BrockettPt1 - Chapter 1 THE THEATRE as AN ART FORM It has...

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Unformatted text preview: Chapter 1 THE THEATRE as AN ART FORM It has been said that the theatre dies every night only to be reborn each day, for it exists whenever actors perform before an audience. The ephemeral nature of the theatre makes it difficult to recapture a per— formance after it has ended, since unlike a novel, painting, or statue, each of which remains relatively unchanged, a theatrical production exists only during a performance. Then it is gone and lives only in the play script, program, pictures, reviews, and memories of those who were present. Although the theatre is the most ephemeral of the arts —- after music _ it is one of the most powerful, for while an audience watches, human beings perform scenes which interpret experience as though it were happening at that very instant. In this way, the theatre approximates life as it is lived and felt moment by moment. As in life, each episode is expe- rienced and then immediately becomes part of the past. The theatre is also the most objective of the arts, since characteris— tically it presents both outer and inner experience through speech and action. As in life, it is through listening and watching that we come to know individuals both externally and internally. What we learn about their minds, personalities, and motivations comes from what they say and do, and from what others tell us about them. The novel may deal at length with the unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings of its char- acters, but the'dramatist can indicate these inner stirrings only through external signs. This limitation, however, serves to give the theatre a life- likeness which other arts cannot match. The theatre is also the most complex of the arts, since it requires many creators —the actor, the playwright, the director, the scene designer, the costumer, the light designer, the choreographer, the musician. This 3 BASIC PROBLEMS complexity has led many to cali the theatre a mixed art since it usually combines the written word of the literary artist, the visual background of the architect and painter, the speech and movement of the actor, the music of the composer, and the dance patterns of the choreographer. Others have called it an impure art because it is not the product of a sin- gle creator. These labels imply that several artists cannot achieve a uni— fied result and that the theatre therefore is imperfect and inferior. Cer- tainly the theatre can rarely achieve the purity of form possible in a novel, a poem, or a painting, but it has its own kind of unity. In its very complexity lies much of the theatre’s strength, for its varied appeals— action, speech, music, dance, painting-combine in one art product the charms of all the other arts, although in a new and distinctive form. The number of artists involved in a single production varies widely. In the earliest theatrical performances all artistic functions were served by ' one person; gradually specialists emerged and the various theatre arts were separated. The actor and the playwright attained recognition first, probably because their functions are basic and closely allied. Since drama tells its story and presents its conflicts entirely through the speeches and actions of characters, it assumes the existence of actors who will lend their bodies, voices, and actions for the time needed to play out the drama. The actor and the playwright are by necessity complementary, since each needs the other for the completion of his art. The actor may practice his profession without the aid of the playwright, for he may improvise his speech and action~that is, he may become his own dramatist—but unless his improvisation achieves a high degree of excellence, it will not long command attention. To hold interest, a performance must, as a rule, he organized so as to tell a story, to reveal a character, or to illustrate an idea. As the length of the performance increases, so does the need to interweave story, character, and ideas. As these demands are met suc- cessfully, the actor approaches more and more the function of the play- wright. On the other hand, the person best able to construct an interest- ing series of events is not necessarily the one most able to enact these events for an audience. Thus, the specialized demands made upon the actor and the playwright have led to separate, though closely related, professions. The history of the theatre is often treated as though it were synony- mous with the history of drama. Although it may distort the truth, such an approach is partially justified, for it is through the written drama that we gain our clearest impressions of the theatre of the past. It is the play script which comes down to us unchanged; we know the other theatre arts only through such secondhand accounts as descriptions of the act- ing or pictures of single scenes. The history of the theatre is usually constructed around drama for still another important reason: the play script forms a bridge between our values and those of the past. We are able to appreciate and understand other eras only when we find in them ideas and attitudes which have meaning today, for we remain untouched by that which has no relevance to ourselves. The theatre arts of the past, when viewed in isolation from 6 Asketch by PhilippeJacques de Loutherbourg for the battle scenes in Shakespeare's Rich- ard HI. This sketch was made about 1775 when the noted landscape. marine, and battle painter was engaged by David Garrick to superintend scene painting at the Drury Lane Theatre. drama, may seem totally disconnected from the present, but the great plays of other times create points of contact with the feelings, the thought, the life of these periods. This common bond can then serve as a bridge to understanding the other theatre arts. But while the drama may be a key to understanding what should or did happen in presentation, plays are written to be performed and are not complete until they are filled out by actors, costumes, and scenic background. The interdependence of the playwright and the actor is clear, but these artists also benefit from the assistance of directors, designers, musi- cians, and dancers. The need for the director arises as soon as more than one actor is involved, for someone must mediate the differences of opin- ion which arise as to positions on stage, correct line readings, or interpre» tations of meaning. But the director is more than a mediator. it is his responsibility to design, edit, and coordinate stage action with the visual background, costumes, lights, music, and dance. The various elements which go into a production are usually provided by separate artists. The visual background, for “example, is the work of the set, lighting, and costume designers, who seek to interpret the quali- ties found in the script through visual means. The scenic designer not only indicates place and historical period, he supplies the architectural forms, light and shadow, colors, line, and composition which add to and reflect the drama’s action. In like manner, the costumer, the fighting dew signer, and the choreographer seek to embody the mood and spirit of a play through visual means. It is the interdependent workings of the various arts comprising the \ . a theatre which will be pursued in this book. 8 THE THEATRE As AN ART FORM In the preceding discussion the theatre has been referred to repeatedly as an art