Engaging with drama texts

Enjoy the text

  • If studying a play becomes a chore, you will gain little from it.
  • Although the language may seem unfamiliar, even difficult, at first, most people find they have no difficulty following the play once they see it performed.
  • Most plays you are likely to study at A Level contain ideas which have engrossed audiences and scholars for generations — allow yourself to think!

Remember that drama texts are for performance

  • Try to ensure that you see a play performed live on stage — ideally in more than one production, so that you start to become aware of the possibilities for different interpretations by different actors and directors.
  • If it is not possible to see a live performance, there are at least half a dozen different film productions readily available on DVD.
  • If you find yourself disagreeing with a director's interpretations ask yourself why — you clearly have your own opinions and responses, which is the aim of studying the text.
  • Remember that any particularly long play is often cut in performance, but you need to know the complete text.

Get to know the text

There is no substitute for reading the text — several times.

  • Familiarizing yourself with the events, ideas and language of a play takes time, but is essential if you are to have your own well-informed response to it.
  • Critics and study-guides may suggest approaches.
  • Ultimately it is your opinion which counts, based on your own knowledge and understanding.

Know the complete text

Examiners often report that students seem to know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Study in class may tend to focus on the beginning of a text, where the writer introduces characters, themes and imagery to the reader, and then to become less detailed as the class grows more familiar with these concepts. So:

  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes later in the play.
  • Do not forget how characters can change during the play.
  • If you are planning to re-read the text several times for revision, make sure that you do not always start at the beginning.
  • Once you are very familiar with the play in its normal beginning-to-end structure, try reading the last Act first, then the penultimate one and so on; this will give you new insights into cause and effect.

Listen to the text

The language a dramatist uses is carefully chosen and structured. In order fully to appreciate it you need to hear it.

  • Listening to a professional tape-recording of the text will help.
  • An even better method is to read it out loud yourself, or with a group of friends.
  • Making a tape-recording of yourselves gives you a recording for revision purposes.

Analyse the text

In order to ensure that you are fully aware of the playwright's techniques and use of language:

  • Make notes under specific headings according to character or theme for example
  • Using a relevant Text Guide (from the 'Texts in detail' area of the site), take a key word from an essay question or from the Themes and significant ideas or the Imagery and symbolism sections and list everything you can think of in the text, including relevant supporting quotations, related to that point.
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