IMITATION AS AN ELEMENT OF A DRAMA

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You will understand the concept of imitation in drama more if you have gone to watch a stage play, especially when the actors and actresses are the people you know very well. Imagine a situation where a play is to be presented in theatre you are familiar with and you are going to the theatre with one of the actors or actresses. As you get to the gate, you pay, obtain your ticket, enter the auditorium and sit down, ready to watch the play while your friend goes backstage to get ready for the performance. Assuming your friend is John or Jane, when he/she appears on stage, he/she assumes another identity apart from his/her own. Let us use one of the plays we are going to study in this course; Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. The play opens and you see John or Jane as he/she appears on stage as Lakunle or Sidi.

He/She ceases, momentarily to be that your friend because you have willingly suspended your disbelief. You remember what willing suspension of disbelief or make believe means. John or Jane makes you believe that he/she is Lakunle/Sidi. They try their best to convince the audience that they are really the characters they represent. They achieve this by speaking and acting like the characters they represent. This is called role-playing or acting.

In films and home videos you watch occasionally, you see actors and actress like Liz Benson, Pete Edochie, Shan George, Sam Loco Efe and many others play different roles in different movies. Liz Benson could play the role of a wicked young step-mother in one film and in another one she plays the role of a loving wife and mother. Generally we call it acting. In acting she pretends to be what she is not. She tries as much as possible to convince the audience that she is that character she is imitating Imitation in drama does not claim to present a literal copy of reality.

This is because the truth of drama does not depend on reproducing the world exactly as it is. When we say that drama is true to life we mean that it is being false to our conventional notions of reality. This means that some plays present stories that we find difficult to believe or a particular actor acts in a manner that is unbelievable. Sometimes we ask ourselves if it is possible for a man to be so wicked, insensitive and selfish that he would kill his own mother for ritual for the acquisition of material wealth. In most cases we still feel that maybe a person in a particular circumstance could be forced or persuaded to behave like that.

If you look at the story of Oedipus for instance, you will believe that the story is highly improbable yet it creates a world that we recognize as being in some sense like our own. This depends on the perspective of the dramatist, the aspect of life he wants to focus his mirror. He may choose to focus on the beautiful, or on the ugly, the ideal/ harmonious or the chaotic. He may for instance focus on bad leadership. He therefore presents an insensitive despot as a leader who uses his position to emasculate all oppositions and oppress the masses. He may or may not succeed depending on the message of the play. In most cases, nemesis catches up with such characters.

In mirroring the society, each dramatist decides on a particular perspective. When a play presents an idealized vision of the world as a place where everything is beautiful and orderly, we call it romance. On the other hand, when a play focuses on the ugly and chaotic as it presents a debased view of life we refer to it as satire. Satire and romance present extreme and sometimes, unrealistic conditions of life.

Imitation in tragedy and comedy is very close to life as we live it as they emphasize the dominant patterns of experience that characters go through in life. In most comedies, the major characters begin in a state of opposition against one another or what they stand for. As the play progresses they get to understand one another better so that by the end of the play they get into harmonious  relationships and the play ends on a happy note. The opposite is found in tragedy where the play presents a harmonious life for the hero at the beginning. As the play progresses, his world disintegrates and ends in catastrophe.

In the next article i will consider another important element of drama which is the plot.

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