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A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of dialogue or singing between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. Plays are performed at a variety of levels, from Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, to Community theatre, as well as university or school productions. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference as to whether their plays were performed or read. The term "play" can refer to both the written texts of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance.
Literature, most generically, is any body of written works. More restrictively, literature refers to writing considered to be an art form or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.
A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays.
Dialogue is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people, and a literary and theatrical form that depicts such an exchange. As a narrative, philosophical or didactic device, it is chiefly associated in the West with the Socratic dialogue as developed by Plato, but antecedents are also found in other traditions including Indian literature.
Comedies are plays which are designed to be humorous. Comedies are often filled with witty remarks, unusual characters, and strange circumstances. Certain comedies are geared toward different age groups. Comedies were one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece, along with tragedies. An example of a comedy would be William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream , or for a more modern example the skits from Saturday Night Live .
In a modern sense, comedy refers to any discourse or work generally intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film, stand-up comedy, or any other medium of entertainment. The origins of the term are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance which pits two groups or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse in ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter.
Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
A generally nonsensical genre of play, farces are often acted and often involve humor. An example of a farce includes William Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors , or Mark Twain's play Is He Dead? .
In theatre, a farce is a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances. It is also often set in one particular location, where all events occur. Farces have been written for the stage and film.
The Comedy of Errors is one of William Shakespeare's early plays. It is his shortest and one of his most farcical comedies, with a major part of the humour coming from slapstick and mistaken identity, in addition to puns and word play. The Comedy of Errors is, along with The Tempest, one of only two Shakespearean plays to observe the Aristotelian principle of unity of time—that is, that the events of a play should occur over 24 hours. It has been adapted for opera, stage, screen and musical theatre numerous times worldwide. In the centuries following its premiere, the play's title has entered the popular English lexicon as an idiom for "an event or series of events made ridiculous by the number of errors that were made throughout".
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. His novels include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called "The Great American Novel".
A satire play takes a comic look at current events people while at the same time attempting to make a political or social statement, for example pointing out corruption. An example of a satire would be Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector and Aristophanes' Lysistrata . Satire plays are generally one of the most popular forms of comedy, and often considered to be their own genre entirely.
In general, corruption is a form of dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire illicit benefit. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries. Political corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is most commonplace in kleptocracies, oligarchies, narco-states and mafia states.
Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was a Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin.
The Government Inspector, also known as The Inspector General, is a satirical play by the Russian and Ukrainian dramatist and novelist Nikolai Gogol. Originally published in 1836, the play was revised for an 1842 edition. Based upon an anecdote allegedly recounted to Gogol by Pushkin, the play is a comedy of errors, satirizing human greed, stupidity, and the extensive political corruption of Imperial Russia.
Restoration comedy is a genre that explored relationships between men and women, and was considered risqué in its time.Characters featured in restoration comedy included stereotypes of all kinds, and these same stereotypes were found in most plays of this genre, so much so that most plays were very similar in message and content. However, since restoration comedy dealt with unspoken aspects of relationships, it created a type of connection between audience and performance that was more informal and private.
It is commonly agreed that restoration comedy has origins in Molière’s theories of comedy, but differs in intention and tone.The inconsistency between restoration comedy’s morals and the morals of the era is something that often arises during the study of this genre. This may give clues as to why, despite its original success, restoration comedy did not last long in the seventeenth century. However, in recent years, it has become a topic of interest for theatre theorists, who have been looking into theatre styles that have their own conventions of performance.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and universal literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language itself is often referred to as the "language of Molière".
These plays contain darker themes such as death and disaster. Often the protagonist of the play has a tragic flaw, a trait which leads to their downfall. Tragic plays convey all emotions and have very dramatic conflicts. Tragedy was one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece. Some examples of tragedies include William Shakespeare's Hamlet , and also John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi .
These plays focus on actual historical events. They can be tragedies or comedies, but are often neither of these. History as a separate genre was popularized by William Shakespeare. Examples of historical plays include Friedrich Schiller's Demetrius and William Shakespeare's King John .
