BrockettPt2 - “waver-9t, , DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND...

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Unformatted text preview: “waver-9t, , DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE The functions of spectacle are several. First, it gives information. It helps to establish where and when the action occurs (a living room, a castle, a prison; the historical period, the time of day, the country), or it may indicate that time and place are irrelevant. Second, spectacle aids characterization. It helps to establish such social factors as the eco— nomic level, the class, and the profession to which the characters belong. It aids in projecting the psychological aspects of character by demon- strating tastes (in the clothes worn, the rooms in which the characters live, and the like). Psychological factors are also revealed through the spatial relationships among characters (not always apparent in a script but always seen in a production). Third, spectacle helps to establish the level of probability. An abstract setting suggests one level, while a completely realistic setting may indi- cate another. Costumes, lighting, the actors’ gestures and movement all establish the play’s level of reality. Fourth, spectacle establishes mood and atmosphere by giving clues about the relative seriousness of the ac~ tion, and by prOviding the proper environment for tragedy, comedy, fan— tasy, or realism. Spectacle, like the other elements of a play, should be appropriate, expressive of the ptay’s values, distinctive, and practicable. (The prob- lems of transferring the written script to the stage are treated at length in Part Four of this hook). Charles Kean‘s production of Shakespeare’s Henry VHI in 1859. The scenery and cos- tumes typify the antiquarian ap- proach in vogue at that time. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Crown Copyright. FORM IN DRAMA n. men—m... MWV m nwmvtmmnuanm'awv mthW BASIC PROBLEMS The parts of drama may be combined in many ways, but recurring com- binations have led to the division of plays into dramatic forms. Because it has been used to designate a variety of concepts, form is difficult to define. Basically, however, form means the arrangement of a work of art. There are three principal determinants of form. First, form is affected by the material being shaped. In actuality, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate form and matter, since no one can comprehend a formless object or idea. Nevertheless, the matter (the action, characters, mood, and thought) of comedy differs sufficiently from that of tragedy to indi— cate that one has been shaped to arouse laughter or ridicule while the other is designed to create pity or fear. Second, the writer (or the maker of an object) is a determinant of form. Each man’s view of life and drama differs somewhat from that of others, and his own peculiar talents and intentions show in his work. Thus, while both Sophocles and Euripides wrote tragedies, the forms of their plays show certain differences. Third, the intended purpose of an object helps to determine its form. Just as a Chair’s shape differs from that of a desk because they are created to fulfill different needs, so the design of a tragedy differs from that of a comedy. Since no two plays ever have the same material, author, and purpose, each play is unique. On the other hand, plays share many qualities. Be— cause each play is both unique and similar to other works, two major approaches to form have developed: one views form as fixed and the other as organic. The doctrine of fixed forms rests upon the belief that the characteristics of dramatic types can be clearly isolated and defined. Many adherents of this view have also suggested that plays may be judged according to how well they fulfill the requirements of a particular type. The doctrine of organic farm, on the other hand, depends upon the belief that a play takes shape and grows as a plant does, and that each. play must be free to follow its own needs and laws without reference to any pro-existing ideas about form. Each of these two views is partially defensible. Most plays can be clas— sified according to type, and the major characteristics of each type can be listed. Furthermore, in criticizing a play, it is usually helpful to com- pare it with other works of the same type, and references to categories may save much time {for example, a term such as comedy of manners summarizes many qualities and communicates quickly, provided that a reader understands the meaning of the designation). On the other hand, each play is unique in some respects and Should be appreciated for its individuality. Often it is impossible to classify a play according to form, and the attempt to label it may assume more impor» tance than understanding it. For example, arguments as to whether Death of a Salesman can rightfully be called a tragedy have frequently consumed undue attention in discussions. One form is not necessarily better than another, for there are both excellent and poor examples of each and a play is not necessarily defective because it does not fit some 42 l : DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE abstract idea of form. Thus, while the classification of plays according to form may be helpful, it can be misused. An almost endless number of forms and subforms have been sug» gested by critics. Since it would be impossible to discuss all of the labels that have been used, the basic forms will be treated at some length and then deviations will be noted. Almost all divisions into forms can be re- lated to three basic qualities: the serious, the comic, and the seriocomic. In turn, these three divisions are epitomized in three forms: tragedy, comedy, and melodrama. TRAGEDY. A tragedy presents a genuinely