also neglect the concept of the unities and are thus rather free as far as their overall arrangement is concerned. An example is Samuel Becketts famous play Waiting for Godot. Belonging to what is classified as the theatre of the absurd, this play is premised on the assumption that life is ultimately incomprehensible for mankind and that consequently all our actions are somewhat futile. The two main characters, the tramps Estragon and Vladimir, wait seemingly endlessly for the appearance of a person named Godot and meanwhile dispute the place and time of their appointment. While Estragon and Vladimir pass the time talking in an almost random manner, employing funny repartees and word-play, nothing really happens throughout the two acts of the play. Significantly, each of the acts ends with the announcement of Godots imminent appearance and the two characters decision to leave, and yet even then nothing happens as is indicated in the stage directions: They do not move. The audience is left in a puzzled state because what is presented on stage does not really seem to make sense. There is no real plot in the sense of a sequence of causally motivated actions, and there is hardly any coherence. The play does not provide any information on preceding events that could be relevant, e.g., with regard to that mysterious Godot (Who is he? Why did Vladimir and Estragon make an appointment to see him?), and it does not offer a conclusive ending since the audience does not know what is going to happen (if anything) and what the actual point of the 'action' is. Hence, there is no linear structure or logical sequence which leads to a closed ending but the play remains open and opaque on every imaginable level: plot, characters, their language, etc.

The fact that some authors adhere to certain dramatic conventions, i.e. follow certain known practices and traditions (see genre conventions), and others do not, is obviously an interesting factor to consider in drama analysis since this may give us a clue to certain ideological or philosophical concepts or beliefs expressed in a play. Becketts Waiting for Godot, for example, enacts the absurdity of human existence. Just as the plot does not seem to move anywhere and the characters actions or rather, inactivity, do not make sense, life comes across as purposeless and futile, and the audiences bewilderment in a way reflects mankinds bewilderment in view of an incomprehensible world. Plays with a closed structure, by contrast, present life as comprehensible and events as causally connected. Moreover, they suggest that problems are solvable and that there is a certain order in the world which needs to be re-established if lost.

The fact that in many plays all the baddies, for example, are punished in the end follows the principle of poetic justice, i.e., every character who committed a crime or who has become guilty in some way or another by breaking social or moral rules, has to suffer for this so that order can be reinstalled. Needless to say that life is not necessarily like this and yet, people often prefer closed endings since they give a feeling of satisfaction (just consider the way most mainstream movies are structured even today). If plays move away from the closed form, one then has to ask why they do it and one should also consider the possible effect of certain structures on the audience. Sometimes, for example, open forms with loosely linked scenes rather than a tightly plotted five-act structure are used to break up the illusion of the stage as life-world. Viewers are constantly made aware of the play being a performance and they are thus expected to have a more critical and distant look at what is presented to them. This can be found in Bertolt Brecht and other authors such as Edward Bond, John Arden and Howard Brenton.



2004 & After



New key terms and definitions

Metaphor and Theme Analysis





Drama **

* Bedford Intro to Drama *

* Forum dramlit * subscribe!

playsChekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare

play writing amazon list *

The Comedy of Character, which ridicules individuals
The Comedy of Manners, which satirizes social conventions
The Social Comedy, which ridicules the structure of society
The Comedy of Ideas, which ridicules conventional thinking
[ subjects : inforum guestguests folderfolders dictglossary bookBedford * Craft * Art * Theory * Write ]
Types of Drama:

Tragedy -- In general, tragedy involves the ruin of the leading characters. To the Greeks, it meant the destruction of some noble person through fate, To the Elizabethans, it meant in the first place death and in the second place the destruction of some noble person through a flaw in his character. Today it may not involve death so much as a dismal life, Modern tragedy often shows the tragedy not of the strong and noble but of the weak and mean,

Comedy -- is lighter drama in which the leading characters overcome the difficulties which temporarily beset them

Problem Play -- Drama of social criticism discusses social, economic, or political problems by means of a play.

Farce -- When comedy involves ridiculous or hilarious complications without regard for human values, it becomes farce.

Comedy of Manners -- Comedy which wittily portrays fashionable life.

Fantasy -- A play sometimes, but not always, in comic spirit in which the author gives free reign to his fantasy, allowing things to happen without regard to reality.

Melodrama -- Like farce, melodrama pays almost no attention to human values, but its object is to give a thrill instead of a laugh. Often good entertainment, never any literary value.

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