Aristotle, in The Poetics, said that plot is the soul of tragedy: it holds story together contains the incidents in the play, produces tragic effects, has the most tragic element (reversals, discoveries). In your catalogue this course is probably under "Inroduction to Theatre" or "Theatre Appreciation" (several years ago we made it a "core" course required for all students).




If you know nothing about theatre, this is the place to start!

I teach Acting, Directing, Drama Theory -- and Film.

Here I can't talk in details about the principles of dramatic structure, the Script Analysis directory is for that purpose. Also, the difference between plot in plays and in film -- film and filmdirecting online (new flash-banners).

(c)2004 *


Of all the arts, the theater is among the oldest and the most instinctive. In many ways, we are all actors embellishing our actions with symbolic words, gestures, and costumes. As William Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players ...." Storytelling and the instinct to act out our stories are cornerstones of the theatrical arts; others are rituals, ceremonies, pageantry, and carnivals.


Aristotle also draws a distinction between simple and complex plots. He states that more profound tragedy ensues when the playwright skillfully manipulates the actions in a complex plot. Complex action achieves its greatest impact through surprises and astounding revelations. The two devices that give tremendous power to the plot are what the Greeks called "peripeteia" and "anagnorisis". Peripeteia is often wrongly translated as a "reversal of fortune". More correctly, it refers to a reversal of the situation, where the action turns towards a direction just the opposite of its original course. Anagnorisis refers to recognition of a person/situation. It is a change from a state of ignorance to one of knowledge, which produces hate among the characters and the final downfall of the central character. Such changes shown through "Peripeteia/Anagnorisis" must be within the limits of probability and produce the effect of dramatic irony.

Finally, the element of noble Thought gives to tragedy its proper intellectual point of reference. Diction is the playwright's choice of appropriate phraseology for effective communication or maximum effect. Melody and Spectacle are useful embellishments in a tragic play and can be quite entertaining for the audience, though sometimes these, especially the element of spectacle, constitute a distraction from the essence of drama. Aristotle's theories must not be interpreted as rigid rules since they were merely observations about contemporary Greek drama. Taken too literally, strict adherence to the Unities has often resulted in a stilted, artificial, and rigid drama which Aristotle would hardly have advocated.


see Tragedy Page *

[ wikipedia ] The concept of plot and the associated concept of construction of plot, emplotment, has of course developed considerably since Aristotle made these insightful observations. The episodic narrative tradition which Aristotle indicates has systematically been subverted over the intervening years, to the extent that the concept of beginning, middle, end are merely regarded as a conventional device when no other is at hand.

This is particularly true in the cinematic tradition where the folding and reversal of episodic narrative is now commonplace. Moreover, many writers and film directors, particularly those with a proclivity for the Modernist or other subsequent and derivative movements which emerged during or after the early 20th century, seem more concerned that plot is an encumbrance to their artistic medium than an assistance.

The main plot in a story is called the A-Plot. The B-Plot is another independent plot within the same story.

Elements of plot in a narrative (see the chart, left):
Initial situation - the beginning. It is the first incident that makes the story move.
Conflict or Problem - goal which the main character of the story has to achieve.
Complication - obstacles which the main character has to overcome.
Climax - highest point of interest of the story.
Suspense - point of tension. It arouses the interest of the readers.
Denouement or Resolution - what happens to the character after overcoming all obstacles and reaching his goal.
Conclusion - the end of the story. Plot is different from the story -- the story is WHAT happens; the plot is HOW it happens. = "A story is a full account of an event or series of events, usually in chronological order; a plot is a selection and arrangement of scenes.. (155)"

The Importance of Being Earnest

* mini-form show review *
Oedipus X


Plot -- the arrangement of the parts-- "the arrangement of events or the selection and order of scenes in a play. (155)"
There are four parts in the book: film, theatre, art, music (the smallest).

Film is the focal point and theatre is the biggest part (it has both music and art).

You understand the difference between Drama and Theatre, right?

This directory is about Drama; this page is about Theatre. GREEK DRAMA MORE CONCERNED WITH PLOT THAN WITH CHARACTER: Aristotle conceived the action, or plot, of a play as of far greater importance than the characters. This conception he gained from the plays of the fifth century, which, in general, centered around a personified passion rather than around a character. The action was "the vital principle and very soul of drama." Again he says, "Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of actions." Second in importance was characterization; and third were the sentiments aroused by the action. He insisted very clearly that in tragedy the plot does not rise out of the characters, but on the contrary the plot tests the characters through the working-out of destiny -- "blind fate." The main duty of the dramatist was to organize first the action, then display the moral character of his people under the blows of fate. "The incidents of the action, and the structural ordering of these incidents, constitute the end and purpose of tragedy." Finally, and perhaps most important of all, was Aristotle's belief that although tragedy should purge the emotions through pity and terror, yet all drama was meant to entertain: tragedy through the sympathies, comedy through mirth.

You better bookmark the page, friends, I will be updating it (I do it right now).

Plot = Action (Most important, according to Aristotle).

(see Composition in SCRIPT directory)

I place so many linkGears, because of the eclectic nature of this course. You decide what is your main area of interest and go there (Theatre, Film, Art, Drama). "Classes with Anatoly" are for the levels of your knowledge: 100 -- Fundamentals, 400 -- Advanced.

I do not have a special Forum for 200X, but you can use the existing eGroups, of course.

I place the unified ending on all my pages:


Plot or Action is one of three structural priciples, according to Aristotle.

What is more important (according to the Poetics) -- plot or hero?

Rising Action
1. Exposition (162)
Everything the audience needs to know to understand the play. [Can occur throughout the play...]
What is the "antecedent action" (everything that has happened before the play begins)? and how is it revealed?
What is the "point of attack" [370] -- (where does the play begin in relation to the story?) Is it an early or late point of attack? (W/G, 161, discuss the late point of attack in climactic dramatic structure...)

2. Conflict (155) -- the clash of opposing forces (157): man vs. self, vs. man, vs. environment, vs. natural forces, vs. group, vs. God, or group vs. group.
"Inciting incident" (or "initiating incident"): the event that occurs to begin the conflict.
"Complications and obstacles" -- (158)
Discoveries, reversals (peripety) (370)
Sub-plots / parallel plots (163) -- major and minor conflicts

3. Climax -- (160) the point at which one or the other of the forces is favored; the point at which events must turn in one direction or another. Not necessarily the "high point"
Falling Action

4. Resolution / Denouement (367) -- whatever comes after the climax.
Not always resolved satisfactorily: the "deus ex machina" (163): -- "god of the machine" -- a contrived or unrealistic or unbelievable ending / resolution.

Climatic: Late point of attack (background info comes primarily from exposition Short span of time (Oedipus -- only the time of the play -- Ghosts, Phaedra)

Episodic: Early point of attack (in Shakespeare's plays, we need to know very little that has happened before the play begins--most of what is important happens during the play itself)


[ pp. -- Wilson, The Theater Experience, 7th edition ]


Analysis of Hamlet or/and 12th Night.


Oh, it will take some time to make it work, the most important "questions" and "my notes"... The difference between plot and story (go to What is the plot in Hamlet and what is the story?

I teach THR413 Playscript Analysis in the Fall 2003 and many drama-oriented pages will be updated: subscribe to My Mailing List and stay updated.

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Next: Character
Three Types of Plots Climactic, Episodic, Non-sequitur
DL Other Dramatic Structures (166):

Avante-Garde and Experimental
Segments and Tableaux Shrew slide show *

Shakespeare Page * GODOT.06: Doing Beckett -- main stage Theatre UAF Spring 2006 *