serious action, and main— tains a mood throughout that underscores the play’s serious intention (although there may be moments of comic relief). It raises important questions about the meaning of man’s existence, his moral nature, and his social or psychological relationships. Most tragedies written prior to the eighteenth century show the inter— action between cosmic and human forces: a god, providence, or some moral power independent of man usually affects the outcome of the ac~ tion as much as do the human agents. Many tragedies imply that the pro- tagonist has violated a moral order which must be vindicated and re-es~ tablished. Because superhuman forces are involved, the outcome often seems inevitable and predetermined. In the eighteenth century, the Supernatural element began to decline as social and psychological forces were given increased emphasis and the conflicts reduced to strictly human ones. The action no longer in- volved man’s will in conflict with divine laws, but was restricted to con- flict among human desires, laws, and institutions. Since man-made problems may be understood and solved, happy resolutions were more probable. Because this later drama has often been concerned with every- day situations and seems less profound than earlier works, many critics have refused to call it tragedy and have substituted the term drama or drame. l The protagonist of tragedy is usually a person who arouses our sympa- thy and admiration. In some cases, however, admiration and sympathy may be limited. Macbeth, Richard III, and Medea, for example, are tragic protagonists who have noble qualities and whose indomitable wills we can admire, but whose actions we cannot approve. Normally, the pro— tagonist is ethically superior without being perfect: he is suificiently above the average to inspire admiration, but is sufficiently imperfect to be believable and at least partially responsible for his own downfall. Most often, the tragic protagonist encounters disaster through his pur- suit of a worthy aim, but, in following one ideal, he violates some other moral or social law which overpowers him. A recurring motif of serious drama is the imposition of a duty, the performance of which will inevita- bly lead to loss of life, love, reputation, or peace of mind. The protagonist thus is faced with choosing between two lines of action, each of which under other circumstances would be good, but which have been placed in seemingly irreconcilable opposition. \ 43 BASIC PROBLEMS In most tragedies written prior to the eighteenth century the protagon- ists are members of the ruling class, but in succeeding periods they have been drawn increasingly from the middle or lower classes. Many critics have questioned whether the average man can acquire the stature nec- essary to a tragic hero. There seems little basis, however, for the assump- tion that social class has any connection with nobility of character and action. Although most modern serious drama is less powerful than the best tragedies of the Greeks and Elizabethans, the difference is one of degree. (The reverence accorded to tragedy seldom extends to other forms; for example, few critics have even implied that a play should not be called a comedy merely because it is less powerful than certain other comedies or because it differs from the work of other periods.) I The emotional eifect of tragedy is usually described as the “arousal of pity and fear,” but these basic emotions include a wide range of other responses: understanding, compassion, admiration, apprehension, fore- bodin g, dread, awe, and terror. Pity and fear are rooted in two instinctive human reactions: the desire for self«preservation and concern for the welfare of others. Aristotle, in the Poetics, states that pity is aroused by the apprehension of some pain or harm about to befall someone like our- selves, and that were we in the position of the endangered person we would feel fear. Thus, pity and fear are complementary emotions. To feel pity, we must perceive some likeness between Ourselves and the tragic character, and we must be able to imagine ourselves in his situation. Aristotle further argues that if we fear too much for ourselves we cannot pity others, for panic drives out altruistic concerns. Fear, then, is an emo- tion which stems from the instinct for self-preservation, while pity tran- scends self-concern. Fear enables us to identify with the struggling pro— tagonist, while pity carries us outside ourselves and unites us with man’s struggle for integrity. The degree to which these responses are aroused by a particular play depends upon the nature of the protagonist and the action in which he is involved. COMEDY. The action of comedy is based on some deviation from nor- mality in incident, character, or thought. The deviation, however, must not pose a serious threat to the well-being of the normal, and a comic (or “in fun”) mood must be maintained. There is no subject, however trivial or important, which cannot be treated in comedy, provided that it is placed in a framework which exploits its incon gruities. Comedy also demands that the audience views the situation, charac« ters, or ideas objectively. Henri Bergson, in Laughter, has stated that comedy requires “an anesthesia of the heart,” for it is difficult to laugh at anything with which we are too closely allied either through sympathy or dislike. For example, we might find the sight of a man slipping on a ba- nana peel ludicrous, but if we discover that he has recently undergone a serious operation, our concern will destroy the laughter. Likewise, we may dislike some things so intensely that we cannot see their ridiculous qualities. On the other hand, an audience is not objective about all ele- 44 d.::.:¢..a:..'.;t/,.a;iu:uu..