Acted through the words and gestures of actors

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The Structure of Plays / Characteristics of Dramatic Texts
Drama is a word of Greek origin meaning action and referring to a performance on the stage. The essence of a play is its performance on the stage where the story is acted through the words and gestures of actors in front of an audience. A dramatic text / work is usually called a play, but if you want to specify what type of drama it is, you can call it a comedy, a tragedy, a farce etc. Though it may seem obvious, remember that a play is written to be performed before an audience. What distinguishes a dramatic text from a novel is that, whereas in a novel we read the narration of a story of events, in a play we see these events enacted ( to enact = recitare, rappresentare, al passivo : aver luogo) before our eyes as if the were happening in that precise moment and in that place. Moreover we are witnesses (= testimoni) to the events without the mediation of a narrator who supplies us with his ready –made interpretation.

- Here are some basic structural conventions / features used in writing drama / Drama usually involves: / The specific features that distinguishes a dramatic text from other texts are therefore:

- a playwright, the author of the play who is usually unobtrusive / non-omniscient / invisible

(narratore esterno # narratore interno, uno dei protagonisti);

- a stage, the area in a theatre where the play is performed;

- an audience, the people who go to the theatre to watch the performance;

- some dramatic conventions / techniques used for organizing a story in a plot. (A play traditionally tells a story which is organized by the playwright in a plot.) It contains the same events as the story but it usually presents them in a different chronological order. The order in which scenes and situations are arranged, usually serves the purpose of creating tension, climax, and suspense in order to capture the audience’s attention.

Dramatic techniques

are established ways of writing plays which have become typical of the genre. Plays can vary in length; they are normally divided into units called Acts, which are usually subdivided into scenes. A scene generally shows actions which happen in the same setting, that is, the same place (or limited number of places where the action develops) and in the same period of time. Modern plays may have one or two or three acts, whereas in the past, in the time of Shakespeare, for example, they had five acts.

Plays develop through direct speech, usually in the form of a dialogue between the characters but also in the form of a soliloquy when a character is alone on the stage and expresses his/her thoughts aloud.

Dialogue is the conventional technique that enables the reader / spectator to understand.

  • the reasons and consequences of actions that take place on the stage;

  • the characters’ personality

  • the relationship between the characters.

Dialogues constitute the backbone of drama, create the action and are the main source of information about the past, present and future events and about the characters’ relationships and emotions. On the stage they are highlighted by gestures, facial expressions, movements and tone of voice.

Plays usually include stage directions, a device that allows the dramatist to intervene openly in the text of a play to give his instructions. You can easily recognise stage directions because they are written in italics to distinguish them from the characters’ speeches. They provide the indications which cannot be given through the dialogue and can fulfil several functions.

Stage directions: (didascalie teatrali, istruzioni di scena )

  • provide information about the setting ( place and scenery) describing the time and place of the action;

  • describe movements and actions of the characters on stage;

  • illustrate characters’ feelings, personality and relationship.

Chorus : it was another important convention in Greek tragedy. The Chorus consisted of a small

group of actors standing on the stage throughout the performance. Their role was to

comment on the action and, in a sense, to express the audience’s feelings and reaction to

what it was going on the stage. In Elizabethan tragedies the Chorus could even be a single

anonymous speaker.

Soliloquy: or dramatic monologue is a dramatic convention often found in tragedies, it means that a

character speaks aloud to him / herself. Other characters may be present on the stage and,

if they are, it is assumed they do not hear the words of the soliloquy.This is a convention

that the audience readily recognizes and accepts. The character with his speech reveals

thoughts, feelings, intentions, in a situation of emotional stress. It belongs to the classical

and Elizabethan convention. An example is the famous balcony scene in Romeo and


Other stage contributions / useful words are: scenery, lights, costumes, props (the name given to all objects on the stage), music or sound effects, actors ...

Characters : can be main characters or minor character. They be round characters and show the

complexity of human beings and reveal the qualities, faults, contradictions and

obsessions of the human mind. They can be stock characters : conventional

characters based on only one or two aspects of personality and represent human


The performance: a play can be read but the best way to enjoy it is to see it on the stage.

Music / Sounds effects: Music can be played between two scenes, to fill in a space or underline a

particular moment in a play or to establish the beginning or the end of it.

Time: Theatrical time is the time of the action on stage, it is usually shorter than the time which

most plots would actually require – the time of the dramatic action is always the present

even when the events represented are set in the past.
Scenery: set of objects that constitute the place = setting of the action
Lights : are used to emphasize the meaning of the play, that is. Lighting can be efficiently used to

indicate the spaces where the action occurs: i.e. - when only part of the stage is used;

to indicate the beginning of a scene whereas dark indicates the end of it; to symbolize

solitude, when a single spotlight isolates a character; or to create a particular atmosphere

like fog .Lights can be on stage but also off stage, behind it or in front of it.
Costumes: the clothes used by the actors during the performance They are important because they

immediately identify the character’s social class, role, age etc.

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