Dramatic Action/ Structure

Three Elements of Theatre:  1) That which is performed 2) The performance 3) The audience

Special Qualities of Theatre:



           Objective—in that it presents both speech and interpretive action.

           Complexity of Means

           Psychologically Immediate

The Script:

           Drama is written to be interpreted and performed

           Drama requires more of the reader than most literature: reader must understand both what is stated and what is implied.

Dramatic Action Has:

           Purpose: Some desire or goal.

           Passion: Strength of desire and willingness to struggle.

           Perception: Some understanding resulting from struggle. (Francis Fergusson, American critic and theorist, 1904-1986)

Dramatic Action Is:

           Is complete and self-contained

           Is organized

           Has variety

           Is engaging

           Is internally consistent

A play can be unified by:

          Cause and effect relationships (plot)

          Character Elements:

          Physical or biological: gender, age, size, ethnicity, general appearance

          Societal: economic status, profession or trade, religion, family

          Psychological: habitual responses, desires, motivations, likes or dislikes, “objectives”

          Moral: value system—what are they willing to do to get what they want?

          Thought: theme, point of view, argument, “meaning”, social action, allegory, and      symbol.



That central character or group of characters, on stage much of the time, whose quest shapes the action.


That character or group of characters, on stage much of the time, whose quest is in conflict with the protagonist's.

          Quest: A long or arduous search for something: an act or instance of seeking.

Super Objective:

The purpose or quest. The overall desire or goal of a character, particularly the protagonist.


Establishes place, occasion, characters, mood, theme, and “rules”. Must give information and be engaging to draw the audience into the action.

Point of Attack:

The moment when the exposition ends and the story begins. Can come early or later in the action.

Inciting Incident:

A question, conflict, or theme which starts the action.

Dramatic Question:

Usually the result of the incident. A question around which the play is organized, eg. Will the murderer of Laius be found and the city of Thebes be saved? (Oedipus Rex)

Rising Action:

Comprised of a series of complications and discoveries

Discoveries may include: objects, persons, facts, values, or self.

Complications usually have a development, climax, and resolution.

Reversal (Peripeteia):

A change in fortune from bad to good or good to bad.

Recognition (Anagnoresis):

When a character becomes aware of a fact or of a moral or spiritual condition in himself or another.


Highest point of suspense. Usually the result of a crisis: the discovery or event that determines the outcome of the action.

Falling action (Denouement):

Ties up loose ends, answers questions, solidifies the theme.


The end of the play. May be a final resolution, or may pose a new questions as yet to be answered (cliff-hanger).


Plots other than the main plot. May be quite prominent. Used as support for or contrast to the main plot.