Script Analysis - Emporia State University

A Director’s Itinerary
by Michael Wainstein
Chapters 4 & 5
Reading a Play
Interpreting the Script
Chapter Four
First Reading
Read for pleasure.
“The first read allows for the director’s personal
reaction that is the seed from which all further
work grows.”
First Reading
Make notes about what you read.
Ask these questions…
1. What did you feel when you put the play
down after reading?
2. What did you love about the play?
3. What did you dislike
4. What did it make you think about?
5. Was it entertaining? Thought
provoking? Emotionally charged?
Ask these questions…
6. What characters could you relate with?
7. What are the obvious themes of the play?
8. What did you relate to personally?
9. Why do you think the author wrote the play?
10.Anything else?
Second Reading
Read for vision
“The ability to think about or plan the future
with imagination or wisdom.”
Develop a concept
Record new ideas
Third Reading
Read for analysis.
“This reading is slow and detailed.”
Third Reading
As you read, you need to jot down information
as it is revealed…word by word, line by line,
page by page…
Final thoughts on reading a play
• Reading the play repeatedly is
important because it allows the
director to discover nuance and detail.
• Each type of reading yields its own
particular benefit
• Remaining faithful to the play is the
director’s responsibility.
Primacy of the script
Remember that you are interpreting a work, not
creating your own…
Chapter Five
The Importance of Analysis
ARISTOTLE was the first to define
the structure of drama
The Six Elements
ARISTOTLE observed six elements
necessary to interpret the play:
plot, character, ideas, language,
music and spectacle.
These observations from his
POETICS have been the basis
of play analysis for over
2300 years.
Aristotle’s definition of tragedy
“A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious
and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language
with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately
in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form;
with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to
accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.”
(Imgram Bywater: 35).
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action of high
importance, complete and of some amplitude; in language
enhanced by distinct and varying beauties; acted not
narrated; by means of pity and fear effectuating its purgation
of these emotions.”
(L. J. Potts: 24).
Aristotle’s definition of tragedy
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation (mimesis) of an
action that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with each kind
of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found
in separate parts of the play; in the form of action,
not of narrative; through pity (eleos) and fear
(phobos) effecting the proper purgation (catharsis)
of these emotions. “
(S.H. Butcher, The Poetics, Part VI).
How to remember the six elements
The play is about people
(character) in a situation
(plot) who communicate
with one another (dialogue)
about something (ideas), in
a certain way
(music/rhythm) somewhere
in time and space
A heirarchy
Sophocles identified the six
elements in a particular sequence
noting that ACTION (plot) is the
most important element,
followed by CHARACTER (agents
of the plot), THEME (idea),
(harmony and music) and finally,
SPECTACLE (what is seen).
Dramatic Action
The audience wants to see the characters fight
adversity, learn grow as human beings and
either succeed in the case of comedy, or fail in
the case of tragedy.
(Director’s Production Notebook)
“Plays are grouped together according to style,
theme and subject matter. Knowing the genre of
the play allows the director to situate it within
certain expectations.”
Given circumstances
Given Circumstances Worksheet
Time. When is the play written? When is it set? How much time
Place. Where is the play set? How does environment affect the
Society. What social groups are the norm? What are sexual,
class, gender, family relationships? What role does family play in
this world?
Economics. How does money figure into the world of the play?
What control does it have over the characters?
Culture. What trends in art, theatre and literature are implicity
or explicity revealed in the play? Does this affect the characters?
Spirituality. Identify the religious or spiritual aspects of the play
and how the affect the characters or impact the story.
Identify and define the
– Protagonist is the main
character who drives the
– Antagonist opposes the
main action and creates
the central conflict of
the play
– What roles do the other
characters play?
Given circumstances include age, language and time
period; social status, family history and might
include a brief physical description. What is the
essential action of the character. What does he or
she want?
Qualities might describe the tactics the character
uses to pursue his or her goals.
Conflict and relationships describe how the various
characters relate to one another. What can they get
from one another? What can they take? Who can
help them? Who can hurt them?
Other qualities of character (cont.)
– Willpower is the amount of intensity employed to
pursue a goal.
– Values describe how a character views what is
good or bad; what characters stand for or against.
– Personality is how the characters appear to others
and demonstrated by their actions.
– Complexity suggests how aware characters are of
their situation.
