Drama Structure: Acts, Scenes, Prologue & Epilogue

Drama Structure: Acts, Scenes, Prologue & Epilogue
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  • 0:01 Dramatic Structure
  • 0:47 The Prologue
  • 1:37 The Acts
  • 2:18 The Scenes
  • 2:54 The Epilogue
  • 3:57 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.

Plays have a definite structure that can include a prologue, acts, scenes, and an epilogue. In this lesson, you'll learn about each of those parts and how they fit together to form a play.

Dramatic Structure

In this lesson, you'll learn about the structure of plays. But even if you haven't seen a play before, you can already get the main point of the lesson by thinking about football. If you watch football on TV, there's the pre-game show, then the actual game, which is divided into four quarters, then the post-game show where the commentators talk about what just happened. The same structure happens in plays. We just use different names for it, but the idea holds true - we like to structure our entertainment into these specific categories. We want stuff before, during, and after. Want to learn how this works in plays? Keep watching!

The Prologue

In a football broadcast, they usually have a pre-game show. Commentators come on the screen and let you know what to expect from the game you're about to watch. Plays that have a prologue do the same thing. The prologue is the opening segment that introduces the rest of the play. Let's look at a famous example.

Shakespeare's famous play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet opens with 14 lines that set the scene. The first two lines are, 'Two households, both alike in dignity,/ In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,' and these tell the audience that the play will be about two families of equal wealth who live in the city of Verona. Just like the pregame show, the prologue tells the audience what they should expect in the play.

The Acts

Football games are divided into quarters and, in the same way, plays are divided into acts. Each act is a major section of the play. Acts might be just ten minutes long, or they might be over an hour long.

Shakespeare usually wrote his plays in five acts, and each act builds on the ones before it to advance the story. One-act plays are short plays that only need one section to tell their story. Typically, the opening act of the play introduces the characters and the problems they face. The middle acts further complicate the problems, and in the final act of the play, the problem is resolved.

The Scenes

Going back to our football analogy, within each quarter, there are periods of time where the same players are on the field. When the drive ends, for whatever reason, the teams switch from offense to defense and a mostly new set of players take the field. In a play, we call these scenes. Scenes are the sections that make up the acts. You know when scenes change because the set of characters on stage change or the set might change to indicate that the characters are in a new place. Scenes tell small pieces of the overall story.

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