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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

Last revision date: January 4, 2008


The Playwright


Objectives for this lesson:

Students will examine:

the unique position of the playwright in the theatre

some characteristics of the playwright's craft



Note the spelling -- "wright" refers to a "maker" (similar to a "shipwright" or an iron worker who has "wrought" iron"). This suggests that it is something other than just literary.

The play is the framework upon which the performance rests.

A script not always necessary (commedia d'ell art and improvisation both use a scenario -- a set of characters, situations, or relationships, ). but even without a written script -- uses elements of human behavior, but at the minimum is an "idea" of place, situation, character, image, or conflict, etc. In a scenario, many elements of a script are present. (W/G discuss the concept of the "authorless" theatre, and maintain that the playwright is still central to the theatre...)

Each age has its "standard" of what is acceptable; it depends on:

different kinds of plays "require" different standards (decorum -- ways in which characters are expected to behave, bases on social circumstances / expected roles -- this is a term that developed during the Renaissance and is not mentioned on the text) during different periods.

playwright's personality will also has influence on what will be "standard."

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Tasks of the Playwright:

1) select subject matter
2) determine focus and emphasis
3) establish purpose
4) establish point of view
5) develop dramatic structure
6) create dramatic characters

Tools of the Playwright:

        • sources: an idea, a character, a story (situation, etc.)
        • Playwrights will constantly re-write, revise.
        • Some do re-writes during rehearsals, others refuse to.


The playwright's style will be determined by, at least, playwright's assumptions about truth and reality -- partly from societal perceptions.

Manner of playwright's manipulation of expression: character, idea, language, actions, spectacle.

Presentation in theatre -- unity of style, matching performance and play, unifying of elements.
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Historical Background:

Most Western dramatic theory is based on, or a variation of, or a rejection of, Aristotle's Poetics (335 BC).

Horace in Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) interpreted Aristotle -- Aristotle for the Romans.

During the Renaissance (c. 1300 century AD), Aristotle was "rediscovered," primarily through a rediscovery of Horace

Aristotle examined the plays of one century earlier (the 5th century BC, the Golden Age of Greece) and came to conclusions.

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Aristotle suggested that a tragedy had at least six distinct parts...

Aristotle's Six Parts of a Tragedy

1. Plot
2. Character
3. Thought (theme, idea)
4. Diction (Language)
5. Music (sound)
6. Spectacle

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Important terms:


commedia d'ell arte



To take a short self-graded quiz, click here...

Next Section: PLOT



This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted © Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2008

Last revision date: January 4, 2008