Dramatic structure

Dramatic structure

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Dramatic structure is the structure of a drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

tic work such as a play
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 or film
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

. Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 in his Poetics (c. 335 BC). This article focuses primarily on Gustav Freytag
Gustav Freytag
Gustav Freytag was a German novelist and playwright.-Life:Freytag was born in Kreuzburg in Silesia...

's analysis of ancient Greek
Theatre of Ancient Greece
The theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was...

 and Shakespearean
Shakespeare's plays
William Shakespeare's plays have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. Traditionally, the 37 plays are divided into the genres of tragedy, history, and comedy; they have been translated into every major living language, in addition to being...

 drama.

History


In his Poetics the Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 philosopher Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 put forth the idea that "'ολον δε εστιν το εχον αρχην και μεσον και τελευτην" (1450b27) ("A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end"(1450b27)). This three-part view of a plot structure (with a beginning, middle, and end – technically, the protasis
Protasis
In drama, a protasis is the introductory part of a play, usually its first act. The term was coined by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus. He defined a play as being made up of three separate parts, the other two being epitasis and catastrophe. In modern dramatic theory the term...

, epitasis
Epitasis
In Classical drama, the epitasis is the main action of a play, in which the trials and tribulations of the main character increase and build toward a climax and dénouement. It was coined by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus. He defined a play as being made up of three separate...

, and catastrophe
Catastrophe (drama)
In drama, particularly the tragedies of classical antiquity, the catastrophe is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot, which unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close. In comedies, this may be a marriage between main characters; in tragedies, it may be the death of one or...

) prevailed until the Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 drama critic Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

 advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica
Ars Poetica
Ars Poetica is a term meaning "The Art of Poetry" or "On the Nature of Poetry". Early examples of Ars Poetica by Aristotle and Horace have survived and have since spawned many other poems that bear the same name...

: "Neue minor neu sit quinto productior actu fabula" (lines 189-190) ("A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts").

After falling into disuse, renaissance dramatists revived the use of the 5-act structure. In 1863, around the time that playwrights like Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

 were abandoning the 5-act structure and experimenting with 3 and 4-act plays, the German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag
Gustav Freytag
Gustav Freytag was a German novelist and playwright.-Life:Freytag was born in Kreuzburg in Silesia...

 wrote Die Technik des Dramas, a definitive study of the 5-act dramatic structure, in which he laid out what has come to be known as Freytag's pyramid. Under Freytag's pyramid, the plot of a story consists of five parts: exposition
Exposition (literary technique)
At the beginning of a narrative, the exposition is the author's providing of some background information to the audience about the plot, characters' histories, setting, and theme. Exposition is considered one of four rhetorical modes of discourse, along with argumentation, description, and narration...

, rising action, climax
Climax (narrative)
The Climax is the point in the story where the main character's point of view changes, or the most exciting/action filled part of the story. It also known has the main turning point in the story...

, falling action, and revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

/catastrophe
Catastrophe (drama)
In drama, particularly the tragedies of classical antiquity, the catastrophe is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot, which unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close. In comedies, this may be a marriage between main characters; in tragedies, it may be the death of one or...

.

Freytag's analysis


According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a : exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.

Although Freytag's analysis of dramatic structure is based on five-act plays, it can be applied (sometimes in a modified manner) to short stories and novels as well. Nonetheless the pyramid is not always easy to use, especially in modern plays such as Alfred Uhry
Alfred Uhry
Alfred Fox Uhry is an American playwright, screenwriter, and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He is one of very few writers to receive an Academy Award, Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for dramatic writing....

's "Driving Miss Daisy
Driving Miss Daisy
Driving Miss Daisy is a 1989 American comedy-drama film adapted from the Alfred Uhry play of the same name. The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, with Morgan Freeman reprising his role as Hoke Colburn and Jessica Tandy playing Miss Daisy...

", which is actually divided into 25 scenes without concrete acts.

Exposition or Introduction


The exposition provides the background information needed to properly understand the story, such as the problem in the beginning of the story.

Rising action


During rising action, the basic internal conflict is complicated by the introduction of related secondary conflicts, including various obstacles that frustrate the protagonist's attempt to reach his goal. Secondary conflicts can include adversaries of lesser importance than the story’s antagonist, who may work with the antagonist or separately, by and for themselves or actions unknown, and also the conflict...

