A play (noun) is a common form of literature, usually consisting chiefly of dialog between characters, and usually intended for performance rather than reading. However, many scholars study plays in this more academic manner, particularly classical plays such as those of Shakespeare (rare authors, notably George Bernard Shaw, have had little preference whether their plays were performed or read). The term play refers both to the written works of dramatists and to the complete theatrical performances of such.
Plays are generally performed in a theatre by actors. To better communicate a unified interpretation of the text in question, productions are usually overseen by a director, who often puts their own unique interpretation on the production. (See theatre and related topics for more detailed information on the process of producing plays for performance.)
The interpretive nature of drama is what makes it so appealing to so many performers and audience members alike — because a playwright is incapable of presenting the play in its intended format (a performance) without the aid of the actors and a director (though he may choose to take any of these roles himself — Molière, for example, often acted in his own plays), a play is by definition undergoing constant rebirth and renewal as new experiences and interpretations are brought by new contributors.
One kind of play, the closet drama, is written in a dramatic form but is not intended for performance. It consists of dialogue between characters, but it is meant to be read, either silently to oneself or aloud to a group in a "closet" (a private domestic room).
Plays are written in a variety of genres. There are six basic genres of plays:
- Tragedy - a play in which a hero comes to a sad end due to fate, a fatal flaw or the work of the gods
- Comedy - a play in which, despite hindrances and problems along the way, everything works out happily at the end. This usually includes funny material, even jokes.
- Domestic drama - a play that reflects the world of the domestic, the family and the relationships that emerge out of the ordinary happenings of life.
- Tragicomedy - a play that contains elements of both tragedy and comedy.
- Melodrama - a play of heightened emotion in which a hero and often a heroine overcome a villain to right wrong. Usually has a happy ending.
- Symbolic - a play in which the characters and the actions have symbolic function and the main concern is the development of ideas
See also: List of plays, List of playwrights