A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes
Play most commonly refers to:
* Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment
* Play (theatre), a work of drama
Play may refer also to:
Computers and technology
* Google Play, a digital content service
* Play Framework, a Java framework
* Play ...
The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Old English plæġ, pleġa, plæġa ("play, exercise; sport, game; drama, applause"). The word "wright"
is an archaic English term for a
or builder (as in a
New Salem, Illinois
, West Sussex, England
A wheelwright is a Artisan, craftsman who builds or repairs wood
Wood is a porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the Plant stem, stems and roots of trees and other woody plants. It is a ...
). The words combine to indicate a person who has "wrought" words, themes, and other elements into a dramatic form—a play. (The
A homophone () is a word that is pronouncedPronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct p ...
with "write" is coincidental.)
The first recorded use of the term "playwright" is from 1605, 73 years before the first written record of the term "dramatist". It appears to have been first used in a pejorative sense by
Benjamin Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – c. 16 August 1637) was an English playwright and poet. Jonson's artistry exerted a lasting influence upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours
The comedy of humours is a ge ...
to suggest a mere tradesman fashioning works for the theatre.
Jonson uses the word in his Epigram 49, which is thought to refer to John Marston
:''Epigram XLIX — On Playwright''
:PLAYWRIGHT me reads, and still my verses damns,
:He says I want the tongue of epigrams ;
:I have no salt, no bawdry he doth mean ;
:For witty, in his language, is obscene.
:Playwright, I loath to have thy manners known
:In my chaste book ; I profess them in thine own.
Jonson described himself as a poet, not a playwright, since plays during that time were written in meter and so were regarded as the province of poets. This view was held as late as the early 19th century. The term "playwright" later again lost this negative connotation.
The earliest playwrights in Western literature with surviving works are the
Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language
Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek
Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
s. These early plays were for annual
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rect 15 15 985 460 Acropolis of Athens
The Acropoli ...
competitions among play writers held around the 5th century BC. Such notables as
Aeschylus (, ; grc-gre, Αἰσχύλος ''Aiskhylos'', ; c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BC) was an ancient Greek
Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language
Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek
Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kin ...
Sophocles (; grc, Σοφοκλῆς, ; 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC)Sommerstein (2002), p. 41. is one of three ancient Greek
Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient ...
Euripides (; grc, Εὐριπίδης ''Eurīpídēs'', ; ) was a of . Along with and , he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom any plays have survived in full. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him, but t ...
Aristophanes (; grc, Ἀριστοφάνης, ; c. 446 – c. 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme
250px, Pinakia, identification tablets (name, father's name, deme) used for tasks like jury selection, Museum at the Ancient Agora of Athen ...
established forms still relied on by their modern counterparts. For the ancient Greeks, playwriting involved '' poïesis
'', "the act of making". This is the source of the English word ''poet''.
Aristotle's ''Poetics'' techniques
In the 4th century BCE,
Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy
Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...
wrote his ''
Poetics is the theory of literary forms and literary discourse
Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation
Conversation is interactive communication
Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the ...
'', in which he analyzed the principle of action or ''praxis'' as the basis for tragedy. He then considered elements of drama:
Plot or Plotting may refer to:
Art, media and entertainment
* Plot (narrative), the story of a piece of fiction
* The Plot (album), ''The Plot'' (album), a 1976 album by jazz trumpeter Enrico Rava
* The Plot (band), a band formed in 2003
(''μύθος mythos''), character (''ἔθος
Ethos ( or ) is a Greek#REDIRECT Greek
Greek may refer to:
Anything of, from, or related to Greece
Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...
''), thought (''
dianoiaDianoia ( Greek: διάνοια, ''ratio'' in Latin) is a term used by Plato for a type of thinking, specifically about mathematical and technical subjects. Dianoia is the human cognition, cognitive capacity for, process of, or result of ''discursiv ...
''), diction ('' lexis
''), music (''
''), and spectacle (''opsis''). Since the
Myth is a folklore genre
Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as Narrative, tales, p ...
, on which
Greek tragedy is a form of theatre from Ancient Greece and Anatolia. It reached its most significant form in Athens in the 5th century BC, the works of which are sometimes called Attic tragedy.
Greek tragedy is widely believed to be an extension ...
were based, were widely known, plot had to do with the arrangement and selection of existing material. Character was determined by choice and by action. Tragedy is
Mimesis (; grc, μίμησις, ''mīmēsis'') is a term used in literary criticism
Literary criticism (or literary studies) is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often influenced by lite ...
