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Drama Lecture Transcript

The lecture on drama is designed to help you better understand key terms that describe drama as well as how to use these terms in your analysis of the plays that we will be reading in this class. It would be much better if you have a chance to watch "Much to do about Nothing" before you listen to this lecture, as I will be using that play to help explain some of these key terms. So, sit back and relax - enjoy the lecture. Just click the green button to move forward.

Types of Drama:

Aristotle defined the types of drama, and we still use his definitions today. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, was more solemn, personal and focused on religious and social issues. Now, according to Aristotle, tragedy wasn't just designed to make the audience sad - the idea of tragedy was that it was going to teach the audience something, and the way it was going to teach them was through two key points: the Tragic flaw and Catharsis.

The tragic flaw is found in the hero or anti-hero of a tragedy. The tragic flaw is usually hubris [which is pride] and so you have a very proud hero and in addition to being proud, that hero is often violent. So for example, in the story of Oedipus, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. You might wonder how that happened. Well, the idea is that Oedipus was separated from his parents at birth, so he didn't know them. Traveling along the road he met a man. Oedipus did not want to move out of that road. He was very proud and he would not give way. When the other man didn't give way to Oedipus, Oedipus got very angry and killed him. What he didn't realize was that he had killed his father. Oedipus then goes into the town. He defeats the sphinx and marries Jacosta, whom he later finds out is his mother. If Oedipus had not been so proud, he would have moved out of the way, and therefore there would have been no tragedy, same thing with his violence. If he had not been violent, he would have never killed his father. So Aristotle feels that this tragic flaw is a teaching tool for the audience.

In addition, audiences who watch tragedies experience Catharsis. Catharsis means pity and fear. Again, it's something the audience learns. The audiences pity the characters on the on stage. So they feel sorry for Oedipus and what happens to him, on the other hand, they also fear that if they too act like Oedipus, [ if they are very proud or violent ] something might happen to them. Because of the teaching and learning aspect of tragedy, Aristotle thought that tragedy was the highest form of drama and in fact many critics agree. Comedy, on the other hand, is much more humorous, and it's a solving kind of play. In tragedy, things do not get solved. In fact, usually at the end of a play, many characters are dead. However, in a comedy, there are the same problems you face in a tragedy. However, those problems get rectified, and in fact a great poet once said that comedy is a tragedy gone right. So we watched "Much to do about Nothing" and that would be a comedy. As you could see, there were many problems characters had, but they got resolved by the end of the play. Two main types of comedy are: farce [which is very physical kind of humor, like the three stooges] and satire. In a satire, the play makes fun of the morals and manners of a society. So in "Much to do about Nothing" the playwright is making fun of the people's relationships, emotions, marriage, etc.

Analyzing Drama: Setting

Now in analyzing drama, we really need to take a look at the setting. When you go to see a play, that setting is all on the stage before you, and that's a little bit different from what we saw from watching "Much to do about Nothing" as that was done in a film. So the setting can give us a lot of information about the characters, the place we're at, as well as giving us information about what is going on in the play.

One way we can analyze the setting is we take a look at the scenery, and the scenery tells us of our location, what is our time period, and maybe what is the social class of the character. For example, in "Much to do about Nothing" in the very beginning of the film, we are in Italy, we can see by the way the characters are dressed that it is a time period of the past, and we can also see from their houses that they have a pretty high social class.

Lighting is also important in the setting because the lighting can kind of tell us what time it is during the day, what season we are in, a dark somber light setting might tell us the mood, we can have flashes of light to represent lighting, and we also have spot lights that kind of make a single character stand out. Again in "Much to do about Nothing" that was filmed, so we really didn't get the same lighting effect that we would get while watching a play on a stage, but lighting can give us a lot of information about what is going on.

