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Approaches in Dramatic Techniques

Aristotle's (384 – 322 BCE) Poetics laid some of the ground rules of what good literature should look like. He has become an authority of literary theory. Though a student of Plato, Aristotle differed from him on the fundamental issue of objective and subjective approaches. Aristotle criticizes orators who write exclusively from the intellect, rather than from the heart, praising the way Greek dramatists make their characters speak, especially in SophoclesOedipus Rex, and Antigone. Composers writing in the Aristotelian tradition appeal to our emotions and satisfy our psychological needs. 

Action Drama is based on the theatre of illusion where the characters imitate real life and the audience experiences the predicaments of the characters vicariously. By identifying emotionally and psychologically, we are seduced by the actors to identify, empathise with the characters and aroused by their terror to pity and fear (Pathos) to a state of Catharsis, releasing our tension, soothing, cleansing or purging our souls.   This can be ephemeral with no lasting consequences.

 “Imitation is the highest form of flattery”.  Drama or re-enactments have been central to the most primitive societies as a form of entertainment and a method of passing on traditions through story telling.  It has always attempted to provide a mirror to real life.

Aristotelian plots are linear, progressing from a beginning, a middle and an end with various techniques of wholeness, unity and purpose.  It reaffirms a rational, ordered universe. They are known as Conventional Theatre,Theatre of illusion or  Theatre of Action where the audience is deluded into thinking they are watching real time events through an invisible fourth wall. Our Interest in the outcome of the action provides the suspense. Aristotle puts high emphasis on structure, causation, unity, cohesion…. 

 The characters are appropriate, realistic and plausible; the hero from a good family, going through a crisis with a reversal of fortune.  Novelists too tend to obey Aristotle’s guidelines of revelation” ;  that most of the ideas and issues should be revealed not by the author telling us, rather by the actions, reactions, words and thoughts of the characters.  Don’t tell us – show us. We the responders feel more dignified when we figure it out rather than when we are told directly.

Plot and character come first and ideas –what we call issues, themes, concerns or values can only be gleaned through experiences of empathy

Plato’s Republic outlined his views on good literature using the  Epic Tales of Homer, The Odyssey and The Iliad as exemplary texts.  Later classical works such as  Vergil’s  Aeneas,  Dante’s  The Divine Comedy,  Milton’s  Paradise Lost were written in this tradition  based on an objective approach,  appealing to reason - the mind - satisfying our intellectual needs rather than our emotive desires.

In a Platonic approach, we are distanced or alienated (estranged) from the action and critically evaluate it.  Instead of getting emotionally involved we are detached and objective.  We are made to feel emotionally disconnected to the action and detached from the characters. Instead of playing with our emotions,  Epic Literature. affects the mind and moves us to action leading to social remedies. As the characters are singular,atypical orsuper heroic, we are not encouraged to identify with them.

Rather than focussing on individuals it looks at the broader scale and appeals to the masses, the collective psyche because it involves mass suffering.  As Stalin put it:  “one death is a tragedy;  a million deaths is a statistic”.  Suffering is degrading and dehumanising, leading to desensitisation or brutalisation, promoting the instinct of self-preservation.  Epic Literature can often appear to be Nihilistic.

1Nihilism is a 19th  C. Russian extreme revolutionary movement.  A skeptic doubts, a cynic distrusts, while a nihilist rejects all traditions, beliefs, morals, values and aspirations.  They are utterly negative, destructive and subversive, believing or valuing nothing.  They appealed to disenchanted youths urging them to destroy a repressive society and rebuild it from scratch. 

“Someone who does not bow to any authority or accept any principle or trust”.

Rather than emotionally empathising or identifying with the main characters  we become critical observers and respond rationally and intellectually.  We assume a universe governed by chance, randomness, or caprice.  Chaos rides supreme in a discordant world where evil often triumphs over good. The literature of the Absurd often uses this approach with limited plots, disconnected scenes,  a montage,  lack of sequence or structure and minimalism in props

The plots are often well known  so we are interested in the course of the action not the result because of a lack of suspense. We dwell in the present, not the past or the future.

Epic Literature is realism rather than illusion so lacks subtlety and nuance.  It tends to be direct, explicit, overt, didactic.

A good example would be  Brechtian Epic Theatre which is different; dissident, divergent, variant, resistant, subversive.  It is the Theatre of Realism  and  Intellectualism.


Conventional Theatre.

Dominant, traditional,  orthodox…

 

Theatre of illusion, Theatre of Action

 

Based on Aristotle’s  Poetics

Models:  Greek drama – Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, and Antigone , Shakespeare, Ibsen, Williamson ..

Appeals to our emotions and satisfies our psychological needs.

 

Appeals to the individual responder.  We identify, relate, or participate and feel empathy with the main character.  The vicarious experience of suffering arouses pity and fear leading to Catharsis, a purging of the soul, a release of tension, soothing to the soul. Trying to put you into the shoes of the main characters can be an immersive experience. In film “jacking in”, recording thrilling experiences through subjective camera angles, can replicate them in alluring immersive techniques so we can experience them vicariously.

 

No lasting consequences – emotions ephemeral.

 

Suggestive,  implicit, ambiguous

 

Interest in the outcome of the action

 

Emphasis on structure, causation, unity, cohesion….

 

Assumes a rational moral order in the universe

Affirmative of sense of purpose.

 

Fate is controlled by Nemesis; divine retribution – poetic justice.

 

Suffering is inherent in the human condition, leads man to a noble form of dignity

Epic Theatre: Brechtian

Dissident, divergent, variant, resistant, subversive

Theatre of Realism, Intellectualism

Based on Plato’s  Republic

Epic Tales of Homer: The Odyssey, The Iliad,   Vergil’s  AeneasDante’s  The Divine Comedy,  Milton’s  Paradise Lost.

Appeals to reason; the mind and satisfies our intellectual needs – Objective

Appeals to the masses, the collective psyche because it involves mass suffering. 

We are distanced or alienated (estranged) from the action and critically evaluate it.  Instead of getting emotionally involved we are detached and objective.  We are made to feel emotionally disconnected to the action and detached from the characters.

Instead of playing with our emotions, E.T. affects the mind and moves us to action leading to social remedies.

Once you change someone's mindset it has more long lasting effects.


Didactic, explicit, overt, direct

We are interested in the course of the action not the result because of a lack of suspense.


Often disconnected scenes,  a montage,  lack of sequence or structure.  Minimalism in props


Assumes
a universe governed by chance, capricious fate.   Nihilistic


Fate
is Chance, randomness, chaos, absurdity


Suffering
is degrading and dehumanising, leading to desensitisation or brutalisation, promoting the instinct of self-preservation.

 


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