—"the imitation of an action that is serious". He developed his notion of
The term ''hamartia'' derives from the Greek , from ''hamartánein'', which means "to miss the mark" or "to err". It is most often associated with Greek tragedy, although it is also used in Christian theology. The term is often said to depict ...
, or tragic flaw, an error in judgment by the main character or
200px, Shakespeare's ''Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864
A protagonist (from grc, πρωταγωνιστής, translit=prōtagōnistḗs, lit=one who plays the first part, chief actor) is the main character ...
, which provides the basis for the "conflict-driven" play.
The Italian Renaissance ( it, Rinascimento ) was a period in Italian history
The history of Italy covers the Ancient Period, the Middle Ages and the modern era. Since classical times, ancient Phoenicians, Magna Graecia, Greeks, Etruscan civi ...
brought about a stricter interpretation of Aristotle, as this long-lost work came to light in the late 15th century. The
Neoclassical or neo-classical may refer to:
* Neoclassicism or New Classicism, any of a number of movements in the fine arts, literature, theatre, music, language, and architecture beginning in the 17th century
** Neoclassical architecture, an arc ...
ideal, which was to reach its apogee in France during the 17th century, dwelled upon the
The classical unities, Aristotelian unities, or three unities represent a prescriptive theory of dramatic tragedy
Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a form of drama
Drama is the specific M ...
, of action, place, and time. This meant that the playwright had to construct the play so that its "virtual" time would not exceed 24 hours, that it would be restricted to a single setting, and that there would be no subplots. Other terms, such as verisimilitude and decorum, circumscribed the subject matter significantly. For example, verisimilitude limits of the unities. Decorum fitted proper protocols for behavior and language on stage.
In France, contained too many events and actions, thus, violating the 24-hour restriction of the unity of time. Neoclassicism never had as much traction in England, and
William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national po ...
's plays are directly opposed to these models, while in Italy, improvised and bawdy
(; ; ) was an early form of professional theatre
Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a li ...
and opera were more popular forms. In England, after the
An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organization, or social order. Archetypally, it was the period of time between the reign of one monarch and the next (coming from Latin ''i ...
Restoration is the act of restoring something to its original state and may refer to:
* Conservation and restoration of cultural heritage
* Restoration style
Film and television
* ''The Restoration'' (1909 film), a film by D.W. Griffith starr ...
A monarchy is a form of government
A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state
State may refer to:
Arts, entertainment, and media Literature
* ''State Magazine'', a ...
in 1660, there was a move toward neoclassical dramaturgy.
One structural unit that is still useful to playwrights today, is the " French scene
", which is a scene in a play where the beginning and end are marked by a change in the makeup of the group of characters onstage, rather than by the lights going up or down or the set being changed.
[George, Kathleen (1994) ''Playwriting: The First Workshop'', Focal Press, , p. 154.]
Popularized in the nineteenth century by the French playwrights
Augustin Eugène Scribe (; 24 December 179120 February 1861) was a French dramatist and librettist. He is known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made playThe well-made play (french: la pièce bien faite, pronounced ) is a dramatic genre ...
Victorien Sardou ( , ; 5 September 18318 November 1908) was a Theatre of France, French dramatist. He is best remembered today for his development, along with Augustin Eugène Scribe, Eugène Scribe, of the well-made play. He also wrote several pl ...
, and perhaps the most schematic of all formats, the "
well-made playThe well-made play (french: la pièce bien faite, pronounced ) is a dramatic genre from nineteenth-century theatre first codified by French dramatist Eugène Scribe. Dramatists Victorien Sardou, Alexandre Dumas, fils, and Emile Augier wrote with ...
" relies on a series of coincidences (for better or worse) that determined the action. This plot driven format is often reliant on a prop device, such as a glass of water, or letter that reveals some secret information. In most cases, the character receiving the secret information misinterprets its contents, thus setting off a chain of events. Well-made plays are thus motivated by various plot devices which lead to "discoveries" and "reversals of action," rather than being character motivated.
Henrik Johan Ibsen (; ; 20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) was a Norwegian playwright and theatre director. As one of the founders of modernism
Modernism is both a philosophical movement
A philosophical movement refers to the phenomenon de ...
A Doll's House
''A Doll's House'' (Danish
Danish may refer to:
* Something of, from, or related to the country of Denmark
* A national or citizen of Denmark, also called a "Dane", see Demographics of Denmark
* Danish people or Danes, people with a Danish ances ...