Ballad opera, a popular theatre style at the time, was the first style of musical to be performed in the American colonies. The first musical of American origin was premiered in Philadelphia in 1767, and was called “The Disappointment”, however, this play never made it to production. Around the 1920s, theatre styles were beginning to be defined more clearly. For musical theatre, this meant that composers gained the right to create every song in the play, and these new plays were held to more specific conventions, such as thirty-two-bar songs. When the Great Depression came, many people left Broadway for Hollywood, and the atmosphere of Broadway musicals changed significantly. A similar situation occurred during the 1960s, when composers were scarce and musicals lacked vibrancy and entertainment value.
By the 1990s, there were very few original Broadway musicals, as many were recreations of movies or novels.
Musical productions have songs to help explain the story and move the ideas of the play along. They are usually accompanied by dancing. Musicals can be very elaborate in settings and actor performances. Examples of musical productions include Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.
This theatre style originated in the 1940s when Antonin Artaud hypothesized about the effects of expressing through the body as opposed to “by socially conditioned thought.” In 1946, he wrote a preface to his works in which he explained how he came to write what and the way he did.
Above all, Artaud did not trust language as a means of communication. Plays within the genre of theatre of cruelty are abstract in convention and content. Artaud wanted his plays to have an effect and accomplish something. His intention was to symbolise the subconscious through bodily performances, as he did not believe language could be effective. Artaud considered his plays to be an enactment rather than a re-enactment, which meant he believed his actors were in reality, rather than re-enacting reality.
His plays dealt with heavy issues such as patients in psych wards, and Nazi Germany. Through these performances, he wanted to “make the causes of suffering audible”, however, audiences originally reacted poorly, as they were so taken aback by what they saw. Much of his work was banned in France at the time.
Artaud did not believe that conventional theatre of the time would allow the audience to have a cathartic experience and help heal the wounds of World War II. For this reason, he moved towards radio-based theatre, in which the audience could use their imagination to connect the words they were hearing to their body. This made his work much more personal and individualized, which he believed would increase the effectiveness of portraying suffering.
Theatre of the Absurd: This genre generally includes metaphysical representations of existential qualms and questions. Theatre of the absurd denies rationality, and embraces the inevitability of falling into the abyss of the human condition. Instead of discussing these issues, however, theatre of the absurd is a demonstration of them. This leaves the audience to discuss and question the content of the play for themselves.
One of the main aspects of theatre of the absurd is the physical contradiction to language. Oftentimes, the dialogue between characters will directly oppose their actions.
Famous playwrights within this genre include Beckett, Sartre, Ionesco, Adamov, and Genet.
The term "play" can be either a general term, or more specifically refer to a non-musical play. Sometimes the term "straight play" is used in contrast to "musical", which refers to a play based on music, dance, and songs sung by the play's characters. For a short play, the term "playlet" is sometimes used.
The term "script" refers to the written text of the play. After the front matter, such as title and author, it conventionally begins with a dramatis personae : a list presenting each of the main characters of the play by name, followed by a brief characterization (e.g., "Stephano, a drunken Butler".)
For a musical play (opera, light opera, or musical) the term "libretto" is commonly used, instead of "script".
A play is usually divided into acts, similar to what chapters are in a novel. A short play may consist of only a single act, and then is called a "one-acter". Acts are subdivided into scenes. Acts are numbered, and so are scenes; the scene numbering starts again at 1 for each next act, so Act 4, Scene 3 may be followed by Act 5, Scene 1. Each scene is set at one specified location, indicated in the script at the start of the scene (e.g., "Scene 1. Before the cell of Prospero."). Changing locations usually requires changing the scenery, which takes time – even if merely a painted backdrop – and can only be done between scenes.
Next to the text to be spoken by the actors, a script contains "stage directions" (not to be confused with the use of that term in blocking, the staging of actors with specified movements across the stage). The most common type is for the entering and exiting of actors, e.g. "[ExeuntCaliban, Stephano, and Trinculo.]" ( Exeunt is the Latin plural of exit, meaning "[they] leave".) Other stage directions may indicate the manner of delivery of the text, like "[Aside]" or "[Sings]", or indicate sounds to be produced off-stage, like "[Thunder]".
