Glossary of Drama Terms

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The repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words. Example: "Fetched fresh, as I suppose, off some sweet wood." Hopkins, "In the Valley of the Elwy."
A character or force against which another character struggles. Cassius is Caesar's antagonist.
Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience, which are not "heard" by the other characters on stage during a play. For example, Cassius's speech about Brutus' gullible nature in Act 2.1
The repetition of similar vowel sounds in a sentence or a line of poetry or prose, as in "I rose and told him of my woe."
The action at the end of a tragedy that initiates the denouement or falling action of a play.
The purging of the feelings of pity and fear that, according to Aristotle, occur in the audience of tragic drama. The audience experiences catharsis at the end of the play, following the catastrophe.
An imaginary person that inhabits a literary work. Literary characters may be major or minor, static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change). In Julius Caesar, Cassius is a major character, but one who is static, like the minor character Calphurnia. Brutus is a major character who is dynamic, exhibiting an ability to change.
The means by which writers present and reveal character. Although techniques of characterization are complex, writers typically reveal characters through their speech, dress, manner, and actions.
The turning point of the action in the plot of a play or story. The climax represents the point of greatest tension in the work. The climax of Julius Ceasar occurs during the assassination of Caesar.
An intensification of the conflict in a story or play. Complication builds up, accumulates, and develops the primary or central conflict in a literary work- for example when Brutus is in two minds about joining the conspiracy
A struggle between opposing forces in a story or play, usually resolved by the end of the work. The conflict may occur within a character as well as between characters. Brutus' internal conflict stems from the fact whether his loyalties should lie with his friend Caesar or his country Rome.
The associations called up by a word that goes beyond its dictionary meaning.
The dictionary meaning of a word. Writers typically play off a word's denotative meaning against its connotations, or suggested and implied associational implications.
The resolution of the plot of a literary work. The death of Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar.
The conversation of characters in a literary work. In fiction, dialogue is typically enclosed within quotation marks. In plays, characters' speech is preceded by their names.
The selection of words in a literary work. A work's diction forms one of its centrally important literary elements, as writers use words to convey action, reveal character, imply attitudes, identify themes, and suggest values. We can speak of the diction particular to a character, as in Iago's and Desdemona's very different ways of speaking in Othello. We can also refer to a poet's diction as represented over the body of his or her work, as in Donne's or Hughes's diction.
Dramatis personae
Latin for the characters or persons in a play.
The first stage of a fictional or dramatic plot, in which necessary background information is provided. Marullus' conversation with the plebeians tells us about the First Triumvirate and the battle between Pompey and Caesar.
Falling action
In the plot of a story or play, the action following the climax of the work that moves it towards its denouement or resolution.
Figurative language
A form of language use in which writers and speakers convey something other than the literal meaning of their words. Examples include hyperbole or exaggeration, litotes or understatement, simile and metaphor, which employ comparison.
A character who contrasts and parallels the main character in a play or story. Mark Antony who is noble and loyal is a foil for Cassius
A metrical unit composed of stressed and unstressed syllables. For example, an iamb or iambic foot is represented by ˘', that is, an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one.
Hints of what is to come in the action of a play or a story. Calphurnia's dream about the bloody statue foreshadow Caesar's assassination.
A figure of speech involving exaggeration.
An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, as in to-DAY. See Foot.
A concrete representation of a sense impression, a feeling, or an idea. Imagery refers to the pattern of related details in a work. In some works one image predominates either by recurring throughout the work or by appearing at a critical point in the plot. Often writers use multiple images throughout a work to suggest states of feeling and to convey implications of thought and action.
The pattern of related comparative aspects of language, particularly of images, in a literary work. Imagery of darkness during the conspiracy scenes
A contrast or discrepancy between what is said and what is meant or between what happens and what is expected to happen in life and in literature. In verbal irony, characters say the opposite of what they mean. In irony of circumstance or situation, the opposite of what is expected occurs. In dramatic irony, a character speaks in ignorance of a situation or event known to the audience or to the other characters.
Literal language
A form of language in which writers and speakers mean exactly what their words denote. See Figurative language, Denotation, and Connotation.
A comparison between essentially unlike things without an explicitly comparative word such as like or as. Marullus calls the plebeians 'blocks of stones' as they cannot think for themselves and they are heartless to celebrate the death and defeat of a nobleman such as Pompey.Compare Simile.
The measured pattern of rhythmic accents in poems. See Foot and Iamb.
A figure of speech in which a closely related term is substituted for an object or idea. An example: "We have always remained loyal to the crown." See Synecdoche.
A speech by a single character without another character's response. See Dramatic monologue and Soliloquy.
The use of words to imitate the sounds they describe. Words such as buzz and crack are onomatopoetic.
A quality of a play's action that stimulates the audience to feel pity for a character. Pathos is always an aspect of tragedy, and may be present in comedy as well.
PersonificationThe endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities.
The unified structure of incidents in a literary work. See Conflict, Climax, Denouement, andFlashback.
Articles or objects that appear on stage during a play.
The main character of a literary work--Hamlet and Othello in the plays named after them, Gregor Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis, Paul in Lawrence's "Rocking-Horse Winner."
The point at which a character understands his or her situation as it really is.
The sorting out or unraveling of a plot at the end of a play, novel, or story. See Plot.
The point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the protagonist. Oedipus's and Othello's recognitions are also reversals. They learn what they did not expect to learn. See Recognition and also Irony.
Rising action
A set of conflicts and crises that constitute the part of a play's or story's plot leading up to the climax. See Climax, Denouement, and Plot.
The time and place of a literary work that establish its context.
A figure of speech involving a comparison between unlike things using like, as, or as though. An example: "My love is like a red, red rose."
A speech in a play that is meant to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on the stage. If there are no other characters present, the soliloquy represents the character thinking aloud. brutus' opening speech in Act 2.1 is an example. See Aside.
The way an author chooses words, arranges them in sentences or in lines of dialogue or verse, and develops ideas and actions with description, imagery, and other literary techniques. See Connotation, Denotation, Diction, Figurative language, Image, Imagery, Irony, Metaphor, Narrator, Point of view, Syntax, and Tone.
What a story or play is about; to be distinguished from plot and theme.
An object or action in a literary work that means more than itself, that stands for something beyond itself.
The grammatical order of words in a sentence or line of verse or dialogue. The organization of words and phrases and clauses in sentences of prose, verse, and dialogue. In the following example, normal syntax (subject, verb, object order) is inverted:
"Whose woods these are I think I know."
The idea of a literary work abstracted from its details of language, character, and action, and cast in the form of a generalization.
The implied attitude of a writer toward the subject and characters of a work.
A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the worse. In tragedy, catastrophe and suffering await many of the characters, especially the hero. Examples include Shakespeare's Othello and Hamlet; Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus the King, and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. See Tragic flaw and Tragic hero.
Tragic flaw
A weakness or limitation of character, resulting in the fall of the tragic hero. Caesar's gullible nature is one example. See Tragedy and Tragic hero.
Tragic hero
A privileged, exalted character of high repute, who, by virtue of a tragic flaw and fate, suffers a fall from glory into suffering. Brutus is an example. See Tragedy and Tragic flaw.
A figure of speech in which a writer or speaker says less than what he or she means; the opposite of exaggeration.
The idea that a play should be limited to a specific time, place, and story line. The events of the plot should occur within a twenty-four hour period, should occur within a give geographic locale, and should tell a single story.