-.u u—h‘wm 9;: {J .5; z DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE ments of a comedy, for sympathy is aroused for the norm. Part of comic pleasure comes from witnessing; the eventual triumph of normative behavior or ideas over a threat from the abnormal. Because of its wide range, comedy is often divided into a number of subcategories. Al] the classifications, however, can be related to three variables: the relative emphasis placed on situation, character, or idea; the degree of objectivity with which the protagonist is treated; and the nature and implications of the action. Consequently, the three basic types are comedies of situation, comedies of character, and comedies of ideas, although each may be related to one or more subtypes. A comedy of situation shows the ludicrous results of placing charac- ters in unusual circumstances. For example, a number of persons are planning to attend a masked ball, but each, for his own reasons, tries to conceal his intentions. The devices for getting rid of each other, the at— tempts to elude discovery when all appear at the ball, the reactions upon being recognized, and the eventual reconciliation of the characters make up the comic action. In such a play, character and idea are of rni~ nor importance. Many critics treat farce as a separate form, although there is little to distinguish it from a comedy of situation. Farce is often used as a classi- fication for those plays, or portions of plays, which rely principally upon buifoonery, accident, and coincidence. Pies in the face, beatings, the naive or mistaken views of characters, the ludicrous situation arising from coincidence or circumstantial evidence exemplify the devices of farce. Often it seems a kind of inspired nonsense with situations so ob- viously contrived that a sensible word from any character would resolve the action at once. Farce is sometimes said to have no purpose beyond entertainment. While it is true that some farcical plays seem to be with out serious purpose, farce is an important element in many of the world’s finest comedies, particularly those of Aristophanes and Mohere. A comedy of character grows out of the eccentricities of the protago~ nist. For example, Moliere’s best plays show the results of hypochondria, miserliness, or hypocrisy. Although it may draw some of its characteristics from comedies of sit- uation or idea, romantic comedy is most closely related to the comedy of character, for it usually treats the struggles, often those centering around a love affair, of characters who are basically admirable. It is best illustrated by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It, in which the main characters are lovers pursuing normal and sympathetic goals. A comic response is aroused primarily because of the ludicrous devices the characters use in pursuing succeSs and the misunderstandings which result. The more boisterous action is relegated to subplots and minor characters. Thus, romantic comedy reverses the pattern found in a comedy of character, in which the major emphasis is placed on ridicu- lous Characters. A comedy of ideas develops a conflict over a concept or a way of thought. It is probably best exemplified in the work of George Bernard Shaw and Aristophanes. 45 BASIC PROBLEMS While the comedy of manners shares some traits with the comedy of situation and of character, it is most nearly related to the comedy of ideas, for it exploits the incongruities which arise from adherence to an accepted code of behavior at the expense of normal desires and respon~ .sesluAs a label, comedy of manners is sometimes reserved for plays about aristocratic and sophisticated characters who indulge in sparkling and witty repartee, attributes which have also given currency to an alterna- tive label, comedy ofwt't. Social comedy is still another variation on the comedy of ideas, for it explores social values, standards of behavior or accepted ways of thought. If it aims at remedying society or behavior, it may be called corrective comedy. Although most comedies can be placed in one of the categories listed above, almost all have elements which relate them to several types. A comedy of character, for instance, may use devices normally associated with farce, a comedy of manners, or a comedy of ideas. Labels, therefore, need to be used with some flexibility if they are to be helpful. All comedy seeks to arouse emotions which lie in a range between joy and scorn. At one extreme, Shakespeare’s romantic comedies elicit a response which can best be described as a feeling of well-being. They may arouse smiles or quiet laughter, but seldom boisterous laughter. On the other hand, Ben Jonson’s Volpone at times becomes almost too pain— ful for laughter. These extremes of the gentlest and the bitterest ridicule mark the limits of the comic response. Comedy seldom raises great moral and philosophical questions, as tragedy does. Rather, it concentrates upon man in his social relation— ships. It realfirms the need for a society which allows normal human impulses adequate scope while putting a check on deviations which threaten to destroy what is valuable in it. As normative behavior varies from one era to another, so, too, the scope of comedy changes. MELODRAMA. Although the term melodrama was not widely used until the nineteenth century, the type had existed since the fifth century ac. in some periods it has been called tragtcomedy, and today it is often la- beled drama because the term melodrama is in disrepute. A melodrama deals with a serious action. Its seriousness, however, is only temporary and is usually attributable to the malicious designs of an unsympathetic character. A happy resolution is achieved, therefore, by neutralizing or destroying the power of the villain. Since melodrama depicts a world in which good and evil are clearly separated, the conflict almost always