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Character Motivation in a Drama

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  • 0:04 What's My Motivation?
  • 0:44 Motivation to an Actor
  • 1:29 Two Examples
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Motivation is a term that applies to many aspects of life. In this lesson, you'll apply the term to literature and learn how motivation functions in a play.

What's My Motivation?

Alfred Hitchcock, the great film director, once said, 'When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.' If he says, 'But what's my motivation?' I say, 'Your salary.'

Hitchcock was making a little joke about what really motivates actors, but even if there's truth in his answer, he's bringing up a key idea in drama - motivation. Motivation is what drives a character to say what he says and to do what he does. Let's look closer at how motivation affects the characters in a play and the audience watching them.

Motivation to an Actor

There's an idea that to really play a role well, the actor has to get inside of the head of the character. He has to understand why the character feels what he feels. He has to wrap his mind around the character's attitudes, prejudices, likes, dislikes, and all those quirks that make people human. When the actor asked Hitchcock about his motivation, he wanted to know what was driving his character to perform the actions and say the words in the script. To put it another way, he wanted to know - if his character were a real person, why would he behave in that manner? Here's an example that should shed light on why understanding motivation is important.

Two Examples

Imagine you're reading a script based on the classic story, 'The Three Little Pigs.' The wolf is knocking on the door of the third pig's brick house. The wolf says, 'Little pig, little pig, let me in,' and the pig replies, 'Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.' The story's an old, familiar one, but imagine that you have to play the part of the pig or the wolf. How might you deliver those lines?

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