Costumes are extremely important as they let us know the age, class, profession, even the ethnicity of our characters. For example, in "Much to do about Nothing" we see our characters Don Pedro, his brother Don John, and the other men who arrive with them as they come to Massena. Now they all look like their dressed pretty much in a white uniform with dark trousers, however, there are some slight differences. Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedict are wearing blue trousers and their white coats are very neat and clean. However, if you take a close look at Don John, Borrachio and Conrad - they have black trousers and their coats are nowhere as clean and tidy. This is a little hint from the director that these characters, although they look the same on the outside, one party of men coming back from wars, they are actually quite different. And in fact if you take a look at Don John, he has kind of scruffy beard, Borrachio is a little bit over weight, Conrad is a little bit wiry. We can see that the way that they look physically can tell us a little bit about their character. In addition to costumes there often be props, and props can have a lot of significance depending on the play, so you want to take care and look at what characters are carrying around with them or the different items on the stage.

Dramatic Structure:

Most plays begin with an exposition, and that tells who our characters, what are they doing, where are they, and when are they. Now in "Much to do about Nothing" we find out we have these men who have returned from the war. We find out that Claudio's very interested in Hero, and we know we are in Italy, and we know we are in the past. All of this kind of happens really quickly. Now after we have introduced our characters and the place and the setting, then we move on to our first conflict, and conflict is a problem that our main characters are having. So for example, Claudio wants to marry Hero only Don John doesn't want him to, so he plots to thwart Claudio. So what will happen with conflicts is we will have a problem to solve - for example in the play, Don John makes Claudio think that the prince wants Hero for himself and then it resolves, right, Claudio finds out its not true. So then Don John plants further, and that causes more problems. So that's kind of how conflict works. We have a problem, it gets fixed a little bit, but we have another problem that's even bigger and then we have another problem that's even bigger. Finally, we get to the biggest problem of all, this is like the pivotal point in the action and that's called climax. Now in a tragedy, the climax happens very close to the end of the play, as I said before in tragedies many of the characters are dead at the end of the play, and so we don't have a lot of story to finish up. However, in a comedy, we have that pivotal point of action that's the climax but then we have to fix all those problems because remember that comedy is the solving kind of play and so here in "Much to do about Nothing" that pivotal point is when Claudio believes that Hero has betrayed him. He believes the story that Borrachio kind of made up with Don John, and so when he goes to marry Hero, he throws her back at her father and refuses her and tells everyone that she a strumpet - that she's not virginal or true. So now because "Much to do about Nothing" is a comedy, we have to fix that problem, and so then in the resolution [or how it all works out], Hero pretends that she's dead, and they catch Borrachio. The watch catches Borrachio, and we find out that it was all a lie. Claudio feels terrible, and he agrees to marry Hero's cousin only to find that he's actually married Hero in the end, and so it all works out and its very happy. So as you analyze plays, always take a look at the dramatic structure to find out what are our problems, what is that pivotal problem, and how does it get resolved.


Now we talked about characters a little bit when we talked about settings and costumes, we're going to talk about characters a little bit more. Unlike in a book where we can kind of read the characters thoughts and get a lot of information about them, in a play, we only see them on stage, and so we learn about them through external and internal clues. External clues can be like a characters name for example Borrachio means drunk in Spanish, so we can kind of see Borrachio the character in "Much to do about Nothing" acts a bit drunkenly. We also learn about their appearance. We talked about their costuming for example and also their physical selves. We talked about how Borrachio's heavy set, he's not healthy or strong looking as some of the other characters, and so we learn a little bit more about him. We also learn a lot about characters through their speech and accent, for example, Don Pedro speaks very eloquently, very different from the sheriff for example or the members of the watch. A characters dress can indicate their status and class. We also can learn about characters through their friends, and their family and interests, so we get lots of external clues by the characters on the stage.

Now we hear the characters talking to one another, so that's how we learn about them. But we also learn about their inner thoughts through two techniques - one is called an aside and the other is called soliloquy. In an aside, one character suddenly stops talking to the other characters on stage and addresses the audience directly, and it is usually for something short. For example in Othello, Iago the villain is trying to convince the Othello that his love Desdimona has cheated on him, so when Iago talks to Othello he tells Othello, "Oh, Othello I'm so sorry this terrible thing has happened." Suddenly Iago turns from Othello and talks to the audience, and says "Ah, Othello is a fool", so we know for sure Iago is a bad guy because we get a quick aside or a quick look into his thoughts. Now sometimes characters express their thoughts in length and deeper and this is usually in a soliloquy, and a soliloquy is kind of like a character talking to himself out loud so that we can hear those thoughts. For example in "Hamlet", Hamlet has that famous speech "to be or not to be - that is the question", that is Hamlet is considering suicide and so it is very serious, but because we can't hear his thoughts like we can in a movie or in a book, he has to speak those thoughts out loud, so he kind of walks back and forth he's not talking to anyone but himself, and so we know those are his internal thoughts.

