Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Analyze Drama

Some questions to help you study and understand Drama


1. What is each character like? Background? Social or Cultural class? Experiences? Thoughts? Any prejudices or biases? Emotions? Psychology? What supporting evidence can you find in the text that supports your opinion or your answer to each question?

2. What does the character look like? Is there any specific evidence in the text that helps establish the character's appearance and physical behavior? If not, why do you imagine the character in the way that you do? What sort of clothes does the character wear? Explain why you chose that particular sort of attire, including even things like color and style. Remember that plays from the historical past can always be staged in "modern" ways, with modern or contemporary settings and costuming. Why might a director choose to use a setting and a "look" that is different from that of the original play? How do different sorts of costumes (and costuming choices) affect the ways in which audiences "see" and react to the play?

3. What sort of gestures do you imagine that the character uses? Gestures -- and even physical postures and movements -- are often just as revealing of character as words (dialogue) are, and they often signal to the audience how the character's words are to be understood. Sometimes gestures are suggested in the stage directions, but most often they are not. So how does an actor (or a director) decide what gestures to use?

4. Is the character sympathetic? Unsympathetic? Some combination of the two? Please explain your answer. Does the character see herself or himself the way that other characters do? If not, why not?

5. Have you known someone like the character? How does this personal experience of your own affect the way in which you respond to the character? How about to the play as a whole?

6. Are the characters in the play generally "true" to life, and to people you have known, and to what you believe is "real life"? If they do not seem to be "true to life," why is that?

7. Has the author presented all the characters in more or less the same way? That is, are they all realistic? all symbolic? all "round" (developed)? all "flat" (undeveloped)? Is each character presented in the same way throughout the play? If not, what are the differences and how can you account for them?


1. What is the stage setting? Has the author indicated what the stage is supposed to look like? If so, how would you imagine carrying out the author's wishes if you were responsible for staging the play? If the author has not specified all the physical details of the setting, how do you imagine that setting? If you were producing this play, would you want a realistic setting (and perhaps a lot of props and "period" costumes), or a relatively bare stage and relatively few "extras"? How does the setting affect the way the audience responds to the play? Can the setting actually become part of the play's meaning for the audience?

2. At what period of time and in what place is the play set? What is the effect of setting a play in the immediate present? in the past? in the future? Most authors tend to choose a historical setting (that is, a setting that identifies a particular time and place) in order to say something about their own times. If this seems to be the case with the play you are reading, what does the historical setting tell us about what the author wants to say about her or his own time?

3. Is the stage setting realistic or symbolic? If symbolic, what does it symbolize? And how do you know?


1. Work out the dramatic structure of the play, including the overall diagram of exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. Is the play composed of a number of small actions leading up to one big one? Does it consist only of several "big" actions? Is there some other kind of dramatic structure? Is the structure directly related to what is happening to the protagonist? What does the structure of the play suggest about the way the playwright views the world?

2. Is there a major confrontation in the play? If so, what sort of confrontation is it? Who or what is involved? Does the confrontation lead to any recognition or change in awareness on the protagonist's part, either about herself/himself or about the world she/he inhabits?

3. Is the action of the play "realistic"? That is, does the play portray something one might have a fair chance of encountering in "real life"? If so, explain how the action(s) reflect the major intellectual concerns of the play. If not, discuss the effect upon the audience of the play's deliberately unrealistic performance values.

4. What do a character's actions reveal about her or his personality? background? class? assumptions and expectations?


1. Does the dialogue strike you as realistic? Like something you have heard or might hear, even if the language is "old" because the play comes from a much earlier period?

2. Are there any words, phrases, or images that appear repeatedly? If so, what are they? Why are they repeated? Do they seem to reflect some central concern or preoccupation, some major theme, or some pervasive mood within the play?

3. Try to explain why each character speaks as she or he does. What was the playwright trying to accomplish by giving each character that particular dialogue and speech pattern?


1. What is the central intellectual concern (or theme) of the play? State it in a declarative sentence. Is the author trying to make some point about people? about life? about society? about something else?

2. Most dramas involve a central "problem" that is revealed as some sort of conflict. How does the author represent this conflict in the play? How does the author resolve the conflict?

3. What is the point of reading a play that is "old" (Oedipus Rex is 2400 years old, for example, and Hamlet is 400 years old, and A Doll's House is 100 years old). Do "old" plays have anything of value to say to us today, or is performing them simply like keeping them stored in a museum for us to visit occasionally? Are the concerns in "old" plays relevant only to the times in which they were written, or do they remain relevant to us today?

4. Should plays deal with "universal" issues and problems? Or should they concern themselves primarily with issues and problems that are unique to the times in which they are written? What makes a play "relevant" or "out of date"?

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