READ: Dissecting the Play / Reading for Understanding

1 The Beginning / Plot Diagram

In order to read a play for optimal understanding, there are some technical aspects that need to be explained. Technique itself is not enough, you must also provide inspiration, intelligence and imagination. Technique only makes the appearance of these other aspects much more likely, and gets you through those unavoidable, frequent times when inspiration, intelligence and imagination don't appear.

Technique, like any good tool, will not limit your result. There is no single "correct" interpretation of any good play, but sound reading techniques will help ensure that your interpretations are valid, and potentially stageworthy.
Once you have mastered technical reading techniques, no script will be able to intimidate you, not even Shakespeare! "Skilled reading is nothing like the drudgery of dumb reading. Unfortunately, it is also not as widespread!" (Ball, 1983).

Many of you are probably familiar with a diagram called "Freytag's Analysis." This diagram plots out the common five parts of a drama.
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Exposition: Background information needed to understand the story. It ends with the inciting moment, that starts the rising action.
Rising Action: Conflict and obstacles the characters must deal with, both internal and external.
Climax: Turning point that marks a change for better or for worse.
Falling Action: Moment after the climax, the resolution.
Denouement: Conclusion of the story. Conflicts are resolved and there is a "catharsis" or release of tension.

This model works particularly well when analyzing the works of William Shakespeare, however it should not be considered to be the only way to analyze a play.

Ball, David. (1983). Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays. Southern Illinois University.