Basic Spanish Terminology for Dramatic Literature

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

The theater is an exciting art form. If you are interested in theater in Spanish do not miss this lesson, where you can learn some basic, related terms like 'theater', 'stage', 'acts', and more.

Theater, Drama and Comedy

The seductive Don Juan Tenorio, the terrible Bernarda Alba, the friendly Don Mendo, the tragic Segismundo. Do you know what they all have in common? They are characters from plays written in Spanish.

The theater is a very old and important form of literary expression. Theater can thrills us with relatable protagonists that cry, laugh and even suffer.

Let's see some basic terms we can use to talk about the theater.

Teatro Campoamor in Oviedo, Spain.

Where To See the Theater

The word teatro (theater) has two meanings in Spanish.

  1. Teatro is a form of literary art. In it, the author narrates stories through the performance of the characters. In this way, the public follows the story that is told through the dialogues and the gestures of the actors. Decorations on the stage and, sometimes, music and dance are also elements of this art.

  2. Teatro is also the actual place where dramatic plays are performed. They can be large or small, humble or luxurious. Some very famous theaters are the Teatro Real (Madrid, Spain), Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Teatro de los Isurgentes (Ciudad de México, Mexico) and Teatro Martí (La Habana, Cuba).

The most important part of the theater is the escenario (stage), where the actors move and recite their roles. In ancient times, the escenarios were very simple, with floors of wooden boards and walls of painted fabrics.

In the Spanish theater in the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age, or 16th and 17th centuries), the stages began to be much more sophisticated. The great dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca helped to build very complex decorations for the stages. In this way, the plays were even more attractive to the spectators.

Escenario, where actors perform their roles.

Division of the Theater Play

The theater plays are divided into actos (acts), divisions of a play. The acts are divided by introductions, new elements, climax, etc. Generally, when an act ends the curtain goes down and the theater is momentarily dark.

The acts, in turn, are divided into escenas (scenes). The scenes are not indicated with the drop of the curtain, but happen when characters enter or leave the stage or when a new character appears.

For example, Don Juan Tenorio is a play that narrates the life of the seducer Don Juan. It is divided into seven acts. Each of the seven acts is divided into several scenes.

When the act ends, the curtain goes down.

Tragedies and Comedies

Theater plays can be classified depending on the literary genre to which they belong, that is, depending on the plot of the story they narrate. There are many genres within the theater. The two oldest are:

  1. Tragedia (tragedy), where the language is solemn, and the protagonists are often illustrious and important people who have to face destiny. The end of the conflict is sad, as the hero usually loses, dies, or goes mad.
  2. Comedy (comedy), where the language is colloquial, the protagonists are ordinary people, and their adventures depend on themselves or society. The end is happy and the problems are solved, sometimes by the ability of the protagonist, or simply by luck.

In modern theater it is difficult to find pure tragedies or comedies, since there are many intermediate genres that have some traits of both.

For example, the play Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) by Federico García Lorca, is a tragedy, while El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger) by Lope de Vega is a comedy.

Margarita Xirgu, the actress who played Bodas de Sangre.

Acting in a Play

In a play, the viewer does not read the text, it is interpreted by the actors. There are many varieties in the way of interpreting the theatrical text.


The most frequent is diálogo (dialogue), where the characters talk to each other.

In the following fragment of Historia de una escalera (Story of a Staircase), we can see a dialogue between two characters.

DOÑA ASUNCIÓN: Te he dicho que el padre de Elvira nos ha pagado el recibo de la luz? (Did I tell you that Elvira's father paid us the electricity bill?)

FERNANDO: ¡Sí! ¡Ya me lo has dicho! ¡Déjame en paz! (Yes, you already told me! Leave me alone!)

DOÑA ASUNCIÓN: ¡Hijo! (Son!)

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