Glossary of Dramatic Terms
Note: The Glossary is in alphabetical order.
A major division in a play. An act can be sub-divided into scenes. (See scene). Greek plays were
not divided into acts. The five act structure was originally introduced in Roman times and became
the convention in Shakespeare's period. In the 19th century this was reduced to four acts and 20th
century drama tends to favour three acts.
A character or force against which another character struggles.
Examples: Creon is Antigone's antagonist in Sophocles' play Antigone; Tiresias is the antagonist
of Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus the King.1
The part of a proscenium stage that sticks out into the audience in front of the proscenium arch.
Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience, but not "heard" by the other characters on
stage during a play.
Example: In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago voices his inner thoughts a number of times as
"asides" for the audience.
Movement patterns of actors on the stage. Usually planned by the director to create meaningful
A set built behind a proscenium arch to represent three walls of a room. The absent fourth wall
on the proscenium line allows spectators to witness the domestic scene. First used in the early
The purging of the feelings of pity and fear. According to Aristotle the audience should
experiences catharsis at the end of a tragedy.
An imaginary person that inhabits a literary work. Dramatic characters may be major or minor,
static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change).
Example: In Shakespeare's Othello, Desdemona is a major character, but one who is static.
Othello is a major character who is dynamic, exhibiting an ability to change.
A traditional chorus in Greek tragedy is a group of characters who comment on the action of a
play without participating in it. A modern chorus (any time after the Greek period) serves a
similar function but has taken a different form; it consists of a character/narrator coming on
stage and giving a prologue or explicit background information or themes.
Example 1: Traditional Chorus - The majority of Sophocles' plays.
1 Unless otherwise stated the entries are taken from and adapted from the following web site: highered.mcgraw-hill.com
Glossary of Dramatic Terms
Example 2: Modern Chorus - The Prologue in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which gives the
background to the action. The protagonist in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie who
introduces the themes of the play.
The turning point of the action in the plot of a play and the point of greatest tension in the
work. (See Appendix 1: Freytag's Pyramid)
Example: The final duel between Laertes and Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
A dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting
in a successful or happy conclusion. (Taken from: http://dictionary.reference.com). Comedy...