Elements of Drama

Formal Elements of Drama

The elements of fiction discussed in Module 2 — plot character setting conflict , and theme â€” can be applied to drama. An additional concept to consider relating to the plot of a play is the common convention of the play beginning in the middle of the action. The Greeks referred to this convention as in medias res â€” literally ‘in the midst of things.’ A literary advantage for drama beginning in medias res is that without an exposition, the dramatic tension and conflict is presented immediately to the audience, which is more conducive to live performance.

An act is a major division in the action of the play, often used to demarcate key parts of the plot. Plays may have only one or as many as five or more acts. A scene is a smaller unit within an act, often signaled by the entrance or exit of a character or change in setting or focus of the action.

When analyzing character , the terms dialogue monologue , and soliloquy take on increased importance. Conversation between two or more characters is referred to as dialogue (usually the majority of speech in plays consists of dialogue). A monologue is when one character delivers a speech to convey his or her thoughts, although other characters may remain on stage in scene. Similar to a monologue, asoliloquy is a speech made by one character but delivered when he or she is alone on stage. Knowing the root words of each term can help clarify the distinction. Monologue comes from the Greek wordsmonos (single) and legein (to speak); soliloquy comes from the Latin words solus (alone) and Ioqui (to speak).

Clearly the setting of a play takes on extra importance as readers can pay close attention to the staging, costuming, and other directorial notes included in the text of the play. For example, the content of one scene can be set in an incongruous location or a character might be wearing a costume that contradicts the actions he is performing, thus resulting in dramatic irony . Understanding the subtleties between what is written as dialogue to be spoken by the actors and what is written to be gestured or achieved through lighting scenery costumes props , and other elements of staging is critical for interpreting the meaning of a given scene. (The professional term for staging a character’s movements and position on the stage is known as blocking .)

As always, attention to the use of figurative language whether presented in dialogue between characters or in monologue or soliloquy, will end layers of depth and add compelling specificity to any analysis — and a robust consideration of the historical context including relevant social issues or cultural norms (or resistance to those norms) represented directly or indirectly in the play will demonstrate a more advanced level of critical thinking. (1)