Understanding Plays CH 3: Understanding character Millys S. Barranger

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Transcript of Understanding Plays CH 3: Understanding character Millys S. Barranger

  • Understanding PlaysCH 3: Understanding characterMillys S. Barranger

  • Characters doublenessDrama is unique among the representational arts in that it represents reality by using real human beings -- actor-as-charactersto create its fictional universe.We have said that drama is essentially mimetic action. However, action springs from character. It is a product of the characters motivations and circumstances. In some plays, those motivations and circumstances are more complex than in others. The great dramatic charactersOedipus, Hamlet, Hedda Gabler, Amanda Wingfield are not easily deciphered in what they say and what they do.

  • Characters doublenessWhat we look for characters speech, gestures, and actions to determine who they are and what they are doing?Martin Esslin said that much depends on the dialectic between what the characters know or do not know, and what the audience knows that the characters may not know.Dramatic character, thus, is defined, in part, by who does what (and why) and to whom under specific circumstances. In other words, the meaning of a characters behavior and choices ultimately derives from situation or circumstances.

  • Classical versus modern characterDramas characters are credible images of active human beings. To be credible, their manners and dress must fit their period, place, and social class. Their speech must suit their age, sex, personality, class and circumstances. Their actions must be rooted in situation. In writing about character, Aristotle drew a relationship between character and plot.In The Poetics, plot was the chief element of drama(the soul of tragedy). This suggests that plot reveals character; in other words, we are what we do in given situations. The modern critic Francis Fergusson defined dramatic character another way as will in action, or as focused psychic energy.

  • Classical versus modern characterAs it relates to character, conflict is both general and particular.The conflict in the Importance of being Earnest is between the lovers and societys marriage codes represented by Lady Brackwell.In the Glass Menagerie, the conflict is between two generations in an inhospitable world.Dramatic conflict is most often resolved by the removal of obstacles.

  • Classical versus modern characterDramatic action is the movement of opposing forces toward a resolution of conflict in the heros death(in tragedy), in triumph(in comedy), or in the villains defeat(in both).The playwrights success depends on skill in weaving character and event together in a believable and convincing pattern of choice and behavior. In Brechts play, Galileo has to choose between dying as a martyr and surviving as a coward; he chooses to live.However, his passion for food, pleasure, and scientific truth resulted in the preservation of his life and his writings, and the induction of a new scientific age for humankind.

  • Classical versus modern characterThe influence of Charles Darwin, Karl Max, Sigmund Freud, and their followers is often visible in characters choices and action in plays written since the late 19th century.In Heiner Mullers Hamletmachine, Ophelia seated in a wheelchair in the deep sea surrounded by fish, debris, and dead bodies captures in a single image the modern characters in adequacy, confinement, and doom.

  • PortraitsIn drama, characters are traditionally defined by their physical characteristics, speech, and dress; their socioeconomics status; their psychological makeup; and their moral or ethical choices.Several ways to approach understanding dramas characters:Observe what playwrights say about them in stage directionsHear or read what characters say about one another in dialogueWe note general typesphysical and psychologicalConstrue the moral or ethical choices that determine their destinies.

  • PortraitsIn modern plays, a characters appearance is usually described in stage directions that establish physical characteristics; gender, age, physique, clothing, and class, with some implication about the characters psychological makeup.The kinds of facts provided by Ibsen and Williams in stage directions were gathered in earlier plays from a characters social rank(king, soldier, doctor, servant), clothing(luxurious, ragged, military), and demeanor and speech(manners, attitude, vocabulary).

  • A common humanityAround the middle of the 18th century, changes in social and ethical considerations caused philosophers and writers to look upon human beingsa common humanitywith greater sympathy than had been true of their ancestors.

  • Whos there?When the guard in Hamlet challenges his comrade-in-arm with whos there?, he raises the central question about character for the contemporary theater.Human condition moved beyond social, economics and psychological concerns with the causes of behavior and societys influences, the absurdists concerned themselves with the condition of being human in a world devoid of purpose and meaning.

  • Postmodern dissolutionPostmodern was a term used in the 1980s to declare that long history of artistic achievement had come to an end.In the mainstream of writing from the Greeks to moderns, dramatic character has been portrayed as a whole, recognizable persona.

  • The Glass MenagerieTennessee Williams

  • The Characters Persons Represented:Amanda Wingfield, a woman abandoned by her husband some 15 years ago, trying to raise her children under harsh financial conditions. Her devotion to her children has made her, she admits at one point, a "witch," and she longs for the kind of Old South gentility and comforts which she remembers from her youth for her children. Once a Southern belle, she still clings to whatever powers vivacity and charm can muster.Laura Wingfield, Amanda's daughter. She is slightly crippled and has an extra-sensitive mental condition.Tom Wingfield, Amanda's son. He works in a warehouse but aspires to be a writer. He feels both obligated toward yet burdened by his family.

  • The Characters Jim O'Connor, a workmate of Tom's (a shipping clerk) and acquaintance of Laura's from high school, he is also the physical representation of all Laura's desires and all Amanda's desires for her daughter. He is invited over to the Wingfield's house for dinner with the intent of being Laura's first gentleman caller. He seems like a dream come true for the Wingfields.Persons Not Represented:Mr. Wingfield, Amanda's absentee husband, he is represented by a large portrait on the set and is referred to frequently by Amanda.

  • Plot overviewT he Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and its action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a character in the play, which is set in St. Louis in 1937. He is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Lauras father, ran off years ago and, except for one postcard, has not been heard from since.

  • Plot overviewTom chafes under the banality and boredom of everyday life and spends much of his spare time watching movies in cheap cinemas at all hours of the night. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura, who spends most of her time with her collection of little glass animals. Tom eventually brings a nice boy named Jim home for dinner at the insistence of his mother, who hopes Jim will be the long-awaited suitor for Laura. Laura realizes that Jim is the man she loved in high school and has thought of ever since.

  • Plot overviewAfter a long evening in which Jim and Laura are left alone by candlelight in the living room, waiting for electricity to be restored, Jim reveals that he is already engaged to be married, and he leaves. During their long scene together, Jim and Laura have shared a quiet dance, and he accidentally brushes against the glass menagerie, knocking the glass unicorn to the floor and breaking its horn off ("Now it's just like the other horses," Laura says).

  • Plot overviewWhen Amanda learns that Jim was engaged she assumes Tom knew and lashes out at him: ("That's right, now that you've had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! all for what? To entertain some other girl's fianc! Go to the movies, go! Don't think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who's crippled and has no job! Don't let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure. Just go, go, go - to the movies!")

  • Plot overviewAt play's end, as Tom speaks, it becomes clear that Tom left home soon afterward and never returned. In Tom's final speech, as he watches his mother comforting Laura long ago, he bids farewell: "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger - anything that can blow your candles out! [LAURA bends over the candles.]- for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura - and so good-bye." Laura blows the candles out as the play ends.

  • ThemesThe subjects and themes of the play are weighty and somewhat timeless: failures of capitalism, failures of the family structure, failures of fathers (perhaps even God), broken promises, individual failure and reconciliation. The Glass Menagerie is about tough decisions people make for themselves that affect others and adversely themselves.

  • Summary: Scene One The Wingfield apartment faces an alley in a lower-middle-class St. Louis tenement. There is a fire escape with a landing and a screen on which words or images periodically appear. Tom Wingfield steps onstage dressed as a merchant sailor and speaks directly to the audience.