form. But what is art? Probably no term has been so widely dis- cussed with so little clear definition. . Until the eighteenth century the term art was used almost exclusively to designate a systematic application of knowledge or skills to achieve a desired result. The word is stili used in this sense when we speak of the art (or craft) of medicine. During the eighteenth century it became cus~ ternary to divide the arts into two groups, “useful” and “fine.” Into the latter category were placed literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and dance. At the same time, the idea arose that, while the useful arts may easily be learned, the fine arts, as products of genius, could not be reduced to rules or principles which could be taught. As a result, since about 1800 art has often been considered too lofty and esoteric to be fully comprehended and too elusive for close examination. Although it is perhaps true that no universally accepted explanation of art exists, its nature can be suggested by examining its relationship to other human activities. First of all, and most broadly, art is an aid in understanding the world. As such, it may be compared to history, philos~ ophy, or science, which attempt to discover and record patterns in man’s experience. Art may deal with the same subject matter as other apw preaches, and may even use some of the same methods. For example, history seeks to record the facts of man’s past but, since it cannot report everything, it selects those events which seem significant and which WHAT IS ART? A wandering troupe of German players in the eighteenth cen- tury. The actors are preparing for a performance. Courtesy Bild-Archivs der Osierreichi» schen Nationalbibliothek. BASIC PROBLEMS appear to compose a pattern of cause and effect. Thus, history, like art, selects, arranges, and gives emphasis to its materials. Philosophy seeks to find the truths and principles underlying all being and to relate them to human existence. A play also may suggest answers to this quest. Such branches of science as psychology and sociology seek to determine the causes and probabilities of certain kinds of behavior; a play, too, has some of these concerns. Each approach to man‘s experiv ence attempts to discover and to put into a communicable form concluw sions about man and the world in which he lives. There are, however, significant differences in the methods used in the various approaches. The historian, philosopher, and scientist attempt to set their conclusions down in logical expository prose: a point of view is expressed, and proof is marshaled to support that view and to gain its acceptance. They direct their appeals principally to the intellect. The artist, on the other hand, works primarily through direct involve- ment of the audience’s emotions, imagination, and intellect, and by evoking responses more directly. A play, consequently, shows events as though occurring before our eyes; we absorb them in the way we absorb life itself—through their direct operation upon our senses. Art differs from life by stripping away irrelevant details and organizing events so that they compose a significant, connected pattern. Thus, a play illumi— nates and comments on human experience at the same time that it ap- pears to create it. Another distinguishing characteristic of art is its manipulation of imagination. Although it may draw upon actual experience, art clearly differs from life. Even historical drama is an imaginative recreation of events; the characters’ motivations and dialogue usually must be invent- ed, and certainly the audience knows that what it is seeing is not the his- torical event itself but a fictional version of it. Just as we do not mistake a statue for a real person, we do not mistake stage action for reality. Rather, we usually view a play with what Coleridge called a “willing suspension of disbelief.” By this he meant that, while we know that the events of a play are not real, we agree for the moment not to disbelieve in their reality. One important qualification must be added, however: we are not moved to immediate action by what we see on the stage as we would be by a real event. We watch one man kill another, but we make no attempt to rescue the victim or to call the police. This is a vican’ous expe- rience, one we can enter into without the demand for either decision or action. We watch in a kind of suspended animation, a state sometimes called esthetic distance, since we seem to be sufficiently removed from the event to view it semiobj ectively. At the same time, however, the distance must not be so great as to in- duce indifference. Therefore, while a degree of detachment is necessary, involvement is of equal importance. This feeling of kinship is sometimes called empathy. Thus, we watch a play with a double sense of concern and detachment, of entering into the experience but without any need for active participation on our part. It is both a removed and an intensi- iied reaction of a kind seldom possible outside an esthetic experience. i 10 Hindu dancer. A thirteenth—cen- tury carving on a temple in Mysore. Courtesy information Service of india. Thus f ar we have been concerned with art principally as it is embodied in drama. Along with other types of literature, however, drama is the art most apt to have an intellectual content which relates it to areas of knowledge such as history, philosophy, and science. But what of other , art forms in which the content is more abstract? a Each art form uses different means and consequently each can best deal with a particular aspect of human experience. Music, for example, makes its appeal through the ear. Using rhythm, melody, and harmony, it organizes sound and time into patterns which can be traced to basic 1 subliminal sensations and feelings. Thus, the universal appeal of music ‘ can partially be explained by its rhythmic qualities. Aristotle stated that i E 11 BASIC PROBLEMS a sense of rhythm is natural to man; other writers have related all art to the rhythmic patterns of life itself: birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death; the cycle of the year; and the heartbeat. In these ways, the rhythmic element in music is probably related to some of man’s most elemental experiences, and the sense of order and harmony which it produces probably stems from its fulfillment of unconscious needs. The structure of music is also a source of satisfaction. Both melody and rhythm are patterns. Some sound combinations seem harmonious while others seem inharmonious or dissonant: we are pained when un- pleasant combinations strike our ears. Each composition has its own pat- ternswthe longer we listen, the clearer the patterns become and the more definite grow our expectations. If a musical phrase is broken off in the middle, we desire to have it completed and sense satisfaction when it is. Thus, structural patterns are an important part of music’s effect. They create expectations, which lead to frustrations when interrupted, and to satisfaction when completed. ‘ We value music not so much for what it “says” but for what it “does” to us. It may calm or excite. Whenever it engages our attention, we are bound up in it and respond to its rhythmic patterns. The more completely our attention is engaged, the less we are conscious of other factors out- side of the musical experience. While listening we may work or dance without being aware of effort; our energies seem released and we have a sense of freedom and pOWer—of inner harmony. it is