Aristotle and His Elements

by Patrick Hurley

In his writings The Poetics, Aristotle essentially broke down what drama is and set a template for anyone who wished to write a play. He comprised a list of only six elements and declared that a play could not be called a play unless it contained these six elements.

He also listed them in order of importance.

They are:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Idea
  4. Dialogue
  5. Song
  6. Spectacle

This lost was written over two thousand years ago, and the incredible thing is, if we take a modern popular piece of theater, say the musical Wicked, we can see that all of these elements are still present. There is a plot with characters, (this hardly needs explaining here, but we will go into further with both of these in their own Dramatic Guides.) But what is Idea? Idea also has its own Guide, but for coherency here let’s call idea a word we’re all familiar with- Theme. So one of the themes of Wicked might be “don’t judge a book by its cover.” You can add your own here. It also has Song, lots of music in the show. And Spectacle, which includes all of the visuals, sets, costumes, lighting, etc. The show has a rather large Spectacle. Aristotle’s guideline for theater seems to still be intact.

Throughout all the literary and artistic movements that have shaped novels, poetry, art, and theater, it is theater that has changed the least. Why?

From the ancient world to the Middle Ages, to Enlightenment, to the Romantics, the Realists, the Modernists, and finally the Postmodernists, theater has remained very much adherent to the same form. And while the characters have changed, and the stories may be relevant to the times, the medium itself is very much the same, for the most part.

I think it’s time to change that, don’t you?

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