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Drama (Plays)

Drama isn't just something that happens in high school hallways or at big family gatherings. In fact, there's a sense in which literary drama and the drama of everyday life are almost opposites of each other—one is scripted, the other is ad lib; one involves actors before an audience, and in the other the audience are the actors; one tries to illuminate truths concerning human nature, while the other simply reflects the truths of human nature.

Modern dramatists are doing their best to blur these lines.The people responsible for reality TV programming are essentially modern playwrites (albeit very shoddy ones), but far from revealing human nature their productions obscure it and reduce anything remotely enlightening to mere entertainment (if you happen to be entertained by people with too much makeup crying and throwing things at each other for no good reason).

It's a sad situation for one of the oldest literary genres. Most of the great Greek writers who weren't explicitly philosophers were either poets or playwrites, and they maintained that art must employ artifice in order to reveal truths about reality; trying to make real life entertaining, or (worse) entertainment real life, was to betray both art and human existence. Plays, they insisted, must serve as a catharsis for the audience, the theater a kind of temple for relieving its patrons of their emotional baggage through release of feeling.

Plays have consequently always tended more toward the existential (dealing with existence) than the cerebral. A novel, speaking directly to readers, can take more time reflecting, analyzing, commenting. On-stage dramas must portray action, conveying ideas and observations in the behavior and speech of the actors. It is principally for this reason that plays are written in order to be performed rather than simply read. There is a visceral element to them not present in merely written stories.

But it's not simply a snatch of life up there on the boards—Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that enjoying the theater required a "temporary suspension of disbelief." Things don't happen on the stage exactly the way they happen at home, or work, or on the battlfield. It's artifice, and it's ordered in such a way that meaning is conveyed.

Because, at the end of the day Aristotle's dictum that art must both delight and instruct must be served, even in theater. Any play can mean something, or convey an idea, but not every play is enjoyable to watch or listen to. Many of the Modernist variety are just plain boring. They don't delight or entertain, and therefore they fail to ennoble the audience with their professed ideals.

By contrast, William Shakespeare wrote the most thoughtful, philosophical, and flat-out fun to watch plays of all time. He worked in a tradition established by the Classical writers like Aeschylus and Euripedes, but with this appeal to English-speakers: Shakespeare loved words, and he played with them as much as with historical details, psychology, and philosophy.

As poetry is meant to be read aloud, so plays are meant to be performed. Yet a good (or great) playwrite can be read as easily as watched, and his style and content analyzed just as accurately in a university classroom as by a theater critic. Hence, we offer plays in script form. By no means every great playwrite or important school of theater is represented in this section, but we hope there's enough here to demonstrate how satisfying a good play can be, and to kindle in readers who have yet to enjoy it a love of the most human of literary forms.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

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126 Items found Print
Aeschylus I: The Oresteia (old)
The Complete Greek Tragedies
by Aeschylus (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
from University of Chicago
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus II: The Oresteia
The Complete Greek Tragedies
by Aeschylus (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
3rd edition from University of Chicago
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Penguin Classics
by Aeschylus (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Penguin Classics
by Aeschylus (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
All's Well That Ends Well
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
All's Well that Ends Well
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
for 10th grade-adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Antigone
Dover Thrift Editions
by Sophocles
from Dover Publications
Ancient Tragedy for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Antony and Cleopatra
Dover Thrift Editions
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
Historical Tragedy for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Antony and Cleopatra
Oxford School Shakespeare
by William Shakespeare
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Antony and Cleopatra
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Simon and Schuster
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
As You Like It
Dover Thrift Editions
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
Comedy for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
As You Like It
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by John Davies)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Birds and Other Plays
by Aristophanes
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Brit. Lit. Volume 7
by Oscar Wilde, George Sullivan
from Logos School
for 10th-12th grade
in Logos Brit. Lit. (Location: B18-14A)
Comedy of Errors
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
for 10th grade-adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Comedy Of Errors
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan
by William Gilbert
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Drama for 9th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Cyrano de Bergerac
by Edmond Rostand
from Bantam Books
Drama for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Cyrano de Bergerac
Dover Thrift Editions
by Edmond Rostand
from Dover Publications
Drama for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
from Penguin Putnam
American Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Euripides I
by Euripides
from University of Chicago
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Euripides: The Trojan Women and Hippolytus
by Euripides
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Everyman and Other Miracle and Morality Plays
Dover Thrift Editions
by Anonymous
from Dover Publications
Medieval Drama for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Four Plays by Aristophanes
by Aristophanes
from Meridian Book
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Frogs and Other Plays
by Aristophanes
Revised from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
5th edition from New Directions
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Glass Menagerie
by Tennessee Williams
from Dramatists Play Service
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Goethe's Faust
by Goethe, Walter Kaufmann (translator)
from Anchor Books
for 10th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
Hamlet
Dover Thrift Editions
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Hamlet
by William Shakespeare
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Hamlet
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
for 10th grade-adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Hamlet
by William Shakespeare
from Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Harvey
by Mary Chase
from CreateSpace
for 8th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Henry IV, Part 1
Dover Thrift Editions
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Henry IV, Part One
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Henry V
Oxford School Shakespeare
by William Shakespeare & Roma Gill, editor
from Oxford University
Historical Drama for 7th-10th grade
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Henry V
Folger Library
by William Shakespeare
from Washington Square Press
Historical Drama for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Henry V
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
Historical Drama for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Ideal Husband
Dover Thrift Editions
by Oscar Wilde
from Dover Publications
Drama for 9th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Importance of Being Earnest
Dover Thrift Editions
by Oscar Wilde
from Dover Publications
Drama/Comedy for 9th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Jew of Malta
by Christopher Marlowe
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Julius Caesar
Dover Thrift Editions
by William Shakespeare
from Dover Publications
Historical Tragedy for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Julius Caesar
Literary Classics
by William Shakespeare
from A Beka Books
Historical Tragedy for 10th grade
in A Beka Literature (Location: B18-01D)
Julius Caesar
Folger Shakespeare Library
by William Shakespeare
from Simon and Schuster
for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Julius Caesar
Oxford School Shakespeare
by William Shakespeare & Roma Gill, editor
from Oxford University
Historical Tragedy for 7th-10th grade
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Julius Caesar
Barron's Shakespeare Made Easy
by William Shakespeare
1st U.S. from Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Historical Tragedy for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Julius Caesar With Reader's Guide - Set
by William Shakespeare, Helene Cunningham
from Amsco School Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
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