Metalanguage for Drama and Plays

Plays have Some Special Features

Although many features of drama are similar to those of other narrative fiction genres, plays have some special features, most of which are directly related to the fact that a play is intended to be heard and seen as a live performance.  As drama is spoken, there is no narrative voice to describe places and characters or to explain characters’ thoughts and motives.  With the aid of stage directions, the dialogue has to create the characters and the context for the narrative, generate the narrative momentum and generally fill the audience in with background information.

Elements of Drama

Many students will be familiar with drama associated with news and programs on television that have heightened emotions, extremely intense situations, unpredictable and even horrific outcomes.  Most of these elements of drama are found in great tragedies in movies and stage drama like the works of William Shakespeare.  Elements found in tragedies include conflict, suspense, distress, pain and suffering.  Comedies, on the other hand set up conflicts of a different order, they are often based on misunderstandings between characters and fraught relationships.

Metalanguage [the language to describe language devices]

When you look at metalanguage for drama and plays there are some specific terms that are distinctly different from narrative texts.  However, many terms can be interchangeable with drama to create the appropriate meaning in the context of the drama or play being performed.

Below is a list of Metalanguage for Drama & Plays

The list incorporates other terms from narratives that you can consider when describing significant moments in a play that you are studying.

Metalanguage for Drama & Plays



Act The major sections into which plays are divided.  Each act includes several scenes.
Allegory Story in which there are 2 meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic representation of the story.
Alliteration Repeating the initial consonant sounds of words close together to achieve an effect.
Allusion A reference to a famous figure or an event from literature, history or mythology.
Analogy A comparison to things that are very alike.
Antagonist A character opposite to the protagonist (main character).
Aside A short speech that a character gives directly to the audience.  Other characters remain on stage but it is understood by the audience that they cannot hear the aside.
Caricature Exaggerated description of a person.
Context Environment and situations surrounding the text.
Chorus A group of actors in Greek tragedy who are not characters in the play.  They speak between acts and comment on the morality of the characters’ actions and decisions.
Dialogue Anything said by one character to another character.  A play is written in dialogue.
Drama A work intended for performance on stage by actors.  Most drama is divided into the genres of tragedy or comedy.
Denouement The unraveling of a plot.
Dramatic irony Irony understood by the audience but not the characters in the play.
Epilogue Closing part of a speech or play.
Epitaph Statement carved on a tombstone that sums up a person’s life.
Eulogy Speech at a funeral.
Euphemism Indirect way of saying something that is unpleasant.
Fable A short story that has a lesson in life.
Flashback Device used by writers and film makers to return to events in the past.
Imagery Pictures created with words.
Irony Literal meaning is different from intended meaning.
Melodrama Play based on exaggerated or sensational part of a story.
Metaphor Figure of speech comparing one object with another.
Mise en scene Stage or film setting with all the elements that form the scene.
Monologue A part of a drama in which a single actor speaks alone.
Paradox A statement that appears to contradict itself but has some element of truth to it for example beautiful tyrant.
Personification A type of metaphor in which objects or animals are given human characteristics.
Plot Sequence of events in a text and play that tells the story.
Playwright The writer of the play.
Prologue Introduction to a play.
Protagonist The main character.
Repetition Repeating words over again for effect.
Scene Smaller sections into which the play is divided within each act.
Set Backdrops, furniture and props on the stage used to set the scene.
Setting Time and place in which the action occurs.
Soliloquy A speech made by a character when alone on stage.  Soliloquies let the audience know what the character is thinking and feeling.
Stage directions Made by the Director to help create meaning and establish settings and sound effects for the audience to follow.
Symbol Something used to represent something else.
Theme Central idea or issue behind the text or drama.
Tragedy Drama that tells of serious events that end with disastrous consequences.
Tragic hero Main character who suffers a down fall due to defeat or weakness in their character.

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