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Dramatic Devices

Dramatic Devices

Dramatic devices are techniques used in dramatic works by playwrights to make stories more interesting to audiences. They are a form of literary device.

We will explore the many different dramatic devices and we will look at some examples.

Dramatic devices and techniques

There is a multitude of devices and techniques used in dramatic writing. These terms can be used interchangeably, but for this article, we will call them dramatic devices.

Dramatic devices are conventions that are used in drama to enhance the action on stage. This can be used for many effects, including realism, emphasis or contrast.

Dramatic devices are necessary for the audience; they act as a substitute for reality, which the audience can accept as real in the context of the performance. These techniques transmit information about characters or the plot that could not be conveyed by action alone.

Types of dramatic device

There is a multitude of conventions that can be used for different effects or purposes. Let's have a look at some dramatic devices.

Dramatic irony

The first device we can look at is dramatic irony.

Dramatic irony describes a situation in which the audience knows some information that some or all of the characters do not.

This results in heightened dramatic tension, especially in scenes that might allude to this information. Certain characters might be perceived differently by the audience than they are by other characters in the play due to unrevealed details or circumstances. Words and actions, therefore, can carry multiple meanings, making the action more interesting and exciting to watch.

Dramatic irony can be used either for comedic or dramatic effects. Audiences may laugh at the obliviousness of the characters on stage, or foresee potential tragedy.

Soliloquy

One of the ways in which dramatic irony can be achieved is through a soliloquy.

A soliloquy is a kind of monologue (a long speech spoken by a single character) that is addressed to the speaker themselves as they appear alone onstage.

Usually, the purpose of a soliloquy is to reveal the inner monologue of a character, allowing the audience to understand their thoughts, perspectives and intentions.

The information divulged during a soliloquy may not be privy to other characters in the play, therefore adding a layer of dramatic irony to enhance later action.

Aside

Similarly, this can also be achieved using an aside.

An aside is any speech delivered directly to the audience as a representation of a character's thoughts. Asides can be as short as a brief comment or as long as a whole speech.

Asides, like soliloquies, serve to reveal character information through personal thoughts that could not be shared through straightforward action.

The audience, therefore, may begin to feel involved and invested in the play, enhancing the dramatic experience.

Paradox

Another device is paradox.

A paradox is a statement that only seems like it contradicts itself but actually doesn't.

Paradoxes are used in drama to attract the audience's attention. They might seem to be ridiculous statements that offer humour in obvious self-contradiction; however, they usually still retain validity.

Dramatic devices examples

Now that we have established the major dramatic devices, we can consider some examples of how they can be used to great effect.

Dramatic devices in literature

It is important to look at how great dramatists have inventively used these same conventions as part of their craft to elevate and enhance their writing.

'To be or not to be'

Perhaps the most famous playwright in history, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), expertly deployed dramatic devices in his plays, cleverly using each to create unforgettable characters, stories and action.

The most widely known soliloquy in all literature is largely agreed as Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' from Act 3, Scene 1 of the play Hamlet (1599-1601). Hamlet's speech explores his deepest thoughts, contemplating suicide and the nature of death.

What makes this soliloquy so culturally impactful is the vulnerability exhibited by the titular character, Hamlet, who shares his innermost thoughts with the audience. There is an honesty conveyed through the soliloquy that can resonate with anyone, creating a feeling of intimacy on stage, especially poignant when considering the critical position that Hamlet finds himself in.

Another dramatic device used by Shakespeare in this scene is dramatic irony. Unbeknownst to Hamlet, his treacherous uncle, King Claudius, and his advisor, Polonius, are eavesdropping in secret. The audience is aware of this and understands the critical repercussions that might occur as a result, creating a sense of foreboding and anticipation.

Asides in Othello

Shakespeare's 1603 play Othello is a play largely concerned with deception and manipulation, particularly by its antagonist, Iago.

Throughout the play, Iago speaks to the audience through various asides, underscoring his treachery and deceit.

Even from his first aside, he cements his position:

With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.

(Act II Scene I)

The dramatic device is quickly associated with Iago's villainy, creating in the audience a sense of dramatic irony of his true nature that is not understood by the rest of the characters.

What forms, therefore, is an inevitable fate that makes the ultimate tragedy of the play even more distressing: the audience is Iago's witness (and perhaps even corroborator) throughout, watching his plan unfold, also helpless to his evil nature.

Dramatic Devices, Dramatic devices are used to enhance the perormance of plays, StudySmarter

Fig 1 - Dramatic devices are used to enhance the performance of plays.

Importance of dramatic devices

Dramatic devices are of incredible importance: with the inclusion of these conventions and techniques, playwrights can incorporate additional complexities, depth and detail into their work, making it a more enjoyable experience for audiences.

The major effect of all dramatic devices is to involve the audience, which makes the plot more immersive.

Straightforward action by itself may not be enough to emotionally involve audiences because they appear to operate from a distance. When an audience feels like they are part of the action on stage, however, the play becomes more believable and meaningful, thereby enhancing the dramatic experience.

Dramatic Devices - Key takeaways

  • Dramatic devices are conventions or techniques used to make stage action more interesting to audiences.
  • Key dramatic devices are dramatic irony, soliloquy, aside and paradox.
  • Many examples of dramatic devices can be found in the works of Shakespeare.
  • The most famous soliloquy is Hamlet's 'To be or not to be'.
  • Dramatic devices serve to immerse the audience more effectively in the action of the play.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dramatic Devices

Dramatic devices are conventions that are used in drama to enhance the action on stage.

