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In the last article, we discussed a very important dramatic technique characterization. In this article we will discuss other techniques that are employed by the dramatist in creating his imaginative world. They include Foreshadowing, planting, deus ex machine, play-within-the play and setting.


In drama, Foreshadowing refers to actions, words, events, incidents or other things in a play that predict a future occurrence in the play. Sometimes it contributes to the mood and general atmosphere of the play. Hamlet provides a very good example for us. We encounter a ghost at the beginning of the play. Its appearance creates an atmosphere of fear. It is an ominous sign of an impending evil or devilish act. It shows that everything is not normal in the society. This evil act is revealed later in the dialogue between the Ghost and Hamlet in Act I Scene v:

GHOST: I am your father’s spirit… If you did ever your dear father love-


GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

HAMLET: Murder!

This encounter foreshadows other unnatural deaths in the play.


In drama, one of the techniques that is used to present the action of the play is planting. It is the use of certain props to give more information about some characters, the environment or situations. If for instance you are watching a home video, and a particular scene opens in the room where a character is lying on a bed with a wheelchair beside the bed, you will conclude immediately that the person on the bed cannot walk. It might not be that person on the bed that is paralyzed but the presence of the wheel chair indicates that there is a paraplegic character in the play. Thus that wheelchair is planted and without any explanation you are able to get more information about the play. planting device. In planting, representatives of certain issues/places/things are used to create an impression or point to an idea that will be exposed as the events of the play unfolds.

Also in Arms and the Man, the ‘revolver on the ottoman’ gives a clue to Louka that the fugitive might be in Raina’s room.

Deus ex Machina

Deus ex machina in Latin means “a god from the machine”. In Greek theater, it “describes the technique used by some playwrights to end their plays with a god who was lowered to the stage by a mechanical apparatus and, by his judgment and commands, solved the problems of the human characters. The phrase is “now used for any forced and improbable device – a telltale birthmark, an unexpected inheritance, the discovery of a lost will or letter – by which a hard-pressed author makes shift to resolve his plot” (Abrams 39). It therefore originated from Greek drama and, in effect, when it is used in a play it means that the gods have come on stage to save a situation. It refers to an unexpected power, event or someone that saves a situation that seemed hopeless. This technique enables the playwright to unravel some secrets, or resolve certain issues that seem to be beyond human capabilities. This ‘god’ from the machine, in most cases, rescues the protagonist from an impossible situation or enlightens him on how to resolve an issue at the last minute. This causes a resolution of the plot by the use of an improbable coincidence.

In Oedipus Rex, the arrival of the shepherd is seen as deux ex machina. Before his arrival, the Blind Seer has accused King Oedipus of being the murderer of King Lauis. If the Shepherd does not come, the issue will have remained unresolved because King Oedipus has accused Creon of conniving with the Seer to accuse him of being a murderer. The Shepherd arrives at this point and unravels the mystery of the King’s parenthood. The servant corroborates the story and it becomes clear that King Oedipus actually killed his father and married his mother.

Play-within-the Play

As the name suggests, a play-within-the –play is a play that is created in another play. Usually it is a complete play with a beginning, middle and an end. It has its own theme which in many cases is related to the theme of the main play. It is created for a particular purpose. A very good example of the play-within the-play is The Mousetrap in Hamlet. Shakespeare uses the technique to confirm the claim made by the ghost. The play is summarized in the “dumb show” presented before the Mousetrap in Act III Scene ii.

The trumpets sound. A dumb show follows. Enter a King and a Queen very lovingly, the Queen  embracing him and he her. She kneels and makes a show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and reclines his head upon her neck. He lies down upon a bank of flowers . She, seeing him asleep, leaves him.

Anon comes another man, takes off his crown, Kisses it, pours poison in the sleeper’ ears, and leaves him. The Queen returns, finds the king dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner with some … comes in again and seems to condole with her. The dead body is carried away. The Poisoner woos the Queen with gifts. She seems harsh awhile, but in the end accepts his love.


As the play progresses, the king becomes uncomfortable and leaves before it ends. It becomes evident from his reaction to the subject of the play that he is guilty. Hamlet therefore becomes convinced that his uncle killed his father. On his own part his uncle realizes that Hamlet is aware of his crime so becomes desperate in trying to eliminate him. Each of them plans how to deal with the other person and their plans culminate in their deaths at the end of the play.


Setting is the location of a play. It is the time and place when and where the action of the play takes place. Setting is very important in a play because it helps us to appreciate the background of the play. Also in productions it helps the designers to design appropriate locale, atmosphere, and costume for the play. You can identify the setting through the names of characters. When you read The Marriage of Anansewa or The Lion and the Jewel, you would know immediately through the names of the characters that the former is set in Ghana and the latter in Nigeria. Some playwrights use known landmarks through dialogue or in stage direction. Ola Rotimi uses landmarks a lot. Try to read his Our Husbsnd has Gone Mad Again and through these landmarks you will know that the play is set in Lagos. Shakespeare uses known landmarks. Have you read Hamlet? In Arms and the Man it is more obvious as the playwright uses real life experiences to show that the play is set in Bulgaria. Can you identify its setting through the known landmarks? There are different types of setting.

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