involves a sharply defined moral issue. There is seldom any question as to where the audience’s sympathy should lie. The characters in melodrama are usually divided into those who are completely sympathetic and those who are completely antipathetic. For the sake of variety, there may also be one or more simpleminded or unin- hibited characters who provide comic relief. The unsympathetic charac» ters usually set in metion the complications, while the sympathetic char- 46 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE acters seek only to free themselves from danger. Thus, the characters do not grow and change, as in tragedy, for the moral nature of each is estab- lished at the beginning of the play and remains constant throughout. The action of melodrama develops a powerful threat against the well— being of a wholly admirable and innocent protagonist. It shows his en- tanglement in a web of circumstances and his eventual rescue from death or ruin, usually at the last possible moment. The appeals, therefore, are strong and basic, for the incidents, which seek to build the most intense suspense, create a desire to see wronged innocence vindicated and unchecked evil chastised. The emotions aroused by melodrama range from dread and concern for the protagonist to hatred for the antagonist. Many variations on melodrama were exploited in the nineteenth century. Among the most popular was equestrian drama, which combined daring horsemanship with melodramatic plots. The illustration above depicts a performance at Astley‘s Amphi- theatre in London in 1815. From Londina illustrate. avg . “t t" antiwm r BASIC PROBLEMS Melodrama has a double ending in which the good characters are res« cued and rewarded and the evil are detected and punished. Thus, it is related to tragedy through the seriousness of its action, and to comedy through its happy conclusion. It has been a popular form throughout his- tory, for it assures audiences that good triumphs over evil. MIXED FonMs. Although tragedy, comedy, and melodrama are the primary forms, many plays do not fit comfortably into any of these three categories. For example, some works, although basically serious, do not achieve “the sense of high purpose” which we associate with tragedy; thus, we may seek other labels to set them off from plays which are more clearly tragic. Other dramas shift tone frequently from comic to serious and may end either happily or unhappily; consequently, it may be diffi- cult to decide whether they are more nearly comedies or tragedies. Still other works have all of the marks of melodrama until the end, when the ' failure to reward the good and punish the evil characters raises ques- tions about the play‘s type. This mixing of characteristics is probably most typical of modern times, when playwrights have often deliberately departed from the tradi- tiOnal forms. For example, Ionesco has labeled some of his works “anti- plays” or “tragic farces,” while Harold Pinter called his early plays “comedies of menace,” and Michel de Ghelderode subtitled some of his works “burlesque mysteries" and “tragedies of the music hall." Al- though these designations indicate significant departures from the con- ventional forms, most also suggest a connection with them. For exams pie, Ionesco’s use of “tragic farce" to describe The Chairs indicates his awareness of manipulating comic techniques to make an audience per- ceive the sen‘ousness behind the semifarcical events. Similarly, his use of “anti-play” to describe The Bald Soprano shows his deliberate depar— ture from traditional structural patterns, although, as in The Chairs, the dramatic devices are essentially those of comedy. In reading plays which deviate from the traditional forms, it is proba- bly of little help to insist upon clear-cut type designations. On the other hand, it may be illuminating to note in each the tendencies toward trage— dy, comedy, or melodrama, since this may clarify the ways and the ex~ tent to which comic, serious, and serio-comic elements have been min- gled. Nevertheless, the fact that so much modern drama does not fit into the traditional categories demonstrates the danger of overemphasizing formal classifications. Identifying a play’s type is important only be- cause it may help to define its purpose and because it provides a basis for comparing it with other works having similar characteristics. Classifica— tion is only one step toward understanding a play and is no substitute for careful analysis. When we categorize plays, we should recognize that even plays of the same type vary considerably. One cause of this variety is style. Like form, style is difficult to define because it has been used to designate many concepts. Basically, however, style is a quality which results from a characteristic mode~of expression or method of presentation. 48 Eugene ionesco’s Hunger and Thirst as presented at the Come- die Francaise. Paris. in 1966. Courtesy Agence de Presse Bernanct‘ Style may stem from traits attributable to a period, a nation, a move- ment, or an author. In most periods, the drama of all nations has certain common qualities which may be attributed to the prevailing religious, philosophical, and psychological concepts, and to current dramatic and theatrical conventions. Thus, we may speak of an eighteenth—century style, Within a period, however, there are national differences which permit us to distinguish a French from an English style. Furthermore, the dramas written by neoclassicists demonstrate qualities \which permit 49 BASIC PROBLEMS us to identify the stylistic features of the movement and to distinguish them from those written by Romantics, Expressionists, or Absurdists. Finally, the plays of individual authors have distinctive qualities which set them off from the work of all other writers. Thus, we may