only after the music has stopped that we become aware of fatigue and frustration, for during the musical experience, states of feeling, created by organized time and sound, have become the center of our existence. Painting makes its appeal through the eye, formalizing man’s relation- ship to space. It uses line, mass, and color to create pleasing composi— tions which are expressive both of order and harmony, of emotions and perceptions. It may represent real objects or it may be totally abstract. Though recognizable subject matter can add another source of pleasure, the appeal of painting does not depend upon its ability to produce exact likeness. Rather, it allows man to experience and understand spatial re- lationships esthetically. Each art makes its own distinctive appeal to different senses and through differing means. All art expresses and organizes our perceptions about feeling, emotion, growth, and movementmabout life itself. Each art form selects, arranges, and gives emphasis to its elements. Out of this organization, or form, significance emerges. Significance is a many-faceted concept, however, for it is comprised of all that is communicated or expressed by an art work. Some aspects might be called intellectual significance; others are more closely in- volved with feelings and emotions. Intellectual significance may be illustrated by turning once more to drama. In King Lear, for example, Lear divides his kingdom between two of his three daughters and gives up all power as ruler. The two daughters cast him out; eventually the formerly great king becomes vir- tually a beggar and 'a madman, and further events bring about his death. 12. From this series of occurrences we may reach certain conclusions about the relationship of parents to children, about ingratitude, emotional blindness, and so on. Such conclusions are largely intellectual, for they are based upon our perception of a seemingly logical connection between a series of events. The same sequence, however, has emotional significance of consider- able complexity. As the events transpire, expectations, hopes, fears, in— dignation, and other emotions are aroused; these are thwarted, satisfied, or transformed. With the end of the play comes a feeling of completion, 3. sense of fulfillment. Although this kind of significance is dependent in part upon the subject matter, it also results from the tempo, rhythm, and structure of the play. ‘ The 1968 dress rehearsal. Act l, of Giacomo Puccini's opera Tosca. based on Viciorien Sar» clou‘s drama La Tosca. Birgit Nilsson—Tosca: Franco Corelli —Cavaradossi; Gabriel Bacquier —Scarpia (left). Conductor— Francesco Molina ri-P radelli; sets and costumes—Rudolf Heinrich. Photograph—P. A. Noa. Cour- tesy of the Metropolitan Opera. Lincoln Center. THE PROBLEM OF VALUE IN ART BASIC PROBLEMS The total significance of any work of art is difficult to evaluate. It ap« peals in varying degrees to difi'erent persons, and what the spectator gleans from a work of art depends in part upon his own background and his own sensitivity to emotions and ideas. Art, then, is one way of ordering, clarifying, and understanding experi- ence. Each art form uses its own special techniques, but each offers both significance and pleasure simultaneously. Of all the arts, the theatre is probably the one most closely related to the patterns of normal experi— ence. It is the art form that most nearly encompasses all of the other arts. Art may not appear to be useful. It does not produce the obvious benefits offered by medicine or engineering; it does not promise any advances for civilization; it may seem impractical when compared with business. Its purpose, thus, is vague for most persons; many think of it as a pleasant kind of distraction without fundamental importance. The financially successful artist frequently is honored not because he is effective but because he is successful in the business sense. Since everyone does not agree upon the worth of individual works of art, many persons question the value of art itself. Even those who pro» fess to like art frequently cast doubt upon its worth; those of conserva- tive taste accuse “modern” art of being an elaborate hoax, while the admirers of modern art reply that conventional forms are shallow and outmoded. Under such a cross fire of argument it is hardly surprising that the general public may develop doubts about art itself. Furthermore, many persons distrust anything that appeals openly to the emotions. Americans have long been suspicious of their emotional reactions, while the appeal to logic and intelligence has been stressed,if .not always followed. Activities that emphasize rationality have been valued, therefore, over those eliciting emotional responses. To many, the display of feeling suggests a lack of control. There has also been a tendency during the past century to use “art” as a term of praise rather than as a classification. Thus we hear people say, “It may be good theatre, but it isn’t art." Not only is such a division of doubtful value, since it fails to clarify adequately how the preferred works differ from those excluded, but it has led the majority of persons to conclude that art has nothing whatever to do with them. Since they do not visit museums or understand the twelve—tone musical scale or Ab- surdist drama, they do not, according to one view, really appreciate “art.” But the man who watches a dramatic program on television, looks at a drawing, or listens to popular music is involved with art, whether or not 7 he calls it by that name. Art is an approach to human experience, it is not a judgment of value. It is part of every person’s life, even of those who say they do not understand it or have no interest in it. I This does not mean that all art is equally effective. As in other human activities, it has a range of quality from the excellent to the unsatisfacto— ry, and we are constantly faced with the problem of distinguishing rela- tive value. Is Hamlet a good play? Is it better than Death ofa. Salesman? Why? These questions illustrate the problem. 14 Chapter 3 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, - FORM, AND STYLE Broadly speaking, a play is a representation of man in actiOn. But action is not merely physical movement, for it involves, as well, the mental and psychological motivations of external behavior. “Man in action,” there- fore, includes a wide range of feelings, thoughts, and deeds. Since a sin- gle play can depict only a limited aspect of human behavior, the action of each drama is unique in some respect. Nevertheless, all effective plays share common qualities from which we may derive conclusions about desirable characteristics of dramatic action. Aristotle declared that a play should have a beginning, middle, and end. On the surface, this statement seems obvious and overly simple, but it summarizes a fundamental principle. Basically, it means that a play should be complete and self-contained, that everything necessary for its understanding should be included within the play itself. The beginning is the point in the story at which the playwright chooses to start his play, and is itself the foundation upon which the succeeding action is built. The middle develops the potentialities found in the beginning, while the end resolves and completes the action. If the action is not complete and selfucontained, it will probably be confusing to an audience. Dramatic action should be purposeful. It should be organized so as to arouse a specific response, such as pity and fear, joy and ridicule, indig- nation, thoughtful contemplation, laughter or tears. The purpose may be simple or complex, but the events, the characters, the mood, and other elements should be shaped and controlled with a dominant purpose in mind. Dramatic action should be varied. Although the action should be uni~ fled, variety (in plot, characterization, or ideas) is also needed if monot- ony and predictability are to be avoided. 