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Structure of a Shakespearean Drama
A LL plays have FIV E acts and a varying number of scenes. A parallel exists between the
number of acts and the universal law of living things:
In a drama In life
A ct 1 (Introduction) Birth
St. Edmund Campion
A ct 2 (Rising A ction) Growth
A ct 3 (Climax) Maturity
A ct 4 (Falling A ction) Decline
A ct 5 (Conclusion) Death
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Each act has a s pecific function in the development of the play and every tragedy contains the
following six elements :
ACT I Includes the exposition, and the exciting force R. Dobson-Efpatridis
In this act the mood and conditions that exist at the beginning of the play are described. The time and place
will be identified as well as the main characters, their positions, their circumstances and relationships to one
another. The main complication or conflict of the play is also introduced. This is what gets the action going
which is why it is referred to as the exciting force or trigger incident. A ll the information needed to
understand the circumstances of the play are provided.
ACT II Develops the rising action
The series of events which lead up to the climax of the play comprise the rising action. These events provide
a progressive intensity of interest for the audience. The rising action develops over several scenes of the
play. A ll the action has been developed and any secondary plots (subplots) are well underway.
ACT III Continues to develop the rising action and always contains the climax
This act includes the turning point of the play. The most serious conflicts have been addressed. From this
point on, the Shakespearean hero moves to his/ her inevitable end.
ACT IV Falling action begins
This act covers events occurring from the time of the climax up to the hero's death. The episodes will show
both advances and declines in various forces acting upon the hero. Like the rising action, the falling action
will involve events across many scenes and into A ct V .
ACT V Falling action ends and the conclusion occurs
This act focuses on developing the consequences that are a natural outcome of the hero's previous actions
which must be the hero's death. The catastrophe will characteristically be simple and brief.
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Shakespeare - Study Guide
Structure in a Shakespearean Play
A Shakespearean tragedy can be broken down into six distinct structural elements:
Exciting Force Falling Action
Rising Action Conclusion
Use the chart below to keep a summary of the main action of the play .
Structural Element Main Event or Events in Plot
1. Exposition Outline 5 essential facts from Act I i-iii that make up the exposition
2. Exciting Force List the exciting force which occurs in Act I iii