Act V

Greek theatre ignored the division into acts. Greek representations consisted of several distinct parts, called protasis (introduction), epitasis (main action), catastasis (climax), and catastrophe (final resolution), but actually no interlude separated the individual parts. When the main actors left the scene, they were replaced by the choir, who sang or spoke their lines in unison, a collective, universal voice which commented on the dramatic action. Acts are, actually, never mentioned by ancient authors, not even Aristotle, in his Poetics, refers to such a division.

It was Roman drama critic Horace, three hundred years after Aristotle, who advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica: “A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts” and by the beginning of the first century it had become conventional in Rome. All Seneca’s plays, for example, were structured in five separate acts with musical interludes between them. The German critic, Guystav Freytach (1816-1895), attempted to rationalise the five act structure. In his model the first act is the exposition, where characters, character’s backstories, setting are introduced and it usually ends with the play’s significant piece of action.The second act takes that action and complicates it: that’s the rising action. In the third act there is a climax, the turning point, where the fortunes of the character or characters are reversed – either good to bad or bad to worse. In the fourth act the results of the reversal are played out and the hostility of the counter-party affects the hero in many ways. This is the falling action. In the fifth act the hero meets his logical destruction and that is the catastrophe. These ups and downs seem to follow the sequence of breathing: inhale/exhale. In a way we may say that drama is modelled on human nature.

Shakespeare’s plays do not exactly fit any pattern described above. They do not conform to the Aristotelian one and even if they may somehow resemble Freytach’s scheme, they do not completely fit into it. Shakespeare did not even divide the plays into acts and scenes, as it was done for the first time by the playwright Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), in his six volume edition of Shakespeare’s plays he edited in 1709. Shakespeare put on stage the dynamic of the world he knew with the sensibility of the genius he was, regardless of defined rules and patterns. His stories were based on the alternation of order and chaos. At the beginning of any Shakespearian play there is an order which is usually broken by the evil action of a villain, fate or  a war, till eventually another order is achieved. In this alternation we keep moving forward, as the order attained at the end of the final act after the catastrophe is completely different from the previous one. This consideration should “give us pause“.

Hence, what we learn is that once, for any reason, a situation of stability is undermined, it is foolish to dream to restore it as it was. At the end of Act five, we can only expect to tackle the first act of another play. Every time we wonder about when we can ” go back to normal” after this pandemic, I fear we have to be ready to figure an entirely new “normality” . A normality made of masks, social distance, unemployment, disputes among countries and who knows what else to the next catastrophe.This is life and this proves that after all, the bard was right,”all world is a stage“.


30 thoughts on “Act V

  1. Interesting read, and wow . . . I might have more in common with the English bloke than I realized. I’m not much for structured acts (three, five, or seven) and it probably contributes to my not being published (that, and because I stopped trying after a half-hearted effort). And now, I know who to blame . . . N. Rowe, my new punching bag.

    Also, Hollywood which trained most people to accept the three-act beat as a given (and it spilled over into written works), so I blame them as well.

    Personally, I just write. I like Lester Dent’s Master (pulp) Fiction Plot guidelines (he splits up stuff into four parts and it’s geared toward action) and in many ways, that feels more like what we’re experiencing (but that implies an acceptable ending of sorts, where COVID-19 is vanquished and villains meet their ends).

    As for your conclusion, let me posit that “new normals” are constantly occurring throughout a person’s (or people’s) life. Sometimes they are better than the prior “normal”, sometimes not . . . and sometimes you can’t tell.

    The introduction of PCs and the Internet brought a new normal to our lives, and the jury is still out if it’s good or bad.

    So far, COVID-19 leans heavily on the “bad” side of the balance, but it’ll depend on how we come out of it.

    Understand, I’m not saying it is, was, or would ever be looked at as a good thing, but there is a chance that —like after many catastrophes — some good might come of it.

    Unfortunately, that would require a capacity for reason, adaptation, and rational thinking that some people (me, for one) fear is no longer evident in populations and governments. Act Five might well be a crap-fest.