Character Types:

In addition to external and internal cues about characters, we also learn about character because of character type. Character types like the protagonist, which are like our hero's like Claudio for example, Benedict, Don Pedro are kind of our hero's, they are our protagonists, and so we learned a lot about them and they are trying to succeed in their goals. Antagonist are villain's like Don John, we also learn about their (the villain's motive) reason for doing wrong. Now in addition to our main characters protagonist and antagonist, we often have foils. Now Shakespeare loved the idea of a foil, this is a character who shows a contrast to another character. Let's take the two love relationships in "Much to do about Nothing”. We have Claudio who loves Hero and in the beginning of the play - this looks like a very virtuous true love. Then we have Benedict and Beatrice, and we know that they have been tricked into loving each other. Now this is kind of balanced at the end - so you can imagine Claudio and Hero the high love and Beatrice and Benedict the low love, but by the end of the play we see a reversal. Claudio is tricked into not loving Hero anymore and he treats her very cruelly, so at the end of the play his relationship seems more like a lower love, because he didn't trust her. On the other hand, Beatrice and Benedict whose relationship started out as a trick, they are actually put up higher when at the end of the play they learn it was a trick and yet they love each any way. So this is what foiling is, it is the reversing of positions, the contrasting of characters. So that happens a lot in plays.

In addition to the foil, we often have confidant's - these are friends or servants that our main characters talk to. For example, Don John talks to Borrachio and Conrad, and they are his confidant's and they are the one's he talks to about his feelings and plans. We also have many stock characters; these characters are very similar in many, many plays. For example, we have comical characters that make us laugh like the "Watch" and like the "Sheriff". We often have a victim, who something bad happens to, like Hero in "Much to do about Nothing". We'll also often have a braggart whose out there bragging about what he has done, like Borrachio, right, he's bragging to Conrad what he has done and then he gets caught by the watch. We also will have a pretender, and this is someone who pretends to be what he is not. For example, Don John pretends to be a loyal faithful servant to his half brother Don Pedro, and yet we learn he is plotting against him. We often will have a fool, again a foolish character is often comical but still reveals some good information. The sheriff is an excellent fool in the "Much to do about Nothing". He say's a lot of funny wrong kind of things and yet he is the one that has helped catch Borrachio and helps solve the problem of our main characters. Stock characters never have the depth and quality that main characters do, but we know how they are going to behave because they are the same kind of characters we see over, and over again in many plays.


The theme of a play is usually the central purpose or message to the audience. So for example in "Much to do about Nothing", one of themes we might see would be about relationships. We know that in Claudio's relationship almost fails because of lack of trust, however in Beatrice and Benedict even though their love started out as a trick, in the end they trust one another and their relationship stays strong, so the idea of trust for example would be a theme. In another theme in "Much to do about Nothing" is that over hearing a conversation, it's very interesting that when Don Pedro tells Claudio that he will talk to Hero for him, Claudio doesn't believe that as much as when he over hears Don John saying that Don Pedro wants to marry Hero, and so this is another pattern repeated in the play.


In plays, the major type of irony we usually see is called dramatic irony and this is a contrast between what the characters know and what the audience knows. For example, in "Much to do about Nothing" we know that Beatrice and Benedict are being tricked and so we watch Claudio and Don Pedro talk about how Beatrice is in love with Benedict and we see Benedict's reaction. We know it's a trick even though Benedict does not, and this heightens tension and makes the story more exciting, and so a playwright often uses dramatic irony in the play to keep the action moving.

Last Updated: 06/10/2015
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