Climax



The third act is that of the climax, or turning point, which marks a change, for the better or the worse, in the protagonist’s affairs. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the tide, so to speak, will turn, and things will begin to go well for him or her. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist. Simply put, this is where the main part happens or the most dramatic part.

Falling action


During the falling action, which is the moment of reversal after the climax, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action might contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt. Summary: The falling action is that part of the story in which the main part (the climax) has finished and you're heading to the resolution.

Dénouement, resolution, or catastrophe


The dénouement comprises events between the falling action and the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative and thus serves as the conclusion of the story. Conflict
Conflict (narrative)
In literature, Conflict is the inherent incompatibility between the objectives of two or more characters or forces. By its nature, conflict is unstable. One side must always win out in the end...

s are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis
Catharsis
Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Etymologically
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

, the French word dénouement is derived from the Old French word denoer, "to untie", and from nodus, Latin for "knot." Simply put, dénouement is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot.

The comedy ends with a dénouement (a conclusion) in which the protagonist is better off than at the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe in which the protagonist is worse off than at the beginning of the narrative. Exemplary of a comic dénouement is the final scene of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

, in which couples marry, an evildoer repents, two disguised characters are revealed for all to see, and a ruler is restored to power. In Shakespeare's tragedies, the dénouement is usually the death of one or more characters.

More modern works may have no dénouement, because of a quick or surprise ending. On the other hand, an example of a modern work with a particularly elaborate dénouement is The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy epic written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit , but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in...

.

Criticism


Freytag's analysis was intended to apply not to modern drama, but rather to ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama.

A specific exposition stage is criticized by Lajos Egri
Lajos Egri
Lajos N. Egri was the author of The Art of Dramatic Writing, which is widely regarded as one of the best works on the subject of playwriting, though its teachings have since been adapted for the writing of short stories, novels, and screenplays.-Early years:Egri came to the US in 1906...

 in The Art of Dramatic Writing. He states, “exposition itself is part of the whole play, and not simply a fixture to be used at the beginning and then discarded.” According to Egri, the actions of a character reveal who they are, and exposition should come about naturally. The beginning of the play should therefore begin with the initial conflict.

Contemporary dramas increasingly use the fall to increase the relative height of the climax and dramatic impact (melodrama). The protagonist reaches up but falls and succumbs to their doubts, fears, and limitations. Arguably, the negative climax occurs when they have an epiphany and encounter their greatest fear or lose something important. This loss gives them the courage to take on another obstacle. This confrontation becomes the classic climax.

See also

  • Jo-ha-kyū
    Jo-ha-kyu
    is a concept of modulation and movement applied in a wide variety of traditional Japanese arts. Roughly translated to "beginning, break, rapid", it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly...

     – dramatic arc in Japanese aesthetics
  • Kishōtenketsu
    Kishotenketsu
    describes the structure and development of Chinese and Japanese narratives. It was originally used in Chinese poetry as a four-line composition, such as Qijue, and is also referred to as . The first Chinese character refers to the introduction or , the next: development, , the third: twist, ,...

     - a structural arrangement used in traditional Chinese and Japanese narratives
  • Sonata form
    Sonata form
    Sonata form is a large-scale musical structure used widely since the middle of the 18th century . While it is typically used in the first movement of multi-movement pieces, it is sometimes used in subsequent movements as well—particularly the final movement...

  • Three-act structure

External links


  • English translation of Freytag's Die Technik des Dramas
  • Another view on dramatic structure
  • What’s Right With The Three Act Structure by Yves Lavandier
    Yves Lavandier
    -Biography:Yves Lavandier was born on April 2, 1959. After taking a degree in civil engineering, he studied film at Columbia University, New York, between 1983 and 1985. Miloš Forman, František Daniel, Stefan Sharf, Brad Dourif, Larry Engel, and Melina Jelinek were among his teachers. During these...

    , author of Writing Drama
    Writing Drama
    Writing Drama is a treatise by French writer and filmmaker Yves Lavandier, originally published in 1994, revised in 1997, 2004 and 2008. The English version was translated from the French by Bernard Besserglik and published in 2005. The book exists also in Italian and Spanish.-Content:Writing...



Diagrams of Freytag's Pyramid with explanations:
  • http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/freytag.html
  • http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~hartleyg/250/freytag.html


Other scholarly analyses: