DRAMA: LITERATURE THAT WALKS AND TALKS
There is an enormous difference between a play and any other form of literature. A play is not really a piece of literature for reading. A true play is three-dimensional; it is literature that walks and talks before our eyes. It is not intended that the eye shall perceive marks on the paper and the imagination turn them into sights, sounds and actions; the text of the play is meant to be translated into sights, sounds and actions which occur literally and physically on a stage.
Though, some visual imagination is needed by the spectator, but no play makes the same demands on our visual imagination as any novel, descriptive or narrative poem, or short story. The actions and conversations take place before our very eyes; or, if there are actions in the play so violent or distressing that they cannot be represented on the stage, they can be described by characters who are present on the stage and show all the appropriate signs of horror and revulsion. Even this is more violent in emotional impact than the experience of merely reading a description in the third person.
To see a play is, for most people, a more exciting and memorable experience than to read a novel.
While anything that can be represented on the stage can be conveyed to an audience with much greater intensity than by any other literary means, not everything that is material for literature can be material for drama, for not everything can be represented on the stage. Physical possibility plays a part in this. The first and most important of these physical limitations is that the drama must deal with human affairs exclusively, because it is to be performed by human beings. The following limitations may further be observed by the students:
• Part played by the landscape in the novels of Thomas Hardy,
• The non-human personalities of H. G. Well’s scientific romances,
• The animal characters in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Flush’,
• The sea in the novels of Conrad,
• The giants and dwarfs as real ones are not trained,
• Talented child-actors,
• Events like a battle, an air raid or even a foot-ball match, and travel,
• Numerous changes of scene are not convenient, etc.
These are the main physical limitations on the possibilities of drama. The actual length of a play is also restricted by such considerations, not only for the actors but for the audience also, since even sitting still is tiring if it goes on for too long.
Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’ forwarded suggestions for making a formula for achieving dramatic concentration and that eventually gave rise to the theory of the ‘Three Unities’, i.e. Unity of Time, Unity of Place, and Unity of Action.
Unity of Time: It is usually taken to mean that the events of a play must not extend over more than twenty-four hours, though some strict classicists reduced even this limit and tried to make the action quite continuous, with the time taken by the events of the play and the time taken to show them identical.
Unity of Place: It prescribes that the whole play must have only one scene, because it is absurd to imagine that we are first in Rome and then, in a few minutes, in Alexandria.
Unity of Action: The plot of a play must be in one piece. Even if there are sub-plots, they must be subservient to the main plot.
From the above observations, I feel, it is enough to make it clear that:
• The special nature of drama, its literal, three-dimensional visibility and audibility, its violent impact, give it certain inevitable limitations based on human and physical capabilities,
• The drama is governed more strictly by a set of conventions than are other forms of art,
• The very restrictions of the dramatic conventions contribute to the impact of drama upon an audience by concentrating the emotion or amusement.