Gustav Freytag, a 19th century German novelist and playwright, further explores the requirements of a well-formed drama. His focus--while wider than Aristotle's concern with classical Greek tragedy--is still limited to "serious" drama. Though Freytag follows Aristotle's lead quite closely and still favors tragedy over other dramatic forms, he does offer some additional insights.
Freytag holds that a drama is based on a Idea of the author's. This central Idea provides the unity of the drama, as it should serve to structure the action and determine the significance of the characters.
Similar to Aristotle's concept of praxis, Freytag holds that a character's emotions, thoughts and motivations are essential to serious drama. The emotions or actions themselves are not as interesting as how a character's emotions serve to bring about a will to action. A character's motivation can arise from within, or it can be produced though external influences upon the character.
The action should be unified, with a clear beginning and end. The end should bring a termination to any strife within the play. The events should follow each other as necessary or probable. The playwright must do more than simply show the events: he must make the events believable by exploring the characters' motivations and reasons, which should be consistent and credible.
Yet, for all this unity, Freytag does admit that occasional episodes not completely essential to the central plot or Idea may highlight or clarify a character, provide an interesting contrast to the main action, or otherwise enhance the overall effect of the play. If done correctly, these ornamental embellishments cannot again be easily "unclasped" from the main work.
Freytag is best known for his pyramidal depiction of dramatic structure. He begins by defining two states of the action: the play and the counterplay. During the play, the hero is predominately proactive, working outwards, striving, turning a desire into action. During the counterplay, external forces or opponents are affecting and directing the hero; the hero is primarily passive, his motivations and actions arising in response to outside forces rather than from within. A serious drama will contain a both a play and a counterplay, though either one can come first. The point where one becomes the other--when the passive hero finally resolves to action, or else when the active hero begins to be subjected to the circumstances his actions have wrought--is the climax. This definition implies that a serious drama will always contain some sort of struggle or conflict involving the hero.
Including the climax, Freytag defines five "parts" of drama (see diagram), as well as three scenic effects, or "crises".
These components occur in the following order:
The Introduction (a) explains the background of the drama by establishing time and place, noting the nationality and life relations of the hero, and briefly characterizing the environment. This may be presented as a narrator's call for attention (as is more common in older dramas) or as a short scene of action itself.
The Exciting Force is a scenic effect that occurs between the Introduction and the Rising Movement. It may be a whole scene, or only a few words. It marks when the volition arises in the hero that will lead to the action of the play; or, if the counterplay occurs first, it is when external forces resolve to affect the hero.
The Rising Movement (b) includes those events that further the action, introduce all major characters, and awaken the audience's interest.
As previously defined, the Climax (c) is the moment when the play becomes the counterplay, or vice versa. It should be inseparably connected to the previous action.
The Tragic Force (or Moment) is a scenic effect that may not occur in all dramas. Closely tied to the climax, it marks the beginning of counterplay.
The Return (d) begins to resolve the action. It should not introduce new characters or material, but build on what has already been established.
The Force (or Moment) of Final Suspense is a scenic effect that may not occur in all dramas. It seals the conclusion of the drama such that the audience feels "the compelling force of what has proceeded", for the Catastrophe should not come as a surprise.
The Catastrophe (e) completes the action. It should be brief, and provide a fitting end for the hero.
Freytag uses two dimensions for his diagram. Presumably, the horizontal axis is story time. Freytag does not define the vertical axis nor does he specify what exactly is "rising", "returning", or "falling" through the plot.
Besides exploring structure, Freytag also puts forth strong opinions on the content of serious drama which may not apply to many modern narratives. For instance, the hero's "force and worth shall exceed the measure of the average man" (Freytag 1895, p.63). The action should not be based on lamentable or common motives--such as thieving, cowardice or stupidity--leading to dishonest actions. The details of serious drama should not contradict reality. Modern narratives frequently violate these rules.
Argax Project : Dissertation :
A Rough Draft Node
|Last Edited: 02 Mar 2011|
©2006 by Z. Tomaszewski.