Drama Terminology

  1. Antagonist
    A character or force against which another character struggles. Tiresias is the antognist of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.
  2. Aside
    Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience which are not “heard” by the other characters on stage during a play. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago voices his inner thoughts a number of times as “asides” for the play’s audience.
  3. Catastrophe
    The action at the end of a tragedy that initiates the denouement or falling action of a play.
  4. Catharsis
    The purging of the feelings of pity and fear that, according to Aristotle, occurs in the audience of a tragic drama. The audience experiences catharisis at the end of the play, following the catastrophe.
  5. Climax
    The turning point of the action in the plot of a play or story. The climax of John Updike’s “A&P,” for example, occurs when Sammy quits his job as cashier.
  6. Comedy
    A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for thebetter. In comedy, things work out happily in the end. Comic drama may be either romantic—characterized by a tone of tolerance and geniality—or satiric. Satiric works offer a darker vision of human nature, one that ridicules human folly. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a romantic comedy
  7. Comic Relief
    The use of a comic scene to interrupt a succession of intensely tragic dramatic moments. The comedy of scenes offering comic relief typically parallels the tragic action that the scenes interrupt. Comic relief is lacking in Greek.tragedy but occurs regularly in Shakespeare’s tragedies.
  8. Complication
    An intensification of the conflict in a story or play. Complication builds up, accumulates, and develops the primary or central conflict in a story of play. Frank O’Connor’s story “”Guests of the Nation”provides a striking example, as does Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal.”
  9. Conflict
    A struggle between opposing forces in a story or play, usually resolved by the end of the work. The conflict may occur within a character as well as between characters.
  10. Convention
    A customary feature of a literary work, such as the use of a chorus in Greek tragedy, the inclusion of an explicit moral in a fable, or the use of a particular rhyme scheme in a villanelle. Literary conventions are defining features of particular literary genres, such as novels, short story, ballad, sonnet, and play.
  11. Deus ex Machina
    A god who resolves the entanglements of a lay by supernatural intervention. The Latin phrase means, literally, “a god from the machine.” The phrase refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play.
  12. Dramatis Personae
    Latin for the characters or persons in a play. Included among the dramatispersonae of Miller’s Death of a Salesman are Willy Loman, his wife Linda, and sons Biff and Happy.
  13. Exposition
    The first stage of a fictional plot, in which necessary background information isprovided. Iblsen’s A Doll House, for instance, begins with a conversation between the two central characters, a dialogue that fill s the audience in on events that occourred before the action of the play begins, but which are important in the development of its plot.
  14. Falling action
    In the plot of a story or play, the action following the climax of the work that moves it towards its denouement or resolution. The falling action of Othello begins after Othello realizes that Iago is responsible for plotting against him by spurring him on to murder his wife, Desdemona.
  15. Foil
    A character who contrasts and parallels the main character in a play or story. In Othello, Emelia and Biana are foils for Desdemona.
  16. Gesture
    The physical movement of an actor during a play. Gesture is used to reveal character, and may include facial expressions as well as movements of other parts of an actor’s body.
  17. Monologue
    A speech by a single character without another character’s response.
  18. Pathos
    A quality of a play’s action that stimulates the audience to feel pity for a character. Pathos is always an aspect of tragedy, and may be present in comedy as well.
  19. Plot
    The unified structure of incidents in a literary work.
  20. Props
    Articles or objects that appear on stage during a play.
  21. Protagonist
    The main character of a literary work—Othello in the play named after him; Paul in Lawrence’s “Rocking Horse Winner.”
  22. Recognition
    The point at which a character understands his or her situation as it really is. Sophocles’ Oedipus comes to this point near the end of Oedipus the King.
  23. Resolution
    The sorting out or unraveling of a plot at the end of a play, novel, or story. Also referred to as denoument..
  24. Reversal
    The point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the protagonist.
  25. Rising action
    A set of conflicts and crises that constitute that part of a play or story’s plot leading up to the climax.
  26. Soliloquy
    A speech in a play that is meant to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on the stage. If there are no other characters present, the soliloquy represents the character thinking aloud.
  27. Tragedy
    A type of drama in which the characters experience reversal of fortune, usually for the worse. In tragedy, catastrophe and suffering await many of the characters, especially the hero.
  28. Tragic flaw
    A weakness or limitation of character, resulting in the fall of the tragic hero. Oedipus’s jealosy is one example.
  29. Tragic hero
    A privileged, exalted character of high retpute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering.
  30. Unities
    The idea that a play should be limited to a specific time, place, and story line. The events of the plot should occur within a twenty-four hour period, should occur within a given geographic locale, and should tell a single story.
Card Set
Drama Terminology
drama literature terms