Aristotle’s Six Theatrical Elements

Figure 4-1: Aristotle. Source: Permission: Public Domain. Courtesy of author Jastrow.

You will have come across Aristotle's name when we did a brief overview of theatre history and also in Moira's explanation of Western Theatre. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.E.) and he produced a treatise called Poetics which is the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory. In it, Aristotle analyzed the theatre of his time: tragedy, comedy and the satyr play.  Poetics gives a definition for tragedy and rules for its construction--how a play should be organized-- a sort of Do's and Don'ts for making a great tragic or epic play. Although his ideas are thousands of years old, we still study them because they are very basic and useful for understanding and analyzing many different types of plays. 

In his Poetics, Aristotle identified six elements of a play: Plot, Character, Idea, Language, Music and Spectacle. It's important to know about these elements because we will continue to use the concepts in this course and as you write, work, and talk about theatre. 

Explore the Presentation below to learn more about Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama. European and North American theatre has often followed Aristotle's ideas about what makes good drama with variations of course.

It's important to know these elements so we can analyze the play we have chosen to read, and see how it’s constructed to deliver a powerful theatrical event. One of the essential structures of a play is the plot; how the story is organized.  Thanks to Aristotle, who gave us the plot segments of Beginning, Middle and End, we have basically been organizing our plots following his ideas for centuries. Next, we will look at plot structure and how factors such as Plot points and Act structure are also important when analyzing a dramatic play.