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Play Analysis Glossary

Plot; the sequence of events seen on stage. What happens and the order it happens in.

Story; the sequence of events that includes incidents related to the action onstage, but not
shown. (Narrative; a broader term that can apply to both plot and story).

Point of attack; the point in the story where the plot starts.

Back story; events in the story that occurred before the Point of Attack.

Exposition; information given to the audience (often about the Back story) that gives
them the context within which to understand the events on stage.

Status Quo; the state of affairs or situation that exists at the beginning of the story or the
plot, or both. Relates to Stanislavski’s ‘Given Circumstances.’(Keith Johnstone’s term;

Inciting incident; the incident that starts the action of the play by altering the Status
Quo, generally through creating conflict. (Keith Johnstone’s term; Tilt)

Cause and Effect; the process of consequential action whereby what one person does
(the cause) has an effect on someone else.

Development of Situation – the way that the plot is revealed in sequential steps , often,
but not always, chronologically arranged .

Rising action –a term that describes an increasing intensity of conflict (the ‘stakes’ get
higher) and a sense of moving towards a climax.

Character –the fictional person in the world of the play. Some qualities that we look for:
‘Credibility’ ‘Richness,’ ‘Complexity,’ ‘Depth’

Development of Character – the way in which the playwright progressively reveals

more about the characters’ lives, personalities, values etc…

Actor –the real person who embodies a character.

Protagonist – in everyday use, the central character. A more analytical definition is the
person who moves the action forward (literally, carrier of the argument / action).

Antagonist –the person who opposes the action of the protagonist

(Can also be a set of circumstances, or a group of people).

Dialogue –what the characters say to one another

Monologue –an extended speech by one character without interruption

Climax (also sometimes called Crisis) – where everything comes to a head. The
dramatic high point of the play in which the major conflict set up by the action of the play
is resolved. This is generally the point in the action where the conflict between the
protagonist and the antagonist is at its most extreme and then resolves. In some plays, the
Crisis is distinct from the Climax.

Denouement (‘the unknotting’) the stage in the play following the Climax where
everything gets explained, loose ends are tied up ( a paradoxical metaphor!), the message
is underlined and all situations set up during the development stages are sorted out or
deliberately left for the audience to ponder. This generally leads to EITHER the
restoration of the original Status Quo, OR the creation of a new one.

Credibility and Intrigue

Credibility; not just believability or being true to life, but also internal coherence and
Intrigue; the capacity to make us curious about ‘what happens next’
Dramatic Structure

How the plot is shaped

There are two main ways of organizing the plot. The attributes listed below are
tendencies, not hard and fast rules. Frequently, contemporary plays will combine
elements of both.

Climactic Episodic
(sometimes called Crisis structure) (sometimes called Epic, or Panoramic)
One main plot, which all the characters are A number of different plots, involving
connected to. Subplots feed in to the main characters who do not necessarily appear in
plot. multiple plot lines
Focus is on small, or limited group of Often has a large number of characters.
One main location, or a limited number of A large number of different locations
The time span of the action tends to be The time span of the action is extended,
compressed (the extreme expression of this occurring over weeks, months or years.
is ‘unity of time’ where the action of the
play occurs over the same duration as its
The theme, or message of the play is The theme or message is communicated
directly related to the climax through repetition or through a cumulative