There’s something about drama – through plot and characters, motivations and struggles, it speaks to us in what seems to be a universal language.
This “dramatic language” is understood not only across different cultures or age groups, but across centuries, too – why else would people still be analyzing ancient Greek plays or performing the works of William Shakespeare?
Even if Shakespearean English can be a bit difficult to understand, once understood, there’s something in the stories that resonates with and makes sense to us. It’s natural to wonder, then, how that universal language of drama works – what components make it up.
Below, we’ll take a quick look at each and how they fit into a dramatic work.
When we think of a movie or play, the first thing we probably think of is the plot. The plot is the progression of events from A to Z, from beginning to end. Our knowledge of the situation grows as the story goes on, even if it’s being told in a non-chronological order (see Citizen Kane or Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”).
Aristotle explains that plot shows a “reversal of fortune” – in other words, the situation in a play or film may start out good and become bad (see MacBeth) or start out bad and become good (see most romantic comedies, or any story with a happy ending).
In Aristotle’s view, plot serves as the foundation of the drama. It reflects life in that it consists of a series of actions that lead to results. It’s mostly the plot that makes a story interesting or un-interesting – humans are creatures of action, and we understand action.
For Aristotle, the characters in a drama are secondary to the plot. Characters are mainly representative of certain morals or qualities (i.e., their character) and how those morals or qualities affect the outcome of the plot.
For example, in Greek plays, it was often the hubris (excessive pride) of a character that would lead to tragedy – Oedipus Rex comes to mind. Similarly, in Star Wars, Anakin believed he could save his wife from death but this overconfidence actually led to her death.
In this way, we get a certain commentary on how certain traits are positive or negative, how they can lead to good or bad. A character’s personality or choices contribute directly to that “reversal of fortune” (in Aristotle’s view, the main “point” of the plot) mentioned earlier.
The thought of a drama is its theme. One theme of Hamlet is uncertainty, for example, while Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explores what it means to be human.
There may literally be a specific thought (recognition or realization) that prompted an author to create the work, something that’s then woven throughout the story.
Traditionally, characters in a play or movie may comment on the theme or ask questions around it, prompting the audience to do the same. Frodo asks Sam why they are sacrificing so much to bring the Ring to Mordor, and Sam responds that “There’s good in the world…worth fighting for,” drawing our attention to one of the Lord of the Rings’ themes: sacrifice.
In films, the director has a lot of influence on themes by being in control of the camera – Stanley Kubrick’s films use many visuals and placement of actors in a scene to communicate certain themes.
By diction, Aristotle meant the language through which the story is presented. Information can be presented verbally (whether that’s through speech or song) or non-verbally (facial expressions, a written note in a movie).
Aristotle considers it important that a work strikes the proper balance between poetic and prosaic (regular) diction. If a play is all poetic and so no one understands it, what’s the point? Regular speech provides clarity while poetic speech provides beauty and stimulates thought – they have to work together, however.
Melody refers to music and how it’s implemented in the story. Of course, back in ancient Greek plays, there was a chorus that would comment on the events and – at certain moments – dance and sing.
Melody also refers to the natural flow of events. Like a piece of music, plot has a certain flow that has to feel natural in order to “function” properly.
Spectacle refers to what a film or play looks like. In a play, fancy costumes and meticulously-designed set pieces help the audience become more invested in the narrative.
The same thing happens with films. Think of Star Wars – the fact that it’s set in space adds something to it, and its spectacle (combined with a classic “hero’s journey” narrative) made it incredibly popular when it first aired in 1977 and even today.
Of course, a work can’t be just spectacle. There needs to be a fulfilling plot, too. As George Lucas once said, “a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”
As you can see, Aristotle’s 6 elements of drama are still highly relevant and the fundamentals are aspects we incorporate into our drama classes here at Marrzipan. Our drama school focuses on building life skills through this venerable art. These skills can be further improved by using them in fun drama games that you can play at home!
For Aristotle, the main point of drama was its relevance to life, how it can build character and teach us something. Of course, it has the added perks of building self-confidence as a person works to put on a show and, eventually, makes it happen! We’ve seen this with the children at our school who come in shy but leave with newfound pride in their abilities, which spills into other areas of life, too. We have also seen how teaching drama has helped our teachers grow. If you are interested in giving your children the wonderful opportunity of drama and what it can do for them, get in touch with us to book in a class, holiday workshop or to answer any questions.