  2. Oh, my dear teacher, it is much more tragic than Sophocles 🤔 You might have to think in the way of modern arts; like Bertold Brecht who brock the style of Konstantin Stanislavski. I liked more the style of the latter when I had a short opportunity to play on the stages. As we know Stanislavski’s method was the actor(ess) must live and give life to the character on the stage but on the other hand, Brecht gave a cool manner to all of them: play your role and live your own life! We might use Brecht’s method for the new situation, and if you believe me my dear; I don’t believe all that shit they all are trying to convince us! Please take care and be safe my lovely friend 💖💖💖🙏😘

      • I don’t know exactly what is going on, or better to say I can’t explain it, it is just a feeling of ambiguity about what goes on in the world! It is something there is happening but I can’t believe that it’s happening as we see and hear about. I think that we must only keep our minds clear and don’t let the negative feelings and depression and disappointment change our views of life. Sorry that I can’t explain myself as I want to, I am a pessimistic person and I don’t trust all these around us 🙄 take care dearest Stefy and don’t let them make you crazy ❤❤❤

      • Dear Stefy, you came to my dream last night and told me that I have wrote so many words and said nothing!🙄 I know what you meant when I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about how could I explain myself; I don’t want to express any conspiracy, only I have looked around many ideas because, there are many questions remaining about this phenomenon. All them besides: just let me tell you what my late brother told me at the beginning of this 21st century: I don’t know or can’t remember from where he got this but he said, be careful! There will come a disastrous to this earth and only the young and strong ones will survive! I didn’t take it seriously those days but I see it now that what he meant. Please be strong dearest 🙏❤❤🙏

  3. It Is very interesting from the historical as well as from the cultural pov. As I usually Say to my students he was a psycholigist before being a writer, a Forerunner of freudian psychoanalysis and had a Deep knowledge of human mind.

    • Hamlet ia the kind of patient, Freud would have gladly psychoanalised. Depression, allucinations, frustration, madness, Oedipus complex…what more? All in one character.😏

  4. Shakespeare may not have divided his plays into acts and scenes, but it was done for him long before Nicholas Rowe, as even in the First Folio (1623) there are act and scene divisions to the plays. Milton’s tragedy Samson Agonistes is divided up after the Greek fashion, which made teaching it (I only did this a couple of times) rather a challenge…

  5. As reported in the post, I also think that we will never return to normality. Everything will have changed and the things we did before probably we will not be able to do now. The biggest change is the school: taking lessons online is definitely not the best thing and I must say that I prefer to go to school. We will have to get used to walking around the city with masks and maintaining a safe distance with people. We will certainly get used to it over time and this will be a new normality for us.

  6. I have always been taught that everything happens for a reason, I would never think to restore a situation how it was previously because if the situation had change there must be a reason. In this case where we can’t do anything we just have to learn from what is happening outside, we can’t ignore the massive improvements the environment had cause of no pollution and like Orazio said “carpe diem” we will never know if we are going to stay in another quarantine so when we come back we should appreciate more what we have remembering what we didn’t have in quarantine.

  7. ‘Big changes lead to big responsibilities’; with this aphorism I want to make it clear that the current situation in the world is slowly bringing to significant changes in our daily lives and for this reason a radical change of mentality is needed that can increase our sense of responsibility.
    As in the tragedy Hamlet of Shakespeare our lifestyle has been upset by the ‘villane’ or today’s ‘COVID’. This will lead to a change of scenery (our life) and people will have to adapt with altruism to the future situation.

  8. As written in the text even when we return to normal, it will be a completely different normal from what we had before this virus. It will be difficult to go back to walking on the street with masks, to keep a safe distance with friends you haven’t seen for a long time and therefore not to be able to embrace them, but we must respect these rules first of all for ourselves and then for the rest of the people, therefore we must have respect and altruism.

  9. Our life today, at the time of covid 19 is like a work of Shakespeare or as a representation of Greek theater. It does not matter if divided into acts or moments but certainly divided into periods: Phase I, Phase II etc…
    The covid 19 is the evil one of the situation that forces people to follow a certain order and certain rules. The final act will be to accept a new different normality when all this will be over.

    • I think that over time we will get used to new life, I hope that as soon as possible we will find a cure that can put an end to this virus, but this period of quarantine is serving me to appreciate what surrounds us. Like a theater work, I hope the final act is the return to life that we previously called normal

  10. As far as I am concerned, I believe that we will certainly have to face a totally different normality from theone we were used to. At the same time,however, before we reach thisnew normality,Ibelieve that a longtime must pass. I’m saying this because man will always prove to be irresponsible and arrogant, just think that there are people who still question the seriousness of the situation we are experiencing. Obviously I hope I’m wrong, but I have to admit that the future scares me.

