Interpreting Drama (good people by David Lindsay-Albaireand )
Essay #5: Interpreting Drama
Just as when you read short fiction, when you read a play, your imagination “fills in” the missing information, information that a novel would likely provide—background information, character description, vivid details and vivid action. One big difference between drama and fiction is that drama, some say, is not complete until it is performed. So when you read a play, you are missing some of the things that the playwright intended for the play such as audience reactions, the atmosphere of the physical world, and the various ways the actors interpret the lives they are portraying. At the same time, however, there are some aspects of a play that people may actually miss when watching it that they would have perceived reading it. For example, literary devices and elements may go unnoticed when viewing a play; closer attention to language may be paid to when reading.
Some Questions to Ask Oneself When Reading a Play:
What is the “plot” of the play—What are the main conflicts that keep the audience involved in the action? What are the conflicts that existed at the beginning of the play? What are the patterns of cause and effect? What caused the conflicts that emerge during the course of the play? How are the actions paced? How do conflicts get resolved? What actions and events lead up to the primary conflict? Where is there surprise and intensification of conflict? What happened before the play begins? What will happen after it ends? Are there any characters in conflict with forces larger than just individuals, forces such as morality, value systems, nature, or inner aspects of themselves?
What do you notice about the dialogue? How do the words or thoughts shared depict the conflicts between characters?
3. What Happens or Has Happened Offstage?
How does the playwright represent actions that do not happen in the “real time” of the play. What activities are implied or happen offstage and how does the audience come to know about these things?
Where have the divisions or “breaks” in the play been set and how to they contribute to the main conflict-resolution, and ultimately the overall theme? These may take the form of scene changes, set changes, times when characters leave the stage, lights go off, etc.
What are their dominant traits? How do they change—from what to what? If they don’t change very much, do their traits intensify or become clearer as the play moves on? What masks are characters wearing? Who is hiding what from whom? When the masks are removed, what causes their removal? What are the results? What devices are being used to create character—names, gestures, clothing, etc. that help establish the traits? What are the characters motivations for doing things he/she does? What does the character seem to want? Describe the strategies a character devises for getting what he/she wants? How effective are those strategies?
Where does the action occur? How does the time of year/day relate to the action, crises, characterizations and overall theme.
As with the other units in this course, the bottom line will be the theme. The things that happen to the people in the times and places that they occur all work together to contribute to an overall take-away for the audience—an overall meaning about various abstract concepts/emotions/principals and how they play out for people.
Ask yourself: What are the issues or problems the play seems to be about? What does the play seem to be saying about these issues and problems? Are there certain major moments in the dialogue that really get at these ideas? How do separate scenes each develop certain themes? Zoom in, look at them close up. And then take a more “wide lens approach” and notice how one theme gets developed throughout the whole play. What are the images that come up over and over again. What things repeat over and over (actions, words, personality traits, details in the setting)? Do you notice any symbols or contrasting elements of different people, actions, values?
In this final essay, your job is to apply any and all of the skills you have developed over the course of the semester with li