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Play (theatre)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A performance of Macbeth (2018)

A play is a form of drama that primarily consists of dialogue between characters and is intended for theatrical performance rather than mere reading. The creator of a play is known as a playwright.

Plays are staged at various levels, ranging from London's West End and New York City's Broadway – the highest echelons of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world – to regional theatre, community theatre, and academic productions at universities and schools.

A stage play is specifically crafted for performance on stage, distinct from works meant for broadcast or cinematic adaptation. They are presented on a stage before a live audience. Some dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, have shown little preference for whether their plays are performed or read. The term "play" encompasses the written texts of playwrights and their complete theatrical renditions.[1]



Comedies are plays designed to elicit humor and often feature witty dialogue, eccentric characters, and unusual situations. Comedies cater to diverse age groups. Comedies were one of the original two genres of Ancient Greek drama, the other being tragedies. Examples of comedies include William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and in the modern day, The Book of Mormon.[2][3]



Farces constitute a nonsensical subgenre of comedy that frequently involve humour. They often rely on exaggerated situations and slapstick comedy. An example of a farce is William Shakespeare's play The Comedy of Errors, or Mark Twain's work Is He Dead?.



Satirical plays provide a comic perspective on contemporary events while also making political or social commentary, often highlighting issues such as corruption. Examples of satirical plays are Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector and Aristophanes' Lysistrata. Satire plays are a distinct and popular form of comedy, often considered a separate genre in themselves.

Restoration comedy


Restoration comedy is a genre that explores relationships between men and women, often delving into risqué themes for its time.[4] The characters in restoration comedies frequently embody various stereotypes, contributing to the genre's consistent themes. This similarity also led to a homogeneity of message and content across most plays in this genre. Despite this, restoration comedy's exploration of unspoken aspects of relationships fostered a more intimate connection between the audience and the performance.

Restoration comedy's origins are rooted in Molière's theories of comedy, although they differ in tone and intention.[5] The misalignment between the genre's morals and the prevailing ethics of its era is a point of interest when studying restoration comedy. This dissonance might explain why, despite its initial success, restoration comedy did not endure through the 17th century. Nonetheless, contemporary theatre theorists have been increasingly intrigued by restoration comedy as they explore performance styles with unique conventions.[6]



Tragedies delve into darker themes such as death and disaster. The central character, or protagonist, often possesses a tragic flaw that leads to their downfall. Tragic plays encompass a wide range of emotions and emphasize intense conflicts. Tragedy was the other original genre of Ancient Greek drama alongside comedy. Examples of tragedies include William Shakespeare's Hamlet, and John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi.[2]


An actress performs a play in front of 2 statues from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Room 21, the British Museum, London
An actor and actress performing a play in front of the Nereid Monument, Room 17, the British Museum, London

Historical plays center on real historical events. They can be tragedies or comedies, though often they defy these classifications. History emerged as a distinct genre largely due to the influence of William Shakespeare. Examples of historical plays include Friedrich Schiller's Demetrius and Shakespeare's King John.[7]

Musical theatre


Ballad opera, a popular theatrical style of its time, marked the earliest form of musicals performed in the American colonies. The first indigenous American musical premiered in Philadelphia in 1767, titled "The Disappointment", which never progressed beyond its initial stages.

Modern Western musical theatre gained prominence during the Victorian era, with key structural elements established by the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and Harrigan and Hart in America. By the 1920s, theatre styles began to crystallize, granting composers the autonomy to create every song within a play. These new musicals adhered to specific conventions, often featuring thirty-two-bar songs. The Great Depression prompted many artists to transition from Broadway to Hollywood, transforming the essence of Broadway musicals. A similar shift occurred in the 1960s, characterized by a scarcity of composers and a decline in the vibrancy and entertainment value of musicals.

Entering the 1990s, the number of original Broadway musicals dwindled, with many productions adapting movies or novels. Musicals employ songs to advance the narrative and convey the play's themes, typically accompanied by choreography. Musical productions can be visually intricate, showcasing elaborate sets and actor performances. Examples of musical productions include Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.

Theatre of Cruelty


This theatrical style originated in the 1940s when Antonin Artaud hypothesized about the effects of expressing through the body rather than "by socially conditioned thought". In 1946, he wrote a preface to his works in which he explained how he came to write as he did.