27 DRAMATIC ACTION AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS Scene from Phaedra. Directed by Lael Woodbury. Courtesy Mr. Woodbury. Dramatic action should engage and maintain interest. The charac- ters must command the audience’s attention, the situation must be novel enough to arouse interest, or the issues must seem vital enough to war- rant concern. Dramatic action should be probable (that is, all of the elements should be logicain consistent). Probability is what most persons have in mind when they speak of a play’s believability. But probability, or believability, does not depend upon similarity to real life, for a play which depicts im- possible events may be called believable if the incidents occur logically within the framework created by the playwright. This point can be better understood by reference to a nonrealistic drama. In Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano a clock strikes seventeen times as the curtain rises; Mrs. Smith promptly announces that it is nine o’clock and launches into a bizarre speech on virtues of English middle-class life. This opening warns the audience that this play will not follow normal logic. As any play pro- gresses, the guidelines are revealed. The audience then expects the play- wright to observe consistently the rules he has established; anything which violates the peculiar logic set up in the play will seem out of place, and, therefore, unbelievable. METHODS OF ORGANIZING DRAMATIC A dramatic action is composed of a sequence of incidents which are or— ACTION ganized to accomplish the play’s purpose. Organization is ultimately a matter of directing attention to relationships which create a meaningful pattern. The most common sources of unity are thought, character, and cause-to-effect arrangement of events. i i | i DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE Traditionally, the dominant organizational principle has been the cause—to~efi"ect arrangement of incidents. Using this method, the play- wright sets up in the opening scenes all of the necessary conditions—the situation, the desires and motivations of the characters~out of which the later events develop. The goals of one character come into conflict with those of another, or two conflicting desires within the same charac- termay lead to a crisis. Attempts to surmount the obstacles make up the substance of the play, each scene growing logically out of those which have preceded it. Less often, a dramatist uses a Laggme as the principal source of unity. In this case, the incidents are held together primarily because they center around one person. Such a play may dramatize the life of a histor- ical figure, or it may show a character’s responses to a series of experi» ences. This kind of organization may be seen in such plays as Christo- pher Marlowe’s Doctor Faus tus and Tamburlaine. A playwright may organize his material around a basic idea, with the scenes linked largely because they illustrate aspects of a larger theme or argument. This type of organization is used frequently by modern play- wrights, especially those of the Expressionist, Epic, and Absurdist move- ments. It can be seen, for example, in Brecht’s The Private Life of the M aster Race, which treats the rise of the Nazi party in a series of scenes that illustrates the inhumanity of Nazi ideology. Many Absurdist plays,_‘ such as Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, do not develop a story so much as they embroider upon a concept, mood, or apprehension. All three methods oWidfiEfiBfiifiifihé’fifié‘d‘in the same play, although one will usually dominate. Regardless of the source of unity, a play normally relies upon conflict to arouse and maintain interest and suspense. In fact, the most commonly held idea about drama is that it always involves conflict—of one character with another, of desires within the same character, of a character with his environment, of one ideology with another. Although overt conflict plays a major role in most plays, there are dra— mas in which it is of little significance. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, for example, makes relatively little use of conflict. Instead, a narrator (the Stage Manager) begins scenes at important moments and interrupts them when his point is made. He shows a typical day in the life of a vil- lage, Grovers Corners, and suggests that morning, midday, and evening are related to childhood, maturity, and death. Although momentary con- flicts occur within individual scenes, there is no major clash. On the other hand, the concept of conflict may be enlarged until it applies to plays in which there is no obvious clash among characters. For example, in The Bald Soprano the events seem to occur aimlessly, and clearly they do not depend upon overt conflicts. Nevertheless, by exaggerating the clichés of everyday conversation, Ionesco forces the audience to ques- tion behavior which it normally accepts unthinkingly. Thus, like many plays of its type, The Bold Soprano creates a division, a kind of conflict, in the spectator’s consciousness. \ 29 " .. PLOT ___ .. ..ah...c.........._ _.__l..._......,.er.m....,.m..,...‘w_r_m:, BASIC PROBLEMS Whether or not conflict is involved, the action of drama is usually ar» ranged in a climactic order—the scenes increase rather than decrease in interest. This effect is achieved through the revelation of new aspects of character or idea, by increasing suspense (the decisive moment is felt to be moving nearer and nearer), or by increasing emotional intensity. Although the arrangement is from the lesser to the greater, within this over—all movement there are moments of contrast or repose {such as the comic scenes in Shakespeare’s tragedies) which afford a temporary change from the dominant pattern. Organization may also be approached through the parts of drama, listed by Aristotle as plot, character, thought, diction, music, and specta- cle. Although music in the usual sense is no longer an invariable part of drama and will not be treated in this chapter, Aristotle’s division is still very useful. Plot is the over-all structure of a play. Although it includes the story line, it refers as well to the organization of all the elements into a meaningful pattern. Although in some plays, both the story and its arrangement may seem vague, all plays have plots, however tenuous they may he. Because the methods used in organizing plays vary widely, the most typical pat- terns will be emphasized here, although important deviations will be noted as well. THE BEGINNING. The beginning of a play may establish the place, the occasion, the characters, the mood, the theme, and the level of probabil— ity. A play is somewhat like coming upon previously unknown places and persons. Initially, the novelty may attract attention, but, as the facts about the people and the place are established, interest either wanes or increases. The playwright is faced, therefore, with a double problem: he must give essential information, but at the same time create expecta— tions sufficient to make the