Listen to part of a lecture in a class on theater history. The professor is discussing the theater of 19th-century France .
The 19th century was the time that saw what we call “realism” developing in European theater.
Uh to understand this, though, we first need to look at an earlier form of drama known as the “well-made play,” which, basically, was a pattern for constructing plays—plays that, um, beginning with some early nineteenth-century comedies in France, proved very successful commercially.
The dramatic devices used here weren't actually anything new, they have been around for centuries.
But the formula for a well-made play required that the certain of these elements being included, in a particular order, and most importantly, that everything in the play be logically connected.
In fact, some of the playwrights would start by writing the end of the play and work backward toward the beginning, just to make sure each event led logically from what had gone before.
Ok, so what are the necessary elements of a well-made play?
Well, the first is logical exposition.
Exposition is whatever background information you have to reveal to the audience so they’ll understand what’s going on.
Before this time, exposition might come from the actors simply giving speeches.
Uh someone might walk out on stage and say, [a little overdramatically]“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,” and then tell all about the feuding families of Romeo and Juliet.
[in contrast] But for the well-made play, even the exposition had to be logical... believable.
So, for example, uh you might have two servants gossiping as they’re cleaning the house, and one says, “Oh, what a shame the master’s son is still not married.”
And the other might mention a rumor about a mysterious gentleman who just moved into the town with his beautiful daughter.
These comments are part of the play's logical exposition.
The next key element of the well-made play refer to as “the inciting incident.”
After we have the background information, we need a key moment to get things moving, they really makes the audience interested in what happens to the characters we just heard about.
So, for example, after the two servants reveal all this background information, we meet the young man, just as he first lays eyes on the beautiful young woman and immediately falls in love.
This is the inciting incident. [indicating why it’s called an “ínciting” incident] It sets off the plot of the play.
Now, the plot of a well-made play is usually driven by secrets.
Things, the audience knows, but the characters often don't know.
So, for example, the audience learned through a letter or through someone else's conversation
Who this mysterious gentleman is, and why he left the town many years before.
But the young man doesn't know about this.
And the woman doesn't understand the ancient connection between her family and his.
And before the secrets are revealed to the main characters, the plot of the play proceeds as a series of sort of up and down moments.
For example, the woman first appears not to even notice the young man, and it seems to him like the end of the world.
But then, he learns that she actually wants to meet him too. So, life is wonderful.
Then, if he tries to talk with her, maybe her father gets furious, for no apparent reason.
So, they can‘t see each other.
But, just as the young man has almost lost all hope, he finds out, well you get the idea, the reversals of the fortune continue, increasing the audience's tension and excitement,
making them wonder if everything is going to come out okay or not.
Next comes an element known as the: An obligatory scene.
It's a scene, a moment in which all the secrets are revealed.
In generally, things turn out well for the hero and others we care about, a happy ending of some sorts.
This became so popular that the playwright almost had to include it in every play, which is why it's called: the obligatory scene.
And that's followed by the final dramatic element---the denouement or the resolution, when all the loose ends have to be tied up in a logical way.
Remember, the obligatory scene gives the audience emotional pleasure.
But the denouement offers the audience a logical conclusion.
That's the subtle distinction we need to try very hard to keep in mind.
So, as I said, the well-made play, this form of play writing, became the basis for realism in drama, and for a lot of very popular 19th-century plays.
And also, a pattern we find in the plots of many later plays, and even movies that we see today.