speak of Shakespeare’s or Sophocles’ style. ' Most discussions of style in theatre and drama consider only period and movement. Style is usually divided into such categories as classi- cism, neoclassicism, romanticism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, symbolism, absurdism, and epic theatre. Since each category is asso- ciated with specific periods, it is usually discussed in connection with style as it relates to an age. (The chronological survey of theatre and drama in Parts 11 and III will treat style more fully as it applies to periods and movements.) Style in theatre results from three basic influences. First, it is grounded upon assumptions about truth and reality. Dramatists of dif- ferent movements or periods have all sought to convey truthful pictures of the human predicament, but they have differed widely in their an» swers to these fundamental questions: What constitutes ultimate truth? By what process can we perceive reality? At times it has been argued that surface appearances merely disguise reality, which is to be found in the inner workings of the mind or in some spiritual realm. At others, it has been maintained that truth can be discovered only by objective study of those things which can be felt, tasted, seen, heard, or smelled. 'I‘o ad- vocates of the latter view, observable details hold the key to truth, while to the former the same details only hide the truth. Although all attempt to depict the truth as they see it, each playwright’s conception of truth is determined in large part by his basic temperament and talents, and‘the religious, philosophical, social, and psychological influences which have shaped them. Because in each period and movement there are many shared beliefs, we may generalize about the conceptions of truth which 'provide the raw material of drama and influence style in that period or movement. Second, style results from the manner in which the playwright manip- ulates his means of expression. All dramatists have at their disposal the same basic means —language and spectacle —out of which to create plot, character, and thought. Nevertheless, the work of each playwright is dis- tinctive, for each perceives the human condition from a somewhat dif— ferent point of view and each must find adequate methods of communi- cating his vision to others. His perceptions are reflected in the situations, characters, and ideas he invents, in his manipulation of language, and in his suggestions for the use of spectacle. Thus, the playwright who be- lieves that truth is embodied in the details of daily existence will proba» bly invent incidents and charaCters modeled closely upon contemporary life, and his dialogue, settings, and costumes will mirror faithfully the speech, places, clothing, and behavior of daily existence. On the other hand, the playwright who believes that truth must be sought in some psychological or spiritual realm may depart from the standards of ob- servable reality and may deliberately distort or eliminate details in order to force the audience to look behind the surface of things. 50 DRAMATIC STRUCTURE, FORM, AND STYLE Third, style results from the manner in which the play is presented in the theatre. The directing, acting, scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound used to translate the play from the written script to the stage may each be manipulated to affect stylistic qualities. (Each of these elements is treated at length in Part IV of this book.) Because so many persons are involved in producing a play, it is not unusual to find conflicting or incon~ sistent stylistic elements in a single production. Normally, however, unity of style is a primary artistic goal. Each theatre artist, working with his own means, seeks to create qualities analogous to those found in the written text, and the director then coordinates all of the parts into a uni- fied whole. On the other hand, plays are sometimes presented in a man- ner at variance with the script. Such departures, however, are usually made deliberately and for the sake of some effect considered more signif» icant than that which could be achieved by the typical approach. Ultimately, then, style in drama and theatre results from the way in I which means are adapted to ends. lt contributes significantly to that sense of unity and wholeness which is the mark of effective drama. In many contemporary discussions of the theatre, the term stylization is used to indicate any deviation from realism. This terminology is some times helpful but it is imprecise, since realism is itself a style and since departures from realism may be in any number of directions. Every play has a style, although, as with form, the specific label to be attached to it may be difficult to determine. Since structure, form, and style may be combined in infinite varia- tions, discussions of them remain abstract until applied to specific exam- ples. The chapters that follow show how these principles have been put -" into practice. Each chapter in Parts II and III summarizes briefly the development of theatre and drama in a particular era, and outlines the background needed for understanding the plays of that period. In addi- tion, one or more representative plays are analyzed and treated both as products of a specific time and place and as art works which transcend their age. Pertinent points about structure, form, and style are consid- ered when relevant. A chronological order has been followed because each period is in part an outgrowth of what has gone before. After following the theatre through history, Part IV examines in detail the working procedures of the contemporary American theatre. Thus, the historical material will provide a perspective from which to view our present situation. ...
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