audience desire to stay and see more. The beginning of a play requires exposition, or the setting forth of necessary information— about earlier events, the identity of the charac- ters, and the present situation. While exposition is a necessary part of the opening scenes, it is not confined to them, for in most plays the back~ ground is only gradually revealed. The amount of exposition required for clarity is partially determined by the point of attack, or the moment at which the story is taken up. Shakespeare uses an early point of attack (that is, he begins his plays at the inception of the story and then tells them in a clear chronological sequence). Greek tragedians, on the other hand, use late points of attack, which require that prior events he narrated while the plays show only the final parts of stories. Playwrights motivate exposition in varions ways. For example, Ibsen most frequently introduces a character who has returned after a lengthy absence. Answers to his questions about happenings while he was away supply the needed background information. On the other hand, in anon- 30 realistic play essential exposition may be given in a monologue. Many of Euripides’ tragedies, for example, open with a prologue in which a single character summarizes past events and bemoans his present phght. Attention is usually focused early on a question, potential conflict, or theme. The beginning of most plays therefore, includes what may be called an inciting incident, or an occurrence which sets the main action in motion. In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, a plague is ravishing Thebes; Oedipus has sought guidance from the oracle at Delphi, who declares that the murderer of King Laius must be found and punished befOre the plague can end. This is the event (introduced in the Prologue) which sets the action in motion. The inciting incident usually leads directly to a major dramatic ques- tion around which the play is organized— the thread or spine which holds events together— although this question may undergo a number of changes as the play progresses. For example, the question first raised in Oedipus the King is: Will the murderer of Laius be found and the city saved? Later this question is modified, as interest shifts to Oedipus’ own guilt. Not all plays, especially Absurdist dramas, include inciting inci- dents or clearly identifiable major dramatic questions. NevertheleSS, all 31 Final scene from Friedrich Duerrenmatt‘s The Physicists, as performed at Indiana Univer— sity. Directed by Gary Galser; designed by Richard Scammon. BASIC PROBLEMS have focal points, frequently a theme or controlling idea, around which the action is centered. Thus, it is always helpful to identify the unifying principle, whether it be a major dramatic question, a theme, or some other element. THE MIDDLE. The middle of a play is normally composed of a series of complications. A complication is any new element which serves to alter the direction of the action. Complications may arise from the discovery of new information, the unexpected opposition to a plan, the necessity of choosing between courses of action, the arrival of a character, the intro- duction of a new idea, or from other sources. Complications usually narrow the possibilities of action and create suspense. At the opening of a play the potentialities are numerous, since the story might develop in almost any direction. As characters and situa— tion are established and as complications arise, however, the alterna~ tives are progressively reduced. As a result, the audience comes to sense the direction of the action. As the possibilities are narrowed, a feeling of approaching crisis develops. Finally, there comes a moment when the alternatives have been so reduced that the next discovery will answer the major dramatic question. This is the moment of crisis or the peak toward which the play builds, after which there is gradual release in emotional tension leading to resolution and the play’s end. The substance of most complications is discovery. In one sense every- thing presented in a play is discovery if by that term is meant the revela- tion of things not previously known. The term is normally reserved, how- ever, for occurrences of sufficient importance to alter the direction of action. Discoveries may involve objects (a wife discovers in her hus- band’s pocket a weapon of the kind used in a murder), persons (a young man discovers that his rival in love is his brother), facts (a young man about to leave home discovers that his mother has cancer}, values (a woman discovers that love is more important than a career), or self (a man discovers that he has been acting from purely selfish motives when he thought that he was acting out of love for his children). Self-discovery is usually the most powerful. ' A complication is normally introduced by one disoovery and concluded by another. A complication is set in motion by the appearance of some new element which requires a new approach. But the steps talten to solve the new demands give rise to tensions and conflicts which build to a climax, or peak of intensity. The climax is accompanied, or brought about, by still another discovery which serves to resolve the existing complication but which precipitates another. Each complication, thus, normally has a beginning, middle, and end—its own development, cli- max, and resolution ~just as does the play as a whole. The implications of each discovery are not always followed up imme— diately. Frequently a playwright is dealing with a number of characters and not every revelation involves all of them. Several complications, therefore, may intervene between the introduction of a discovery and its development. In such cases, the play pursues first one line of action and then another in an alternating or overlapping pattern. 32 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE Means other than discoveries may be used to precipitate complica- tions. Natural disasters (such as earthquakes, storms, shipwrecks, and automobile accidents) are sometimes used. These are apt to seem espe- cially contrived, however, if they resolve the problem (for example, if the villain is killed in an automobile accident and the struggle is automati- cally terminated}. Sometimes complications are initiated unintention— ally by characters acting in ignorance. For example, a father arranges a trip for his daughter without realizing that she has fallen in love and wants to stay at home. the characters involved. The attempts of each to meet the situation give rise to the succeeding action and lead to new complications. The series of complications usually culminates in the crisis, or turning . point of the action, which opens the way for the resolution. For example, in Oedipus the King, Oedipus sets out to discover the murderer of Laius; the crisis comes when Oedipus realizes that he himself is the guilty per- son. Not all plays have a clear-cut series of complications leading to a crisis. Waiting for Godot, for example, is less concerned with a progress ing action than with a static condition. Nevertheless, interest is main- tained by the frequent introduction of new elements: Estragon and Vla— dimir improvise games or plans to pass the time, and the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky creates a diversion. There is no crisis in the usual sense, only the gradual realization that man is to go on waiting, perhaps eternally. THE END. The final portion of a play, often called the resolution