Dramatic terms
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antagonist
the character who opposes the protagonist
comedy
this term is usually applied to drama; occasionally, though, a novel may be described as a comedy. We are more likely to speak of a ‘comic novel’...and we would never speak of a poem as a comedy. For a more complete explanation, click here
Chorus
During the Elizabethan age, this term from Greek tragedy came to be applied to a single character who spoke the prologue and epilogue to  a play, and sometimes introduced each act. The character was the playwright's agent for commenting on the play, and for exposition to the audience concerning its subject and offstage events and setting. For example, in The Winter's Tale, Time, the Chorus, asks the audience to allow that sixteen years have passed; in Friel's Translations, Doalty and Bridget give us information about the naming of Nelly Ruadh's baby, and about the destructive actions of the English soldiers.
closet drama
a play which is intended to be read rather than performed; for example, Samson Agonistes
dialogue
is both the speech of characters in any kind of narrative, and a literary genre in which ‘characters’ discuss a subject at length.
dramatic irony
is when the audience understand the implications and meanings of a situation on stage, but the characters do not. Often an earlier soliloquy will have been used to inform the audience while keeping information from most of the characters; sometimes, none of the characters is aware of the irony.
Another kind of dramatic irony is when a character’s words ‘recoil’ upon him.
For a more complete explanation, click here
farce
is a matter of humour rather than wit. It is associated with clowning, buffoonery, slapstick and knockabout. It is ‘low’ comedy, and it is broad.
masque
an elaborate form of courtly entertainment which combines poetic drama, song, dance and music. It was particularly popular in the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. Usually the plot, which was slight, consisted of mythological and allegorical elements. The action was introduced by a Prologue and ended with a dance in which the audience participated.
melodrama
literally "song drama". A genre in which the main characters were excessively virtuous or exceptionally evil, involved in an extravagant tale of wickedness in a blood-and-thunder setting. The term has come to be associated with two-dimensional "stock characters" of a type which an audience would immediately recognise, relieving the playwright of any responsibility for character development.
protagonist
the "most interesting" character in a drama. Loosely referred to as the "hero" or "heroine", but the protagonist need not necessarily display heroic characteristics - witness Macbeth
satire
For a more complete explanation, click here
soliloquy
a speech, often quite lengthy, in which the character, who is alone on the stage, expresses his thoughts and feelings. The soliloquy is an important dramatic device because it enables the playwright to convey information about the character's "true" state of mind which is not accessible to the other characters.
A soliloquy delivered by the villain (such as Iago in Othello or Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi) is usually delivered as an aside to the audience and as such is to be "taken with a pinch of salt" because, as the manipulator of the plot, the villain may also be trying to persuade the audience to his point of view.
time play
a loose category for a form of drama which exploits dramatic convention in some way to manipulate chronological sequences by various means, such as the flashback and the "flash-forward".One example is The Winter's Tale, in which the Chorus asks us to accept the fact that sixteen years have elapsed since Perdita was "lost".
tragedy
The term is broadly applied to literary, and especially to dramatic, representations of serious and important actions which turn out disastrously for the protagonist. For a more complete explanation, click here
villain
The wicked character and evil manipulator or plotter in a play. This character type was developed in the 16thC: Bosola  in The Duchess of Malfi exhibits the characteristics of the devil incarnate, while Don John in Much Ado About Nothing is a melodramatic, two-dimensional villain whose attempts at manipulation are sad and rather risible.

   

PA and CJ Thorns,  page last edited April 03, 2005