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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theatre:
Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can variously describe by either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending.
Drama was introduced to England from Europe by the Romans, and auditoriums were constructed across the country for this purpose.
Political theatre is theatre that comments on political and social issues.
An intermission, also known as an interval in British and Indian English, is a recess between parts of a performance or production, such as for a theatrical play, opera, concert, or film screening. It should not be confused with an entr'acte, which, in the 18th century, was a sung, danced, spoken, or musical performance that occurs between any two acts, that is unrelated to the main performance, and that thus in the world of opera and musical theatre became an orchestral performance that spans an intermission and leads, without a break, into the next act.
The ancient Greek drama was a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece from 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political, and military power during this period, was its center, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies.
A closet drama is a play that is not intended to be performed onstage, but read by a solitary reader or sometimes out loud in a small group. The contrast between closet drama and classic ‘stage’ dramas dates back to the late eighteenth century. Although non-performative in nature, closet drama is, according to Henry A. Beers, "a quite legitimate product of literary art."
The Theatre of Cruelty is a form of theatre originally developed by avant-garde French playwright, essayist, and theorist Henry Becque.
The plays written by English poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. Traditionally, the plays are divided into the genres of tragedy, history, and comedy; they have been translated into every major living language, in addition to being continually performed all around the world.
A Most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia, and Amadine the Kinges daughter of Aragon, commonly called Mucedorus, is an Elizabethan romantic comedy, first performed c. 1590 and regularly revived up until the Restoration, that was probably one of the most performed plays of its age. Sixteen quarto editions of the play were published between 1598 and 1668, making it the most widely printed extant play from the time. It was performed for both Queen Elizabeth and King James I. A revised and expanded version with additional scenes was first published in 1610.
Metatheatre, and the closely related term metadrama, describes the aspects of a play that draw attention to its nature as drama or theatre, or to the circumstances of its performance.
Thousands of performances of William Shakespeare's plays have been staged since the end of the 16th century. While Shakespeare was alive, many of his greatest plays were performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and King's Men acting companies at the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres. Among the actors of these original performances were Richard Burbage, Richard Cowley, and William Kempe.
Theatre of United Kingdom plays an important part in British culture, and the countries that constitute the UK have had a vibrant tradition of theatre since the Renaissance with roots going back to the Roman occupation.
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc, performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.
Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek θέατρον, itself from θεάομαι.
An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.
The history of theatre charts the development of theatre over the past 2,500 years. While performative elements are present in every society, it is customary to acknowledge a distinction between theatre as an art form and entertainment and theatrical or performative elements in other activities. The history of theatre is primarily concerned with the origin and subsequent development of the theatre as an autonomous activity. Since classical Athens in the 6th century BC, vibrant traditions of theatre have flourished in cultures across the world.
History is one of the three main genres in Western theatre alongside tragedy and comedy, although it originated, in its modern form, thousands of years later than the other primary genres. For this reason, it is often treated as a subset of tragedy. A play in this genre is known as a history play and is based on a historical narrative, often set in the medieval or early modern past. History emerged as a distinct genre from tragedy in Renaissance England. The best known examples of the genre are the history plays written by William Shakespeare, whose plays still serve to define the genre. History plays also appear elsewhere in British and Western literature, such as Thomas Heywood's Edward IV, Schiller's Mary Stuart or the Dutch genre Gijsbrecht van Aemstel.
Sentimental comedy is an 18th-century dramatic genre which sprang up as a reaction to the immoral tone of English Restoration plays. In Sentimental comedies middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcome a series of moral trials. These plays aimed to produce tears rather than laughter and reflected contemporary philosophical conceptions of humans as inherently good but capable of being led astray by bad example. By appealing to his noble sentiments, a man could be reformed and set back on the path of virtue. While the plays contained characters whose natures seemed overly virtuous and whose problems were too easily resolved, they were accepted by audiences as truthful representations of the human predicament.