or de- nousment, extends from the crisis to the final curtain. Although often it is brief, it may be of considerable length. It serves to tie off the various strands of action and to answer the questions raised earlier. It brings the situation back to an equilibrium and satisfies audience expectations. The crisis normally leads to an obligatory scene (that is, one which the dramatist must show if the play is to be satisfying to an audience). Dur- ing much of a play, important facts are hidden or ignored by the charac- ters. The audience senses, however (either consciously or uncon~ sciously), that eventually these facts must be revealed, since the entire action seems to point in that direction. The obligatory scene, then, an— swers the question: What will happen when all of the facts are revealed? It shows the opposing characters, each new with full knowledge, meet- ing face to face. Since the final piece of vital information is usually with— held until the moment of crisis, the obligatory scene normally follows close upon it. The obligatory scene may be extended over a series of complications. For example, a number of episodes may be used to show the tables being turned on a man who has deceived everyone. In such cases, the resolu- tion may be as absorbing as the complications which preceded the crisis. Normally, the resolution creates a sense of completion and fulfillment. nce can see clearly how the ending has come about, even though it could not have predicted the outcome in advance. Again, many plays deviate from the typical patterns. At the end of his PIaYS, Brecht often poses questions which can only be answered outside 33 BASIC PROBLEMS the theatre, for he wishes to stimulate thought and action about real so- cial conditions. Many Absurdist plays are essentially circular and end much as they began so as to suggest that the events of the play will re— peat themselves endlessly. This type of resolution is often found in drama organized around thought,.for the ultimate purpose is to stimu— late the audience to examine its own situation rather than to view the drama merely as a diversion from real life. Nevertheless, all plays clearly have resolutions which bring the action to a close, even if they merely imply a new beginning, and everything in them should contribute to the sense that their endings are appropriate for them. CHARACTER AND CHARACTERIZATION Character is the material from which p developed mainly through the speech and behavior of dramatic person- ages. Characterization is the playwright’s means of differentiating one dramatic personage from another. Since a dramatist may endow his creatures with few or many traits, complexity of characterization varies markedly. In analyzing roles, it is helpful to look at four levels of charac- terization. {This approach is adapted from a scheme suggested by Hu- bert Heifner in Moderanheatre Practice and elsewhere.) The first level of characterization is physical and is concerned only with such basic facts as sex, age, size, and color. Sometimes a dramatist does not supply all of this information, but it is present whenever the play is produced, since actors necessarily give concrete form to the char" actors. The physical is the simplest level of characterization, however, since it reveals external traits only, many of which may not affect the dramatic action at all. The second level is socia profession or trade, religion, which place him in his environment. The third level is psychological. It reveals a character’s habitual re- sponses, attitudes, desires, motivations, likes and dislikes—the inner workings of the mind, both emotional and intellectual, which precede action. Since habits of feeling, thought, and behavior define 'characters more fully than do physical and social traits, and since drama most often arises from conflicting desires, the psychological is the most essential level of characterization. The fourth level is moral. Although implied in all plays, it is not always emphasized. It is most apt to be used in serious plays, especially trage— dies. Although almost all human action suggests some ethical standard, in many plays the moral implications are ignored and decisions are made on grounds of expediency. This is typical of comedy, since moral deliber- ations tend to make any action serious. More nearly than any other kind, moral decisions differentiate characters, since the choices they make when faced with moral crises show whether they are selfish, hypocn‘ti- cal, or persons of integrity. A moral decision usually causes a character to examine his own motives and values, in the process of which his true nature is revealed both to himself and to the audience. lots are created, for incidents are i. It includes a character‘s economic status, family relationshipswall those factors \ 34 A playwright may emphasize one or more of these levels. Some writers pay little attention to the physical appearance of their characters, con- centrating instead upon psychological and moral traits; other dramatists may describe appearance and social status in detail. In assessing the completeness of a characterization, however, it is not enough merely to make a list of traits and levels of characterization. It is also necessary to ask how the character functions in the play. For example, the audience needs to know little about the maid who only appears to announce din- ner; any detailed characterization would be superfluous and distracting. On the other hand, the principal characters need to be drawn in greater depth. The appropriateness and completeness of each characterization, therefore, may be judged only after analyzing its function in each scene and in the play as a whole. A character is revealed in several ways: through descriptions in stage directions, prefaces, or other explanatory material not part of the dia- logue or action; through what theeharacter says; through what others say about him; and, perhaps most important, through what he does. It is not enough, however, for a dramatist to assign characteristics to his per— sonages; some action must be motivated, or some idea clarified, by each quality if it is not to be irrelevant or even misleading. The relative impor— tance of each trait, therefore, must be assessed in terms of its function in the play. 35 A muitimedia production de- signed by Josef Svoboda. Scene from Topol‘s Their Day (1959) as presented at the National Theatre, Prague. Photograph copyrighted by Jarcmi:r Svo- boda. THOUGHT BASIC Pnosans It is not always easy to perceive a character’s true nature, since infor— mation about him is usually given in fragments scattered throughout the play. Furthermore, many different or even contradictory images of him may be presented. For example, a character may see himself as a certain kind of person; for one reason or another, however, he may try to project adifferent image to others; in turn, each of the other characters will see him from a different angle. Because the dramatist builds character through this composite approach, the audience must always watch for clues that indicate which statements and actions are to be accepted as accurate revelations of character. Characters are defined in much the same way as words: first they are placed in a broad category (typified), and then differentiated (in- dividualized) from other examples of the same type. Typification is nec- essary if characters are to be placed in the context of human experience. If a character were totally unlike any person the spectators