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How to Analyze a Drama Play Act

An act and its analysis await on this bare stage.
theater image by Luisafer from Fotolia.com

The angle from which you analyze an act (a segment in a play) and entire script depends on why you're analyzing it. If you're an actor, for example, you will still analyze the act for plot and thematic elements, but you ultimately focus on analyzing your character and her qualities through her actions, words and how other characters behave toward her. Approaching an analysis from a directorial standpoint is much broader and differs still from a scholarly or literary analysis. If you're analyzing the play act for a class, the scholarly or directorial standpoints will provide the most in-depth analysis.

An act and its analysis await on this bare stage.
theater image by Luisafer from Fotolia.com

Things You'll Need:

  • Paper
  • Laptop/Note Taking Device (Optional)
  • Play Being Analyzed
  • Pen

Character Analysis

Write a character analysis for all characters appearing in this act. Note descriptions for any new characters. Take note of the playwright's descriptions of them in stage directions (physical and behavioral). Include each character's socio-economic status (implied or stated), gender, age and how he fits into this act. Record what other actors say about the character.

Find characters (new and recurring) who bring something unknown to light or provide contrast to another character. Take note of any other functions you think this character serves.

Record how each character interacts with others. Include information on characters who behave differently in certain company or when alone. Ask yourself what similarities and differences each character embodies and why the playwright gave each character those particular qualities. Study how those qualities affect this particular act in the play.

Plot, Theme, Setting and Language Analysis

Write an analysis of plot actions in this act. Note any plot changes or "inciting actions" (events that change the direction of the plot or set a problem or conflict in motion). Notice if the plot is linear and easy to follow or complex. Some plays have virtually no plots and focus on character or theme. Take note, if this is the case.

Note any changes in setting and their effect on the play. Ask yourself if it's necessary and transitions smoothly. Also write down how the act's setting contributes to the play's central theme and what part of that theme shows itself in this segment.

Study how the play's theme appears in this act. The theme is a question of moral of human significance implied or directly asked in the play. Figure out what aspect of the theme is highlighted in the act. Ask yourself how your interpretation of the theme would change if you just read the act as opposed to the entire piece. Make a list of any items, characters or devices the playwright uses as symbols.

Look at how elements in the act like language, setting and devices adhere to a particular genre. If the act strays or twists the play's genre, note how this happens and your ideas on why.

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