'' is an example of a well-made structure (built around the discovery of Krogstad's letter) that began to integrate a more realistic approach to character. The character Nora's leaving is as much motivated by "the letter" and disclosure of a "past secret" as it is by her own determination to strike out on her own. The well-made play infiltrated other forms of writing and is still seen in popular formats such as the mystery, or "whodunit."
Contemporary playwrights in the United States
Contemporary playwrights in the
The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
often do not reach the same level of fame or cultural importance as others did in the past. No longer the only outlet for serious drama or entertaining comedies, theatrical productions must use ticket sales as a source of income, which has caused many of them to reduce the number of new works being produced. For example,
Playwrights Horizons is a not-for-profit Off-Broadway theater located in New York City dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers, and lyricists, and to the production of their new work.
Under the le ...
produced only six plays in the 2002–03 seasons, compared with thirty-one in 1973–74.
As revivals and large-scale production musicals become the ''de rigueur ''of
Broadway may refer to: Theatre
* Broadway Theatre (disambiguation)
* Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
** Broadway (Manhattan), the street
**Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
An off-Broadway theatre is any professional theatre venue in Manhattan in New York City with a seating capacity
Seating capacity is the number of people who can be seated in a specific space, in terms of both the physical space available, and li ...
) productions, playwrights find it difficult to earn a living in the business, let alone achieve major successes.
New play development
In an effort to develop new American voices in playwriting, a phenomenon known as new play development began to emerge in the early-to-mid-1980s, and continues through today. Many regional theatres have hired dramaturges and literary managers in an effort to showcase various festivals for new work, or bring in playwrights for residencies. Funding through national organizations, such as the
National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government
The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United ...
Theatre Communications Group
Theatre Communications Group (TCG) is a non-profit service organization headquartered in New York City
New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United Sta ...
, encouraged the partnerships of professional theatre companies and emerging playwrights.
New Dramatists is an organization of playwrights founded in 1949 and located at 424 44th Street (Manhattan), West 44th Street between Ninth Avenue (Manhattan), Ninth and Tenth Avenue (Manhattan), Tenth Avenues in the Hell's Kitchen (Clinton) neig ...
and The Lark theatre in
New York City
New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State
New York is a state
State may refer to:
Arts, entertainment, and media Literature
* ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...
, for example, will often have a "cold" reading of a script in an informal sitdown setting. A cold reading means that the actors haven't rehearsed the work, or may be seeing it for the first time, and usually, the technical requirements are minimal. Shenandoah and the O'Neill Festival offer summer retreats for playwrights to develop their work with directors and actors in a totally "devoted" setting.
The 1990s saw the formation of playwriting
A collective is a group of entities that share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together to achieve a common objective. Collectives can differ from cooperative
A cooperative (also known as co-operative, c ...
s like 13P and
Clubbed Thumb Clubbed Thumbhttp://www.clubbedthumb.org/http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-06-10/theater/clubbed-thumb-s-summerworks-strikes-a-chord-with-punkplay/ is a downtown theater company in New York City
New York, often called New York City to disting ...
who have gathered members together to produce, rather than develop, new works. This has been a reaction to the "developed to death" notion in which the play never gets produced, but goes through endless readings and critiques that after a certain point in New York go through some kind of assiduous development process, and rare is the play that shows up on a producer's desk that gains any traction. On Broadway, this has happened with Mamet
's '' Race
'' (2009) and
Martin Faranan McDonagh (; born 26 March 1970) is a British playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director. Born and brought up in London, he is the son of Irish parents. A winner of the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film
The Acad ...
A Behanding in Spokane
''A Behanding in Spokane'' is a 2010 black comedy
Black comedy, also known as black humor, dark humor, dark comedy, morbid humor, or gallows humor, is a style of comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, parti ...
'' (2010), although these shows were packaged with stars (
Christopher Walken (born Ronald Walken; March 31, 1943) is an American actor and comedian, who has appeared in more than 100 films and television programs, including '' Annie Hall'' (1977), '' The Deer Hunter'' (1978), '' The Dogs of War'' (1980) ...
in the latter) and with playwrights who are well established in the profession.
List of playwrights
This is a list of notable playwrights.
See also Literature; Drama; List of playwrights by nationality and date of birth; Lists of authors.
A play is a work of drama
Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performance: a Play (theatre), play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on Radio drama, radio or television.Elam ...
A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based. ...
Mass media occupations