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Studying a Play

Steve Campsall | Tuesday December 04, 2012

Categories: KS4, AQA GCSE, EDEXCEL GCSE, OCR GCSE, WJEC Eduqas GCSE, Drama, The Crucible, Hot Entries, Writing, Analytical Writing, Drama Analysis, AQA English Literature, Unit 1 Exploring Modern Texts, Unit 4 Approaching Shakespeare, Edexcel English Literature, Unit 3 Shakespeare and Contemporary Drama, OCR GCSE English Literature, WJEC GCSE English Literature


Source: RSC / Peter Cook

Below are some general notes aimed at students, intended to help them analyse any stage play.

Plot and Theme

When a writer creates a story, whether for page or stage, there are two linked aspects that you can analyse and discuss in your school essays: plot and theme.


When we read or watch anything, we give time over to it. For us to feel this time will be well spent and worthwhile, the writer needs, from the outset, to find ways to interest and absorb us into the world of the fictional story or play, the ‘story-world’. This is the function of the plot. Analysing and discussing effects created that help the plot is a central aspect of your exam or coursework essays. It means that you need to be always alert to the effects a writer creates intending to persuade you to read on or watch the rest of the play. It is the plot that is the entertaining element of a story or play.

When you are reading The Crucible in class, right from the opening lines, it’s important to imagine yourself watching the action on a stage, presented by actors. In your imagination, think about costumes, make-up, lighting, sound effects, setting, character action and ‘interaction’ and dialogue. Miller and the stage director’s jobs are to entertain you in ways that will take you from the everyday real world into the imagined fictional story-world of the play, bringing you to wonder ‘what will happen next’.

  • When you write about a play, always focus on the audience’s likely response to the stage action, interaction, setting and dialogue and the effects of this unfolding over time, that is, the effects of structure or sequencing.

Typical plot techniques will be used to try and develop interest, tension, intrigue and suspense. A key way this is done is to cause the audience to feel a sense of dramatic irony, which is a key dramatic structural device. A playwright can create the sense of dramatic irony in an audience by...

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