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January 30th, 2012
• The term drama refers to a text that is designed for performance, in which actors
perform the indicated action and utter the written dialogue.
• Important formal features of drama include:
1. Acts and Scenes (major and minor divisions in plays, consisting of units of action;
ends of acts and scenes are usually indicated visually – for example, by the dimming of
2. Characters (the persons represented in a drama, whose disposition and
personality may be inferred from what they say and how they say it);
3. Setting (both the scenery depicted on stage and the properties, or moveable
pieces of furniture; the term also refers to the overall conception of a theatrical
production, which may be indicated in the play itself or be conceived by a director or set
• Important conventions of drama include:
1. Impersonation (the audience must accept that the actors are impersonating “real”
people and that the stage is a “real” geographical setting of the action);
2. The three unities (the idea that all the action in a play should focus on a single
plot, take place in a single day, and in a single place);
3. The fourth wall (the audience must accept the idea that they are watching the
actions of people who cannot see them, as if the audience has the power to see through
one wall of a room); you can see what I’m doing but I can’t see what your doing.
4. The aside (the audience must accept that, every now and again, an actor will
break the fourth wall and speak directly to them).
5. The soliloquy (the audience must accept that, every now and again, a
character in a drama will, though alone, express his or her thoughts out loud, thus
making the audience privy to those thoughts).
Analyzing dramatic texts
1. When reading a dramatic text, one must always infer a secondary text, which is often
called the performance text; the term “performance text” refers to what the drama would look
like in performance, and requires that the reader take into account such formal features as the
use of stage space, the function of silences, the effect of movement around the stage, the use of
costume, sound, lighting etc.
The performance text changed every time because of the audience. (Example: you would
perform different for a younger crowd then you would for an older crowd.)
2. While the dramatic text remains fairly stable (insofar as any literary text can be considered
“stable”,) the performance text changes every time the drama is staged, or even performed.
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