Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama

1 - plot - there has to be a story that unfolds - Oedipus meets a man who challenges him- he kills him - it's his father - he takes that man's place, marries his wife - it's his mother - this crime (incest), even though committed in ignorance, must be paid for because the laws of the God's are inviolate - this involves the fates - the denouement, and the setting for it, is established -

2 character - the protagonist (and remember, all Gk drama is first and foremost, religious and part of religious ritual, ceremony, and festivity), has some tragic flaw - as above, how he and the others respond to the circumstances establishes their character - noble, base, venal etc.

3 Theme - the theme is set to demonstrate the righteousness of the god's dicta - and to show the virtues (as in Oediipus' daughter) relevant to the tale - triumph of good, inevitability of fate, etc.
4 diction - remembering that the actors are on elevated shoes (buskins), and usually in masks to indicate emotion, and in a theatre with astounding acoustics -the choice by the dramatists of language, the speaking of the parts, must enhance the drama (or comedy) - the noble character must speak nobly, the base characters must use slyness, or colloquial speech etc. And, there must be a choice of vocabulary wherein the consonants make projected speech both poetic and clear.

5. music - occurs often with the accompaniment of the lyre for the chorus which speaks the lines, and is used to enhance and create mood appropriate to the emotions

6.spectacle - visualizing the Greek theatre, truly dramatic action, such as murder, or Oedipus gouging out his eyes, takes place off stage and then is rolled on stage on platform as a tableau (nobody gets his throat cut in church) - but it is done on a broad and grand scale - when the god's intervene, they are swung in a basket from a crane on the side of the stage (deus ex machina) at the critical moment - and there must me sufficient people to populate the action of the moment.

Grand themes, require grand action.


Almost every story ever written has derived from one the seven basic plot archetypes and used in combination withAristotle’s Six Dramatic Elements they serve as a solid foundation to story writing.

The Quest

The Quest story model revolves around a central protagonist striving to meet an all important and often far off goal. The hero cannot rest until this task has been completed. Along this journey the hero will be met with obstacles and forces trying to stop him from achieving his goal.

Examples of the this story model are The Lord of the Rings, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Ark,

Voyage and Return

Much like the Quest, the Voyage and Return story type is based around a journey. In this plot type the hero is transported to another world and then back again. On this journey the protagonist learns things that give him a deeper understanding of himself and the world around him.

Examples of Voyage and Return stories are Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, Back to the Future, the Wizard of Oz.


In the rebirth story type the protagonist is often cast under some dark spell either instigated by himself or an outside force. The heroes liberation can only be achieved through the actions of other good forces. In these story types the redemptive power of love can be a liberating force. What is striking about the Rebirth story type is that the protagonists imprisonment is derived from something from within his own psyche.

Examples of the Rebirth story type are A Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast.


Defining the Comedy story archetype is problematic as in modern times the term has come to mean simply anything that is funny. Therefore stories constructed from the other basic plot types have been mistakenly termed comedies.

Aristotle described comedy as showing people to be worse than they are and tragedy as showing people to be greater than they are. In the classic definition of Comedy plots the characters are thrown into a state of confusion, darkness and bewilderment where resolution can only come when these constricting factors have been played out to their extremes.

Comedy examples are All’s Well That Ends Well, When Harry Met Sally, Some Like It Hot.


In Aristotelian tragedy the central character is an individual (usually of great status) who goes through a series of actions and decisions that unwittingly brings about their own downfall. This downfall is supposed to provoke feelings of pity and fear in the audience and end in a catharsis or what is sometimes called a “purging” of emotion.

Examples of Tragedy are Hamlet. Carlito’s Way, Macbeth, Oedipus the King.

For more on Aristotle and his theories read Aristotle and the six key dramatic elements.

Overcoming the Monster

In Overcoming the Monster stories the hero/heroes must overcome a dark evil creature/person/entity that has exerted an evil destructive force over a place, persons or people.

Examples of this plot are The Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Jaws, Hansel and Gretel.

Rags to Riches

In Rags to Riches plots the central character is seemingly plucked from nothing to greatness where he/she is very often rich and of immense status. In this story type the hero very often gets quick success which is swiftly taken away from him/her. In order for him/her to return to this “rich” state the protagonist must very often defeat a foe of some kind.

Examples of this story type are Aladdin, Cinderella, Great Expectations.

Read more at Suite101: What are the Seven Basic Plot Definitions?: Writing Creative Stories Using Classic Plot Archetypes and Models

No comments:

Post a Comment