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A Handy Glossary of Drama Terms

Drama has its own terminology. Understanding it helps to understand the plays and their meanings more fully. Here is a handy glossary of some terms used when discussing Drama.

Accent - particular sound made in pronouncing words which suggests the place or background of the speaker.

Allegory - a story or picture in which the meaning is represented through symbols or where different characters are personifications of qualities or of other people.

Annotation - hand-written notes or sketches around a script or other text.

Black comedy - comedy which gets its humour from the macabre and gruesome. This is usually related closely to Irony (see How Stories Really Work)

Blocking (1) - organisation of movements on the stage, including where actors stand at what points in the play and how they move (2) - a barrier/something in the way which ‘blocks’ the view of the audience.

Character - part being played in a drama, a role created by an actor or writer as part of a presentation, which will be exemplified by external physical features and internal motivation. Per How Stories Really Work, a character is conventionally defined by such things as his or her status, class, beliefs, personality, history, job, attitude and so on - but more accurately is defined by the lack of these things to one degree or another.

Comedy of manners - a ‘comedy of manners’ gets its humour from close observation of the way characters behave, and is usually set in a historical period when there may have been strict rules of social behaviour. Some of Jane Austen’s work falls into this category.

Commentary - thoughts by a director or others about a performance or other work.

Context - the historical, cultural or social situation or circumstances in which a piece of drama is set or devised.

Contrast - difference or opposite. Contrast works by creating absences, as we can read more about in How Stories Really Work.

Convention - the agreed, accepted or ‘normal’ way of doing things.

Designer - the person who creates how a piece of drama appears to the audience on the stage, including the set, costume, lighting, make-up, sound, props and furniture.

Dialogue - any speech on stage.

Director - the person with overall control over a piece of drama in performance.

Dramatic irony - refers to the audience knowing something that the characters do not. In Tragedies, the audience can see into characters more deeply than the character himself or herself, through soliloquy which reveal psychological flaws; in Comedies, we see into characters too, in the same way, except that we are more distanced from the character by various conventions.

Dynamic - relationship between two or more things or people.

Empathy - the sense of being able to share another’s experience vicariously.

Emphasis - added strength given to a word, sound or action. Emphasis can be strengthened by absences or silences around it.

Entrance - the point or place where the actor comes onto the stage and is visible by the audience.

Evaluation - reflection by audiences or critics about the success of a piece of work.

Exit - point or place where an actor leaves the stage and becomes invisible to the audience.

Form - the overall shape or pattern of the drama.

Fourth wall - the name given to the ‘invisible wall’ between the stage and the audience. The audience can see what is happening on the stage but the actors do not take any notice of the audience and do not acknowledge their presence in any way. This is occasionally broken down by soliloquy and other devices, usually to powerful effect.

Framing - an overall image created by the whole view of the stage or a group of actors.

Genre - a particular style of the drama. The four basic genres are Epic, Tragic, Ironic and Comic.

High comedy - sophisticated comedy which is usually set in high social class situations, where the comedy comes from detail of characterisation, the cleverness of the language and use of wit.

History plays - plays which tell a tale about or from a historical period.

Improvisation - the action of developing a piece of drama from an initial stimulus, usually without script.

Interplay - the way two or more characters act and speak together

Interpretation - the particular beliefs or decisions about the way a text should be performed, usually determined by the director.

Irony - a genre of fiction, including drana. Also, using language that reflects the opposite of what is actually happening - a form of sarcasm. Irony depends upon the conventions and expectations of Epic or ‘common’ story-telling for its full power.

Low comedy - comedy in which there is a reliance on the vulgar and the coarse, rather than through clever wit or detailed characterisation.

Melodrama - highly-stylised and sentimental drama or comedy in which the actors over-act, emotions are clear and unsubtle, and no-one really takes it seriously.

Metaphor - using the imagination to describe something by comparing it to something else or saying it is something else. It comes from the Greek word metapherein ‘to transfer’.