had ever known, they would be unable to understand him. Most characters may be placed in a category, such as the doting mother, the bashful young man, or the dumb blonde. But if the playwright goes no further, the audi- ence will probably find the personages oversimplified and will see them as “type” characters. MOSt dramatists assign several traits which serve to tndtvtdualize characters within the broad categories. Thus, typifying qualities make a character recognizable and familiar, while individual- izing traits make him unusual and complex. A playwright is often concerned with making his characters sympw thetic or unsympathetic. Most frequently, sympathetic characters are created by assigning traits admired in real life, but many modern play- wrights have created sympathy for abnormal characters by exploring the reasons behind behavior, showing characters as victims of circum- stances and as more worthy of compassion than vilification. Normally, however, sympathetic characters are given major virtues and lesser foi- bles, while the reverse procedure is used for unsympathetic characters. The more a character is made either completely good or bad, the more he is apt to become unacceptable as a truthful reflection of human behavior. Acceptability, however, is in part determined by the type of play or the level of probability. Melodrama, for example, oversimplifies human psy- chology and clearly divides characters and actions into good and evil. Tragedy, on the other hand, normally depicts more complex forces at work both within and without man, and requires greater depth of char- acterization than does melodrama, which may function very well with type characters. The audience usually expects only that characterization be appropriate for the play’s intentions. The third basic element of a play is thought. It includes the themes, the arguments, the over-all meaning and significance of the action. It is present in all plays, even those which seem to be without purpose, for a playwright cann‘ot avoid expressing ideas, and character and events always imply some view of human behavior. Thought is also one of the 36 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE major sources of unity in drama, for action may be organized around a central idea. This kind of unity is typical of much modern drama. In thought, a play is both general and specific. For example, King Lear dramatizes the general topic of chi1d~parent relationships, but it does so through the complex story of intrigues among the ruling class in Eng- land’s legendary past. Thus, the general topic, or theme, serves as a point of focus around which events cluster, while the specific story gives concreteness to ideas whichotherwise would be too obscure. Although a play may have a number of themes, one is usually dominant. One key to a_p1ay,-therefore, lies in its thought. By identifying the major motifs and examining how they have been embodied we can recognize the author’s over—all purpose and methods. . The general and specific subjects of a play are related to the concepts of universality and individuality. Universality is that quality which enables a play to communicate with audiences, even though centuries may have passed since it was written. To say that Hamlet has universal significance does not mean that we should be able to put ourselves in Hamlet’s position as a prince or as the avenger of his father’s death. The universal elements are to be found in the conflict between a son’s duty to his father and his feelings for his mother, between personal integrity and religious faith, between justice and corrupt political power, and in the spectacle of the “underdog” pitted against overwhelming forces. These are situations which might confront human beings of any social class in any period. They provide a point of contact between Hamlet and the audience. On the other hand, every story must be individualized if it is to he be- lievable and interesting. Hamlet, therefore, has many elements which depart markedly from normal experience and keep the story from being hackneyed and overly familiar. However, some modern dramatists, such as Wilder and Ionesco, have reversed the normal process. They have chosen the most commonplace events, but have treated them in sucha way as to make them seem strange. Thus, they force the audience to view the familiar in a new light. The significance, or meaning, of a play is normally implied rather than directly stated. It is to be discovered in the relationships among charac- ters, the ideas associated with sympathetic and unsympathetic char- acters, the conflicts and their resolutions. Sometimes, however, the author’s intention is clearly statedin the script. The characters may ad— vocate a certain line of action, point of view, or specific social reform. Sometimes dramas using such methods are called propaganda or social problem plays, since they aim to persuade an audience to act or think in a particular way. An author wishing to persuade an audience has two paths open to him. He may subordinate his message and depend upon the implications to be sufficiently persuasive. In this case, he risks being miSunderstood. Or, he may make his position quite clear (usually through a direct statement by an admirable character). In this case, while the dramatist leaves no doubt as to his purpose, he may alienate his audience, who may conclude that the play has been an excuse for delivering a sermon. In the hands of ‘ 3'7 DIALOGUE BASIC PROBLEMS the unskillful dramatist this is frequently the result, for the characters seem lifeless mouthpieces for the author. Expert dramatists, however, such as Ibsen and Shaw, have made themselves relatively clear while creating compelling and vital plays. ' The dramatist who is intent upon achieving complete clarity must re- strict the meanings of words and actions and may eliminate those conno- tations and implications which suggest that the significance of the drama extends far beyond the immediate story. Yet ambiguity is basic to human experience; life does not come equipped with meanings which are unmistakable; we ponder over our experience and try to find signifi— cance in it, but we can never be certain that we have solved the riddles. Since human experience is the raw material of drama, the playwright who sees no ambiguities in life may well create a world on the stage which is too simple for an audience to accept. On the other hand, every- one simplifies experience in the process of seeking its significance. Since the dramatist is usually concerned with the patterns behind the infinite detail of life, he must eliminate what he considers to be irrelevant. His selection, nevertheless, must command belief. Dramatists in different periods have used various devices to project ideas. Greek playwrights made extensive use of the chorus,just as those of later periods employed such devices as soliloqutes, asides, and other forms of direct statement. Still other tools for projecting meaning are allegory and symbol. In allegory, characters are often personifications {good deeds, mercy, greed, and so on), and the meaning of the play can usually be reduced to a clear moral statement. Its use can be seen most clearly in a play such as Everyman. A symbol is a concrete object or event which, while meaningful in itself, also suggests a concept or set of relationships. For example, the orchard in Chekhov’s The Cherry Or- chard is both a real object and a symbol. As an object, once useful, then admired merely