Objectives and superobjectives
From the Stanislavsky “system”
Characters want to accomplish
goals or objectives
A character’s super-objective is
the need that governs all needs.
What is needed to resolve the
character’s central conflict?
Hodge approach
From Hodge and McLain’s PLAY DIRECTING:
Analysis, Communication & Style, 6th edition
Character is ACTION
Characters are SIMPLE or COMPLEX
Character is revealed in ACTION
DESIRE. What the character wants most.
WILL. The character’s relative strength in attaining his or her goals.
MORAL STANCE. How honest is he with other and with himself? What is his or
her sense of integrity? Is this an “evil” or “good” character?
DECORUM. What a character looks like… manners… poise. The projection of an
outward appearance. (Can be altered by casting.)
SUMMARY ADJECTIVES. What character traits does the action reveal?
CHARACTER-MOOD-INTENSITY. The physical or body-state of the character
(nervosity) at the beginning of the play and the beginning of each group of
associated units.
Patterson approach
Personality traits
Action traits
Functional traits
A collection of action points
from beginning to end.
These allow the director to
chart the progress of the
plot in a detailed way.
A common system of
identifying such units is to
describe French scenes.
External action is the blocking, movement and
location of characters on the stage
Internal action is what happens in the
character’s mental, spiritual and emotional life.
An example from HAMLET (I:v)
The Ghost
Hamlet speaks with the ghost
Hamlet resolves to avenge his father’s death
Backstory or Exposition
Create a list of all story points and describe each
units essential action.
- What is revealed in the scene?
- Who reveals it? To whom?
- How is it revealed?
- Is the information true or false?
- How does it impact the plot or characters?
Structure of dramatic action
• Inciting action is the event the sparks the action
of the play…where the major conflict comes alive
• Climax is where the conflict reaches its highest
• Falling action is the moment the conflict
is resolved
Conflicts and obstacles
This clash is between two characters
– In HAMLET, for example it is a conflict
between Hamlet and Claudius
– Notably, the conflict in the action is
not between Hamlet and God,
although that is a thematic element
An obstacle is what gets in the way of
the protagonist in his or her pursuit of
the super-objective
IDEAS or theme
What does the title tell us about the play?
What major ideas are discussed in the
– Aphorisms (a concise statement of
– Allusions (references to other places of
– Imagery (metaphor, simile, figurative
– Symbolism
Themes are ideas that recur or pervade a
work of art
Major beats (units)
Minor beats or “bits”
– pace and tempo (speed or rate)
– rhythm (a pattern of tempos)
– atmosphere (mood)
– Realistic
– Abstract
– Naturalistic
– Formal or informal
– Colloquial
– Dialect
Diction and Grammar
Characters are shaped by the way they speak.
How does language distinguish characters?
“Because a play is not readily afforded the luxury of
third person narration like a novel, what a character is
really thinking is often not explicitly stated. Great
playwrights, like Chekhov, are masters of subtext.”
What does subtext tell us?
What thoughts are true?
What is spoken out loud?
What is shown but not said?
What is being concealed?
Final thoughts
“Once the director has completed the analysis,
it is important to return to the play as a
unified, coherent whole. Formulating the
main idea of the play is part of this
reassembling of elements.”
Formulate the main idea
“Creative a subjective statement that expresses, in a
short sentence, what the play is about…the director
can use this main idea to communicate to the artistic
team and the actors what the director wants the
production to say.”
Hamlet is a 1948 British film
adapted, directed by and starring
Sir Laurence Olivier. His main idea
for the film is simply stated in the
film’s prologue…"This is the
tragedy of a man who could not
make up his mind."
Steps to develop the main idea
List the prevalent themes.
Select a single theme that resonates strongly.
Relate the theme to yourself.
Write a short, personal statement from your
point of view that communicates the play’s
theme and the writers reasons for writing it.
5. Keep it short, succinct and in cause-andeffect format.
RIDERS TO THE SEA is the story of a mother
trying to cope with a family tragedy despite the
good intentions of others around her.
Testing the IDEA
Arrive at the idea of a play by analyzing the action—that
is by drawing the logical conclusion from the action and
the outcome or ending for each principal character. Write
a brief statement that captures the character, the essence
of her struggle and the outcome.
Use the following form…
The is a play about a _________ who______________.
OEDIPUS THE KING is the story of a man who challenges
himself to seek truth regardless of the consequences.

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