Dramatic irony is a dramatic device.

The main types of dramatic device include dramatic irony, soliloquy, aside and paradox.

Dramatic devices serve to enhance the action on stage for the audience.

Dramatic devices allow writers to immerse audiences in the plot action more effectively. These techniques create ways for writers to divulge further information about characters or the plot.

Final Dramatic Devices Quiz

Question

True or false: a tragic play is usually about a hero or heroine who goes through trials and tribulations that don't lead to a happy resolution. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which of these is NOT one of Aristotle's six main elements of tragedy?

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Answer

Mask

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According to Aristotle, the purpose of tragedy is...

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Answer

catharsis

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Question

Which of these plays is an adaptation of a Classical Greek tragedy?

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Answer

Médée (1635) by Pierre Corneille's

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True or false: in 18th and 19th century Europe, the tragedies that were written started to explore the lives of ordinary people.

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or false: Hamletmachine (1977) by Heiner Müller is a tragedy.

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Answer

False.

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Question

True or false: The Romantic poets didn't write tragedies.

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Answer

False.

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Question

The three main types of tragedy are heroic tragedy, revenge tragedy and....?

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Answer

domestic tragedy

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The Conquest of Granada (1670) by John Dryden is a...?

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Answer

heroic tragedy

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True or false: Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller is a domestic tragedy.

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Answer

True.

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Which of these is one of the aspects of tragedy?

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Answer

 Villain

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Question

True or false: Soliloquies developed as a dramatic device in the 1800s

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Answer

True

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Soliloquies were popular during the _____________ Age

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Answer

Elizabethan

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The Elizabethan Age is also known as the _________ Age

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Silver

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Question

What verse form is a soliloquy typically written in?

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Answer

free verse

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The blank verse is written in what kind of meter?

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Answer

iambic pentameter

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Question

Which of the following works consists of a soliloquy?

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Answer

The Chronicles of Narnia

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Which of the following characters did NOT have a soliloquy in Julius Caesar?

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Answer

Augustus Caesar

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Which of the following works does NOT contain a soliloquy?

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Answer

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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The most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare's Hamlet begins with which line?

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Answer

Friends, Romans and Countrymen! Lend me your ears!

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A scene with a soliloquy features how many characters?

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Answer

3

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Question

What is a Dramatic Term?

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Answer

Dramatic terms are the terminology used in the genre of drama to refer to devices that achieve specific effects, as well as to depict types of characters, reference plot structures, or even refer to parts of the stage set.

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Question

Are Dramatic Terms also Literary Terms?

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Answer

Sure, of course. Some dramatic terms are also literary terms and could be also used to describe devices employed in a poem, essay, short story, or novel.

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What are the elements of Dramatic Terms?

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Literary elements

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What are some Dramatic Terms that could also be Literary Terms?

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Plot or details of the plot structure such as rising action, climax, and falling action.

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What are the Technical Elements of Dramatic Terms?

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Generally, the Technical Elements include those related to the set such as stage, scenery, costumes, and light or sound.

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What are the Performance Elements of Dramatic Terms?

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Answer

Acting

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Question

Name two types of area stage.

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Answer

The Globe Theatre

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Which famous Greek author wrote about catharsis in tragedy?

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Answer

Aristotle

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Which are elements of Freytag’s Pyramid?

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Answer

Rising action

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What musical genre is like improvisation in acting?

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Answer

Jazz

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True or false: the protagonist in a comedy doesn't get a happy ending.

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Answer

False.

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True or false: the purpose of comedy in drama is to amuse and entertain.

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Answer

True.

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Which Classical Greek dramatist established comedy as a genre?

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Answer

 Aristophanes

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According to Plato comedy is...

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an obstacle to rationality and self-control


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Which British form of comedy is NOT inspired by commedia dell'arte?

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Answer

Drawing room comedy

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Who is the most famous writer of classic romantic drama?

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Answer

 William Shakespeare

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Variety is the British equivalent of...

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Answer

 vaudeville

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Question

True or false: comedy of manners uses witty and sophisticated language.

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Answer

True.

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True or false: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1605) is a satirical comedy.

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Answer

False.

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Which of these is an aspect of comedy?

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Answer

 A parody of the behaviour of people in society

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Question

What is a morality play?

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A morality play is a genre of theatrical work, originating in the Medieval period, that intended to impart moral lessons as much as to entertain an audience. They were allegorical stories informed by teachings from Christianity, that featured personifications of religious concepts, qualities or abstractions. 

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What term is used for the three central kinds of dramas produced during the Middle Ages?

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Answer

Vernacular drama.

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Why is the term vernacular drama used?

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Answer

Plays that were classified this way were written and performed in vernacular language, which is the spoken language of a region or area.

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What language did plays affiliated with the Church previously have to be written in?

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Answer

Latin.

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What were the other types of vernacular dramas?

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Answer

Miracle plays.

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What were the two purposes of morality plays?

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Answer

Education and entertainment.

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Question

What kind of thematic shift did morality plays signify in English drama?

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Answer

The shift from purely liturgical content, to the freedom of secularity.

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What is an example of an English morality play?

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Answer

Everyman (c. 1500).

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Question

What is the protagonist of The Castle of Perseverance named, and what is he nicknamed?

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Answer

Humanum Genus, nicknamed Mankind.

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