Some Early Tips on How to Read a Play

        Here's some advice about how to read plays. 

        First, like Chaucer's poetry, drama is made to acted out loud, so if you're stuck on a line's meaning, read it aloud to yourself. 

        Second, after you've read through the play once, try to sketch out the plot quickly in your own prose--just the big sections.  Everyman has no act and scene divisions because it's so early in the reawakening of the theater and those conventions hadn't yet been reinvented.  (See the note on the "Quem quaeritis trope" if you want to learn more.)  However, the plot has a lovely structure which you can even draw as shapes if you pay attention to the order in which certain kinds of characters arrive and depart.  The A-Text of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus contains scene divisions, but not act divisions.  How might its structure be sketched to track its major themes and actions?  King Lear has both act and scene divisions--how might you describe the structure of an individual act, and how might its larger "macrostructure" set up themes for the whole play? 

        Third, to appreciate the author's art, become a specialist in one character other than the protagonist (Everyman, Faustus, Lear, Volpone, Mirabell).  Re-read that secondary or supporting character's dialogue carefully (e.g., Fellowship, the Emperor, Oswald, Corvino, or Waitwell).  How has the playwright individualized her/him?  Is s/he "flattened" to work as an allegorical figure (one that stands for an idea) or as a comic character, perhaps a foil to the protagonist?  Or is the character psychologically complex, maturing or evolving, decaying or being corrupted, or rising to new wisdom or salvation?  Because Everyman is an early play, there are no stage directions, but you can infer what would have to happen if you have a creative mind.  How would you stage the character's actions to work with the dialogue s/he is given?  How would other characters on stage react?  (And while we're on the subject, why did you pick that character?--you might be finding out something!) 

        In the case of other plays with stage directions, how would you accomplish them? For instance, a character might leave to stage right or left, crossing in front of other characters or away from them.  The character might leave hastily or proudly or timidly or drunkenly.  The character might look back at the scene s/he was leaving, or forward to a known or unknown future.  All of these visual cues are implicit in the plot, but often are unwritten in the script.