Foremost, Artaud lacked trust in language as an effective means of communication. Plays within the theatre of cruelty genre exhibit abstract conventions and content. Artaud intended his plays to have an impact and achieve a purpose. His aim was to symbolize the subconscious through bodily performances, as he believed language fell short. Artaud considered his plays enactments rather than re-enactments, indicating that he believed his actors were embodying reality, rather than reproducing it.

His plays addressed weighty subjects such as patients in psychiatric wards and Nazi Germany. Through these performances, he aimed to "make the causes of suffering audible". Audiences who were taken aback by what they saw initially responded negatively. Much of his work was even banned in France during that time.

Artaud dismissed the notion that conventional theatre of his era could provide audiences with a cathartic experience that would aid the healing process after World War II. For this reason, he gravitated towards radio-based theatre, where the audience could personally connect the words they heard with their own bodies. This approach made his work more intimate and individualized, which he believed would enhance its effectiveness in conveying the experience of suffering.[8]

Theatre of the Absurd


This genre typically presents metaphysical portrayals of existential questions and dilemmas. Theatre of the absurd rejects rationality, embracing the inevitability of plunging into the depths of the human condition. Rather than explicitly discussing these issues, theatre of the absurd embodies them. This leaves the audience to engage in personal discussion and contemplation of the play's content.

A central aspect of theatre of the absurd is the deliberate contradiction between language and action. Often, the dialogue between characters starkly contrasts with their actions.

Prominent playwrights within this genre include Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugène Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, and Jean Genet.[9]



The term "play" can encompass either a general concept or specifically denote a non-musical play. In contrast to a "musical", which incorporates music, dance, and songs sung by characters, the term "straight play" can be used. For a brief play, the term "playlet" is occasionally employed.

The term "script" pertains to the written text of a play. After the front matter, which includes the title and author, it usually begins with a dramatis personae: a list introducing the main characters of the play by name, accompanied by brief character descriptions (e.g., "Stephano, a drunken Butler").

In the context of a musical play (opera, light opera, or musical), the term "libretto" is commonly used instead of "script".

A play is typically divided into acts, akin to chapters in a novel. A concise play may consist of only a single act, known as a "one-acter". Acts are further divided into scenes. Acts and scenes are numbered, with scene numbering resetting to 1 at the start of each subsequent act (e.g., Act 4, Scene 3 might be followed by Act 5, Scene 1). Each scene takes place in a specified location, indicated at the scene's outset in the script (e.g., "Scene 1. Before the cell of Prospero.") Changing locations usually requires adjusting the scenery, which takes time – even if it's just a painted backdrop – and can only occur between scenes.

Aside from the text spoken by actors, a script includes "stage directions" (distinct from the term's use in blocking, which involves arranging actors on stage). Common stage directions include the entrances and exits of actors, e.g., "[Exeunt Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo.]" (Exeunt is the Latin plural of exit, meaning "[they] leave"). Additional stage directions may dictate how lines should be delivered, such as "[Aside]" or "[Sings]", or specify sounds to be produced off-stage, like "[Thunder]".

See also





  1. ^ "Play" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine: Dictionary.com website. Retrieved on 3 January 2008.
  2. ^ a b "THE ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA & THEATRE HISTORY PAGE". anarchon.tripod.com. Archived from the original on 2 March 2001. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  3. ^ "Origin of Comedy". www.theatrehistory.com. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  4. ^ Vernon, P.F. (1962). "Marriage of Convenience and the Moral Code of Restoration Comedy". Essays in Criticism (4): 370–387. doi:10.1093/eic/XII.4.370.
  5. ^ The Ornament of Action. Cambridge University Press. 1979. ISBN 9780521220484.
  6. ^ Styan, J.L. (1986). Restoration Comedy in Performance. Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ Saul, Nigel (2006). The Three Richards: Richard I ... – Google Book Search. A & C Black. ISBN 978-1-85285-521-5. Retrieved 17 June 2008.
  8. ^ Finter, Helga; Griffin, Matthew (1997). Antonin Artaud and the Impossible Theatre: The Legacy of the Theatre of Cruelty. MIT Press. pp. 15–40.
  9. ^ Esslin, Martin (2001). Theatre of the Absurd. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 1-4000-7523-8.