for its beauty, it is finally destroyed to make way for homes which will be occupied by merchants. As a symbol, it represents the Russian aristocracy, which, having lost its usefulness, must make way for the more vigorous middle class. The orchard takes on a double meaning—literal and symbolic —enabling it to comment not only on the characters in the play but on Russian society in general. The symbol has been a favorite device with modern writers, for it allows them to suggest deeper meanings even within a realistic framework. While some plays, such as farces, may not explore ideas of great signif- icance, all plays comment upon human life in some way. Dialogueis the playwright’s principal means of expression. When a play is presented in the theatre, actors, scenery, lighting and other elements are added, but to convey his basic conception, the dramatist must depend upon his skill in writing dialogue and stage directions. Dialogue serves many functions. First, it imparts information. It sets forth the exposition and conveys the essential facts, ideas, and emotions in each scene. l 38 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE Second, dialogue reveals character. The speeches of each personage project both emotional and rational responses to situations. Third, dialogue directs attention to important plot elements. Since significant information and responses must be emphasized, dialogue points up conflicts and complications and prepares for further develop— ments. It builds suspense by making the audience aware of potential outcomes, for while scenes always occur in the present, they constantly direct attention toward possible future results and create a sense of for~ ward movement and expectancy. Fourth, dialogue reveals the themes and ideas of a play. It provides clues to significant meanings while it reveals character and develops action. Fifth, dialogue helps to establish tone and level ofprohahility. It indi- cates whether the play is comic or serious, farcical or tragic. It also sug— gests the degree of abstraction from reality. Sometimes the use of poetry indicates that the play will not follow ordinary causality. The choice of words, the number of colloquialisms, the length of lines, and other lin- guistic devices are clues to the level of probability within which the play is operating. Sixth, dialogue helps to establish tempo and rhythm. Tempo is the pace at which a scene is played. The tempo of a love scene is apt to be much more leisurely than that of a duelling scene, for example, and the dialogue should reflect and create the proper tempo. Rhythm is the recur— ring pattern which results from the flow of speeches. Halting speech gives rise to one rhythmical pattern and animated, excited speech to another. Tempo and rhythm together create a sense of forward move- mentor of retarded action. When the rhythm of each scene is built to a climax (as is each movement in a symphony), it helps to hold attention and arouse expectancy. The dialogue of every play, no matter how realistic, is more abstract and formal than normal conversation. A dramatist always selects, ar— ranges, and heightens language more than anyone ever does in sponta— neous speech. Consequently, in a realistic play, although the dialogue is modeled after everyday usage, the characters are more articulate and state their ideas and feelings more precisely than would their real-life counterparts. On the other hand, realistic dialogue may retain the rhythms, tempos, and basic vocabulary of colloquial speech. rI‘he dialogue of nonrealistic plays may deviate markedly from normal speech. Sometimes, everyday patterns are reduced to amere skeleton, as in expressionistic drama where dialogue is often “telegraphic” in its oversimplicity. At other times, the clichés of ordinary conversation are emphasized until they become ludicrous, as in many of Ionesco’s plays. More frequently, however, nonrealistic drama employs a larger vocabu— lary, abandons the rhythms of conversation, and makes considerable use of imagery and meter. A larger vocabulary allows a more precise choice of words, avoids the frequent repetitions of colloquial speech, and per- mits more forceful expression when characters must transcend the ordi- nary. , 39 : SPECTACLE BASIC PROBLEMS Imagery is always found in poetic drama, but it may appear in realistic prose plays as well. The simile is widely used even in everyday speech (“He was as mad as a hornet,” or “She’s as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof”). A simile makes a direct comparison between two qualities or things and helps to point up likenesses which reveal character, situation, or meaning. A metaphor makes an indirect comparison between dissimi- larities (“God is my fortress”). There are other kinds of imagery, but all point to comparisons, connotations, or implications which enlarge the literal meaning. Furthermore, the use of a large number of similar im» ages affects the tone of a play. The dark, somber quality of Hamlet, for example, is partially explained by the overwhelming number of images concerned with death and decay. Although an audience may not be aware of the images it is unconsciously influenced by them. Dialogue, like the other elements of a play, uses both the familiar and the unfamiliar, the typical and the individual. Aristotle stated that good dialogue should be both clear and distinctive. He went on to explain that clarity depends upon the use of ordinary words, but warned that familiar words used alone may lead to dullness. “Diction becomes distinguished and nonprosaic by the use of unfamiliar terms, i.e., strange words, meta" phors, lengthened forms, and everything that deviates from the ordinary modes of speech. But a whole statement in such terms will be either a riddle or a barbarism,” added Aristotle. Good dialogue, then, should strike a middle ground between overly familiar and overly strange lan— guage. The familiar gives clarity, the strange adds variety. Dialogue should also be adapted to the stage. Sometimes a dramatist writes speeches which sound stilted and unnatural when spoken be— cause he has failed to take into account both the possibilities and the lim- itations of the voice and ear. The good playwrightis concerned with how dialogue will sound, and how the human voice will affect the written word. The basic criterion for judging dialogue, however, is its appropriate- ness to the characters, the situation, the level of probability, and the type of play. Almost any dialogue will be acceptable to an audience if it is in keeping with the other elements in the script. After dialogue, the visual elements of a play are the dramatist’s principal means of expression. Unless a reader can envision the action, the char- acters, the lighting, the setting, the costumes, the properties, and the spatial relationships {all of which are provided by a production), he may fail to grasp the power of the drama. Many older plays contain almost no stage directions describing the set- ting, movement and physical appearance of the characters, and the dia- logue must be analyzed carefully for clues to spectacle. As the visual background increased in importance during the nineteenth century, stage directions became common and have continued to give the reader considerable help in visualizing the action. i 40 -. H w " ' v V - ...
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BrockettPt1 - Chapter 1 THE THEATRE as AN ART FORM It has...

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