Interactive flashcards help students review their knowledge of approximately 200 terms.

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A
absurdism / Absurd, Theater of the
phrase first coined in 1961 by theater critic Martin Esslin to describe theater set in a world without God, reason, or meaning—a world through which characters are left to stumble aimlessly. Absurdist plays transcend traditions of realism and frequently combine elements from theatrical movements such as expressionism, surrealism, and symbolism to create a tone or sense of atmospherethat conveys the irrational world of the play. Representative writers of the genre include: samuel beckett, eugène ionesco, jean genet, edward albee, and harold pinter. alfred jarry’s ubu roi is a precursor to the Theater of the Absurd.
act
traditional segmentation of a play that indicates a change in time, action, or location, and helps organize a play’s dramatic structure. Plays may be composed of acts that, in turn, are composed of scenes. The Romans were the first to divide plays into acts, although the Greeks before them broke up dramas with choral interludes. Various theatrical movements emphasized the importance of including a specified number of acts. shakespeare’s plays were divided into five acts when they were published and thereafter the five-act structure became the model for playwrights through the end of the nineteenth century. Modern dramatists began to break the tradition at the turn of the twentieth century; contemporary plays are often divided into two acts.
acting
the portrayal of a character’s words and actions by an actor. Acting requires actors to embody the personality, characteristics, and motivations of a character or individual they are portraying. A psychological or internal approach to acting asks actors to rely on personal experience and emotive response, whereas an external or physical approach asks the actor to work from the outside in, creating a physical exterior as a means of exploring the interior motivation or objective for the character.
action
the physical activity or accomplishment of a character’s intentions. Actions are not the events in a plot but rather the force that pushes the plot along. One character’s action inevitably leads to another action, which together form part of a play’s overall action. Aristotle describes tragedy as “an imitation of an action,” meaning that a character’s choices are not simply narrated but acted out onstage.
actor
an individual who portrays a character in a play or theatrical entertainment. Actors in a drama represent characters through imitation, interpretation of dialogue, and interaction with other persons on the stage. The Greek playwright Thespis is credited as the first actor (and from his name we have the word thespian for actor) because he was the first playwright to incorporate lines of dialogue in his work.
aestheticism
term applied in nineteenth-century Europe and America to the movement that advocated the creation of “art for art’s sake,” (a slogan coined by the philosopher Victor Cousin). Influenced by the German Romantics such as johann wolfgang von goethe, a wide range of writers and artists adopted the philosophy because it advocated the primacy of beauty over values such as political utility, thus giving them a sense of purpose. The movement is associated with writers such as oscar wilde.
agon
an ancient Greek term used to denote the fundamental conflict in any drama. Agon also is the term used for a theatrical convention typically associated with Old Comedy where the chorus is divided into two halves to debate an important idea or political question that relates to the major themesof the play. In aristophanes’ lysistrata, for example, the chorus is composed of a group of old men and a group of old women. The agon in this case provides comic fuel in the battle of the sexes.
alienation effect
see estrangement effect.
allegory
extended metaphor in which characters, objects, and actions represent abstract concepts or principles in a narrative that conveys a moral lesson. Allegorical plays were especially popular in medieval England. In everyman, for example, the title character is intended to represent humanity itself as he negotiates the temporal state of existence.
amphitheater
A classical Greek theater usually built into a hillside with a semicircular playing space called an orchestra surrounded by a semicircle of tiered seats. Amphitheater can also refer to a modern theatrical space with a similar design.
anachronism
term used to describe anything incongruous with its historical context—for instance, the presence of a telephone in medieval England. Dramatists often use anachronisms in an intentional blending of worlds, sometimes to achieve a comic effect. An unintentional anachronistic gesture or expression, however, such as the use of modern slang in historical drama, can prove distracting to spectators.
anagnorisis
the moment of recognition, or enlightenment, that is realized when a character discovers the true relation of himself or herself to the incidents in the plot and to the other characters within it. This term was first described by Aristotle in his Poetics.
antagonist
the person or force that opposes the protagonist or main character in a drama or narrative. The term derives from the Greek, meaning “opponent” or “rival.”
antihero
a protagonist or central character who lacks the qualities typically associated with heroism—for example, bravery, morality, or good looks—but still manages to earn sympathy from the spectator.
anti-masque
a form of theatrical entertainment introduced by ben jonson in 1608 intended to contrast the beauty and style of the court masque with stories that included grotesque or silly characters and dances. Often, masques and anti-masques would be performed together to demonstrate the scenic designer’s ability to juxtapose elegance with ugliness.
apron
the area of a stage that stretches out past the primary playing space or proscenium arch. The apron can be used to cover the orchestra pit in a traditional proscenium theater.
arena
a theater with seating that surrounds the playing area on all sides—sometimes referred to as “theater in the round”—to create a more intimate experience for the audience. Stage configurations for arena theaters can include circular, oval, or rectangular playing areas.
aside
a theatrical convention (commonly used in drama prior to the nineteenth century but less often afterwards) in which a character, unnoticed by the other characters on stage, speaks frankly and directly to the audience to express a thought.
Atellan farce
a form of comic burlesque from Atella, a Southern town in Italy, that was performed at Roman festivals during the third through first century b.c.e. The art form is considered a precursor to commedia dell’arte, both of which relied heavily on improvisation by a small set of stock characters such as the fool, the braggart, and the comic old man.
auto sacramentale
a form of religious drama presented in Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, similar to the morality or cycle plays of England. The plays were performed outdoors on carros, or wagons, as part of the Feast of Corpus Christi, a lengthy celebration intended to honor the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. The plays were enormously popular and commanded the attention of Spain’s leading dramatists.
avant-garde
originally a military term meaning “advance guard” (French), the term was increasingly used to describe unusual and therefore advanced forms of art and theater. The concept of avant-garde art can be applied to numerous theatrical movements aligned in their rejection of social institutions and established artistic conventions, though it is also used to describe artistic experimentation in the interest of pushing the art form forward. Symbolism, futurism, expressionism, Dadaism, and surrealism are all examples of avant-garde movements.