The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

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The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations is a descriptive list which was created by Georges Polti to categorize every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance.[1] To do this Polti analyzed classical Greek texts, plus classical and contemporaneous French works. He also analyzed a handful of non-French authors. In his introduction, Polti claims to be continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi, who also identified 36 situations.

Publication history[edit]

"Gozzi maintained that there can be but thirty-six tragic situations. Schiller took great pains to find more, but he was unable to find even so many as Gozzi."

Goethe[2]

This list was published in a book of the same name, which contains extended explanations and examples. The original French-language book was written in 1895.[3] An English translation was published in 1916 and continues to be reprinted to this day.

The list is popularized as an aid for writers, but it is also used by dramatists, storytellers and many others. Other similar lists have since been made.

It influenced Christina Stead and George Pierce Baker, the author of Dramatic Technique.[4] The situations have been critiqued as being "concatenations of events rather than minimal or isolable motifs".[5]

The 36 situations[edit]

Each situation is stated, then followed by the necessary elements for each situation and a brief description.

  1. Supplication
    • a persecutor; a suppliant; a power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
    • The suppliant appeals to the power in authority for deliverance from the persecutor. The power in authority may be a distinct person or be merely an attribute of the persecutor, e.g. a weapon suspended in their hand. The suppliant may also be two persons, the Persecuted and the Intercessor, an example of which is Esther interceding to the king on behalf of the Jews for deliverance from the king's chief advisor.
  2. Deliverance
    • an unfortunate; a threatener; a rescuer
    • The unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the threatener is to carry out justice, but the rescuer saves the unfortunate. Examples: Ifigenia in Tauride, Deliverance
  3. Crime pursued by vengeance
    • a criminal; an avenger
    • The criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the avenger seeks justice by punishing the criminal. Example: The Count of Monte Cristo
  4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
    • Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both.
    • Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both. Example: Hamlet
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
    • a vanquished power; a victorious enemy or a messenger
    • The vanquished power falls from their place after being defeated by the victorious enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the messenger. Example: Agamemnon (play)
  7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
    • an unfortunate; a master or a misfortune
    • The unfortunate suffers from misfortune and/or at the hands of the master. Example: Job (biblical figure)
  8. Revolt
    • a tyrant; a conspirator
    • The tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the conspirator. Example: Julius Caesar (play)
  9. Daring enterprise
  10. Abduction
    • an abductor; the abducted; a guardian
    • The abductor takes the abducted from the guardian. Example: Helen of Troy
  11. The enigma
    • a problem; an interrogator; a seeker
    • The interrogator poses a problem to the seeker and gives a seeker better ability to reach the seeker's goals. Example: Oedipus and the Sphinx
  12. Obtaining
    • (a Solicitor & an adversary who is refusing) or (an arbitrator & opposing parties)
    • The solicitor is at odds with the adversary who refuses to give the solicitor an object in the possession of the adversary, or an arbitrator decides who gets the object desired by opposing parties (the solicitor and the adversary). Example: Apple of Discord
  13. Enmity of kin
    • a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
    • The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together. Example: As You Like It
  14. Rivalry of kin
    • the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
    • The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman. Example: Wuthering Heights
  15. Murderous adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal imprudence
    • the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
    • The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
  18. Involuntary crimes of love
    • a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
    • The Lover and the Beloved have unknowingly broken a taboo through their romantic relationship, and the Revealer reveals this to them Example: Oedipus, Jocasta and the messenger from Corinth.
  19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
    • the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
    • The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim. Example: Oedipus and Laius
  20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
  21. Self-sacrifice for kin
    • a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
    • The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor. Example: The gospel
  22. All sacrificed for passion
    • a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
    • A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
    • a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
    • The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
  24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
    • a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
    • A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
  25. Adultery
    • two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
    • Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
  26. Crimes of love
    • a Lover; the Beloved
    • A Lover and the Beloved break a taboo by initiating a romantic relationship Example: Sigmund and his sister in The Valkyrie
  27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
    • a Discoverer; the Guilty One
    • The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
  28. Obstacles to love
    • two Lovers; an Obstacle
    • Two Lovers face an Obstacle together. Example: Romeo and Juliet
  29. An enemy loved
    • a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
    • The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
  30. Ambition
    • an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
    • The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary. Example: Macbeth
  31. Conflict with a god
    • a Mortal; an Immortal
    • The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
  32. Mistaken jealousy
    • a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
    • The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
  33. Erroneous judgment
    • a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
    • The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
  34. Remorse
    • a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
    • The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation. Example: The Bourne Supremacy
  35. Recovery of a lost one
  36. Loss of loved ones
    • a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
    • The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman. Example: Braveheart

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schmidt, Victoria Lynn (2005). "Part 3: Adding Stories". Story Structure Architect (First ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 9781582976990. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  2. ^ Polti, Georges (1921) [1916]. The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. Franklin, Ohio: James Knapp Reeve. p. 3.
  3. ^ Figgis, Mike (May 2017). "Introduction". The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. Faber and Faber. ISBN 9780571305056. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  4. ^ Burns, Alison; Goodrich, R. A. (2015). "Christina Stead, Georges Polti, and Analytical Novel Writing". Antipodes. 29 (2): 415–28. doi:10.13110/antipodes.29.2.0415. JSTOR 10.13110/antipodes.29.2.0415.
  5. ^ Lowe, N. J. (June 2000). The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0521771765. Retrieved April 21, 2020.

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