  11. As we learn from history normal and usual people have never done so many changes in the world. Shakespeare was not one of them. The breakdown of the conventional has always represented innovation. If Democritus had not gone against the beliefs of his time by discovering the true nature of the matter, probably we would have not made hundreds of discoveries.
    Returning to Shakespeare, he was simple, he wrote in order to make important and low class people laugh and at the same time ponder on important themes. This change that we are experiencing with the COVID 19 is certainly very negative from several points, just think about the people that lost their family members or their friends. However this made us valorize our life, do not live as if it were a foregone conclusion, day by day.

  12. In my opinion the life we had before COVID19 would not come back. The fear and the problems that this pandemic is giving to us will change radically our habits that we used to have. For example, when you’re going to meet a person you won’t have the same contact you had before, you would stay more far from it in a “safe distance”. This will gradually change our lives becoming the “new” way of living until another catastrophe arrives.

  13. I think that after a bad situation you can come out stronger than before. There will be a normality that will never be the same but better because certain situations can only help you to reflect on the value of life and relationships with people. It would be stupid to fall back on our steps, because I hope that this virus that unfortunately came to us will turn out into something positive to our world. So why can’t the second normality be better?

  14. A characteristic that has always distinguished me from other people is my positivity. In fact I think that even in this very serious situation, respecting all the rules that the government has given to us, for example the distance we need to have between us and other people or wearing a mask, could not create a future infections. I hope that we can also pass more or less a “normal” summer.

  15. I think this virus is changing and it will radically change our lifestyle. This period is very thoughtful in some respects but, at least to me, it is helping to understand the importance of every small gesture that before seemed normal to be able to do, first of all going to school. I don’t know what will happen at the end of the quarantine, but I can’t wait to be able to go back to being with my friends and family.

  16. This pandemic has changed our lives. We will all have to adapt to the situation in which we are. Perhaps we will no longer be able to have the freedom and habits that we had. I never thought I’d say it but I miss school, our little world. Maybe one of the things I miss most is giving high five to my friends. I’m worried about what school and our social life will look like after all this. I just hope we will get used to it without even realizing it. But I have a lot of trust in the people who work tirelessly to overcome this great obstacle. Although this pandemic is a terrible thing, I hope it can open the eyes of the whole world. I hope such situations can help us put aside the problems that divide us and that unite us against a common enemy. If the world is a stage I hope this is only a small act on which I can’t wait to pull the curtain.

  17. After this pandemic everything will be different and our normalcy will never be the same again. I miss my friends and school, I miss wandering the corridors during recreation. I hope all this passes soon. this virus has done far too much and we must work to stop it, and we must support the doctors who are on the front line. despite this we must be selfless and respectful of ourselves and those around us, respecting the rules that have been given to us.

  18. Our lives are a play and this play is full of ups and downs but we keep moving forward. By now it’s almost two months that we are locked down, but if we are in this situation it’s only for our best. I’d never say that after all of this our lifestyles will be as they were used to be. Right now I wish I will see my friends as soon as possible, but it can wait until this virus gets destroyed by all the heroes that have been working every day since it all started. I hope that the phase in which we’re going to wear masks and keep security distance will last the least possible because it scares me a lot. Anyway I hope that we will be able to spend a joyful summer. This moment in our lives doesn’t have to be thought as a bad moment, I think I have never spent so much time only with my family and noone will give me this time back so I’m enjoying all the moments. I think that yes we will start again our lives outside, obviously not immediately as they were, but I also think that this is life: up, down and then up again. Nobody knows what life reserves to us.

  19. Because of covid 19 we are all experiencing an almost surreal situation. We have been barricading ourselves in quarantine for two months now. I think that from such an event we will hardly return to normal. In my opinion the only thing that could bring everything back as before is a cure and therefore a vaccine. But I must admit that “thanks” to this catastrophe I learned to appreciate the little things more. If in fact before everyday life had become boring, now it does not seem true to be able to go back to school and see my friends again.

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