In our previous articles on elements of drama, we said that what makes drama unique is the fact that the story is presented in dialogue from the beginning to the end. What then is dialogue? In simple terms, dialogue is a conversation between two or more people. It is used mostly in fiction especially, plays. In this unit, we will discuss it as another important element of drama.
What is dialogue?
Dialogue is a discussion between two or more people. In literary works, it refers to a composition in a conversational form. In the novel it is incorporated in the story, that is, as the story progresses, the novelist gives two or more characters the opportunity to discuss or comment on certain issues and the story continues in prose form. However, in drama, the entire story is presented in dialogue. This explains why some people find it difficult to read plays because you see the name of a character, then, what the character says, the name of another character and the response as seen below: In addition to that, you must read the stage direction for you to understand the story, the motivation of the characters, the place where the action is taking place and other information provided about the environment and the personality of the characters. Many people therefore find the reading of a play cumbersome and prefer to read a novel where they read and enjoy the story without interruption. Can you identify the names of the characters, the stage direction?
ANANSE: [When the song is over] While life is whipping you, rain also pours down to whip you some more. Whatever it was that man did wrong at the beginning of things must have been really awful for all of us to have to suffer so. [He calls:] Anansewa ! Where is that typewriter of yours? Bring it here. [Pause] I’ve been thinking, thinking, and thinking, until my head is earth quaking. Won’t somebody who thinks he has discovered the simple solution for living this life kindly step forward and help out the rest of us? [To the audience:] Oh the world is hard, Is hard, The world is really hard. [Taking off his raincoat and calling again] Anansewa ! Where is that typewriter I bought for you at a price that nearly drove me to sell myself? Bring it here. [He closes up the umbrella.] [Enter ANANSEWA dressed for going out, and receives the typewriter from PROPERTY MAN.]
ANANSEWA: Oh father, is it raining?
ANANSE: Yes, it’s raining. It’s rain combining with life to beat your father down. [He leans the umbrella against the wall.]
ANANSEWA: Oh. I didn’t even know you were not in the house.
The short dialogue above is taken from The Marriage of Anansewa and it is an exchange between Ananse and his daughter. Their names are written in bold letters to indicate that what follows is what the person says. This is unlike what we have in the novel where what is said by a character is marked off with inverted commas and the novelist will indicate who said it.
Dialogue could be described as a verbal interchange of thoughts or ideas. The Oxford Dictionary explains that dialogue involves two or more people and could be in form of expression, conversation, talk, chat, tête-à-tête, chit chat, debate, argument, exchange of views, discussion, conference, converse, interlocution, confabulation, gossip, parley, palaver, spoken part, script, and lines. The forms of dialogue listed above can be found in drama depending on the perspective of the play; the particular section of the play; the dramatic mode or the message the playwright wants to convey. You may ask how debate or conference could form part of dialogue in a play. It is possible for the playwright to create a scene on a conference and as the conference is going on, there could be question and answer session which involves dialogue. This applies to other forms of dialogue listed above.
According to Adewoye(1993), quoted in Iwuchukwu(2001),dialogue in drama is expected to embody these literary and stylistic values:
- It advances the action in a definite way because it is not used for mere ornamentation or decoration.
- It is consistent with the character of the speakers, their social positions and special interests. It varies in tone and expression according to nationalities.
- It gives the impression of naturalness without being actual, verbatim record of what may have been said, since fiction is concerned with“the semblance of reality,” not reality itself.
- It presents interplay of ideas and personalities among the peopleconversing; it sets forth a conversational give and take andnot simply a series of remarks of alternating speakers.
Dialogue is a highly specialized form of conversation that is designed to suit various contexts and modes of drama. It is not exactly like everyday conversation where we adjust style to suit the occasion and the personalities we are discussing with. In doing this, unconsciously, we use particular facial expressions, bodily gestures, vocal inflections. Sometimes, we pause or rephrase our feelings and ideas, as we adjust to circumstances to suit our thoughts and the thoughts of those we are talking to. It is not possible to reproduce it like that in drama. The playwright imagines these feelings and ideas, put them together in a more condensed form. This is because of the limitations of dramatic performance.
The dialogue is designed in a way that it must be heard and understood by the audience. As a result, the continuity of the dialogue should be marked out clearly at every point. Drama is presented only in dialogue so that it should be designed in such a way that through it, the reader or audience must be able to infer the nature of each character, the public and private relationship among the several characters, the past as well as the present circumstances of the various characters.
From the discussion so far, you will agree with Scholes and Klaus (1971) that dialogue is an extraordinary significant form of conversation because it is through it that every play implies the total make-up of its imaginative world. It is also important that dialogue imply the whole range of expressions, gestures, inflections, movements and sometimes information on the environment and the total atmosphere of the play. Read the example below, an excerpt from The Lion and the Jewel and see what you can infer from it.
LAKUNLE: Sidi, my love will open your mind Like the chaste leaf in the morning, when The sun touches it.
SIDI: If you stat that I will run away I had enough of that nonsense yesterday.
LAKUNLE: Nonsense? Nonesense? Do you hear that? Does anybody listen? Can the stones Bear to listen to this? Do you call it Nonesense that I poured the waters of a=my soul To wash your feet?
SIDI: You did what?
LAKUNLE: Wasted! Wasted! Sidi, my heart Bursts into flowers with may love. But you and the dead of this village Trample it with the feet of ignorance.
SIDI: [shakes her head in bafflement] If the snail finds splinters in his shell He changes house. Why do you stay?
LAKUNLE: Faith. Because I have faith. Oh Sidi, vow to me your own undying love And I will scorn the jibes of these bush minds Who know no better. Swear, Sidi, Swear you will be my wife and I will stand against earth, heaven, and nine Hells…
SIDI: Now there you go again. One little thing And you must chirrup like a cockatoo. You talk and talk and deafen me With wit words which always sound the same And make no meaning. I’ve told you and I say it again I shall marry you today, next week Or any day you name But my bride-price must first be paid. Aha, now you turn away. But I tell you, Lakunle I must have The full bride-price. Will you make me A laughing-stock? Well, do as you please. But Sidi will not make herself A cheap bowl for the village spit.
LAKUNLE: O n my head fall their scorn.
SIDI: They will say I was no virgin That I was forced to sell my shame And marry you without a price.
LAKUNLE: A savage custom, barbaric, outdated, Rejected, denounced, accursed, Excommunicated, archaic, degrading, Humiliating, unspeakable, redundant.
SIDI: Is the bag empty? Why did you stop?
LAKUNLE: I own a Shorter Companion Dictionary, but I have ordered The Longer One-you wait!
SIDI: Just pay the price. From this dialogue between Lakunle and Sidi, you can see that Lakunle is an educated buffoon who wants to marry a lady in the village without fulfilling the requirements of the people’s customs. He apes the white man and despises the African cultural heritage. Sidi is a decent but uneducated village girl who wants to maintain her dignity.
In summary dialogue is a verbal communication between two or more people and it is very important to the dramatist especially in written plays. The story of drama is presented through the characters as they talk to one another and relate to one another. Characters are revealed through dialogue. Also incidents and events are exposed and explicated through dialogue.