Theatrical Text: Characteristics, Structure, Examples

The theatrical text is one whose objective is the scenic representation. That is, it is written to be read, “performed”, on stage. The author does not count anything, it is the characters who through their dialogues put together the actions.

For this reason it is said that the author’s voice disappears, because it is expressed through the characters, and there is no qualification or personal opinion. The author of a theatrical text is called a playwright, who thinks and conceives the action and the characters that will act in it.

Theater, as a literary genre, is very old. Already Aristotle, in the 4th century BC, collected in his Poetics the techniques for making theater, writing it and representing it, known as the rule of the three units: how time, space and action should be treated.

You can present one or several conflicts through one or more characters, and these will develop the plot of the work through dialogue, mainly. It can be in prose or in verse .

Characteristics of the theatrical text

Two codes

It is not enough to read a theatrical text. You have to represent it. For this reason, its reading is just one of the factors that characterize it; there is a combination of two codes:

  • The verbal, which would be the text
  • The spectacular, which would be the music and sound, the staging, the lighting and the performance of the characters

Dialogues and monologues

The theatrical text is normally a monologue or a dialogue between two or more characters. It is a way of telling a story without intervening with opinions, explanations or descriptions.

Through the dialogues, the action unfolds. They are the conversations of the characters in the theatrical text that tell the story. The monologue is a long intervention by a single character.


They are the texts expressed by a character, and they are supposed to be his thoughts. For theater purposes, they are said out loud so that the public knows them, but knowing that the other characters cannot hear them.


The playwright sometimes makes indications (for the director) about certain attitudes of the characters, about some elements of the scene or another indication that he considers necessary. They are in parentheses and are not read in the representation.

Spectacular elements

They are said to be spectacular because they belong to the realm of representation, how that theatrical text is staged, even if they do not have to do directly with textual production.

These elements are lighting, acting, characterization (costumes, hairstyles, makeup, etc.), and props, or props (objects with which the scenography is assembled).

Rule of the three units

We name this rule because it is the one that is maintained in the production of theatrical texts until well into the nineteenth century, when the romantics dispense with them. Aristotle established that the action would take place in a day, in a single space and with a single plot line.

  • Time

The temporal theme in the theater was never easy. However, in plays, three forms of time can be noted:

  • The performance itself (or how long the play lasts)
  • The time of the action (for which the characters have to refer to the elapsed time)
  • The time alluded to, which the characters mention but which the viewer does not know or see

If there is a time jump, time is reflected between one act and another, and the characters will mention it.

  • The space

It’s where the dramatic action unfolds. It is represented by means of the scenography, with decorations, so that the spectators see it.

  • The action

It is developed by the actors, and formerly a single plot was represented. Nowadays, but already from the Spanish theater of the golden age, there are theatrical texts where several plot threads run.

Theatrical subgenres

Depending on how the themes and characters are treated, there will be tragedy and comedy.


The tragedy is carried out by heroic characters, or gods, and extraordinary things always happen to them. The classical Greek dramatists told the myths through tragedies, such as Oedipus Rex , Iphigenia or Antígona .

In the Elizabethan theater, that is, the one that was made in the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and of which Shakespeare is its main exponent, one of the best known tragedies is Romeo and Juliet , in which both protagonists die.


As for comedy, the protagonists are ordinary characters, the theme is humorous and the ending is always pleasant.

Minor genres

There is another classification of minor genres , which would include:

  • The appetizer: short, hyperbolic and excessive comic text
  • The farce: short text where there is an erotic mockery with characters that touch the cartoonish)
  • El sainete: an equally short text of a manners and carefree character

Structure of the theatrical text

Two structures can be observed in the theater texts, one internal and one external.

External structure

In a libretto or theatrical script there are several elements. The first, the title of the work, and then others follow:

  • Relationship of the characters

It is called Drammatis personnae , and it is the list of the characters, the relationship between them, their age, their name and their relationship (data given if relevant). They appear in order of importance.

  • Annotations

They are the indications that the author makes for the staging. They are usually in parentheses and in italics.

  • Acts

The theatrical text can be made up of a single act, two, three or more acts. They are composed of a succession of scenes, and are separated by a pause or rest, called intermission, which is indicated by a lowering of the curtain, a dark or something similar.

Generally the theatrical work divides the action into acts, determined by a climax or also by a change of scenery.

  • Picture

When there are paintings, they indicate a change in the setting to reflect a temporal or spatial change in the work. Sometimes the scenic change is made in full view of the audience.

  • Scenes

The acts are made up of the scenes. Scenes are a fragment in which a character appears or appears. However, there are authors who put together their scenes based on the action and not on whether one of the characters enters or exits.

Internal structure

Three parts can be seen: the presentation, the development of the conflict and the outcome.

  • The presentation

As the name implies, the characters and the context in which the play takes place are introduced.

  • Development of the conflict

It is the knot and coincides with the moment of greatest tension, when the plot thickens.


Here the problem of the work is resolved, for or against; the obstacle is removed or the protagonist dies.

Examples of theatrical text

Example 1: Theater of the 20th century, Doll’s House , by Henrik Ibsen

“Act I, Scene I (excerpt)

As the curtain rises, a bell rings in the hall. ELENA, who is alone, putting the furniture in order, hastens to open the right door, through which NORA enters, in a business suit and with several packages, followed by a Waiter with a Christmas tree and a basket. NORA hums as she places the packages on the table to the right. The waiter gives ELENA the Christmas tree and the basket .

NORA: Hide the Christmas tree well, Elena. Children should not see it until evening, when it is fixed. ( To the waiter, taking out the purse ): How much do I owe you?

THE WAITER: Fifty cents.

NORA: Take a crown. What is left over, for you. ( The waiter salutes and leaves. Nora closes the door. She continues to smile happily as she takes off her hat and coat. After she takes an almond cone from her pocket and eats two or three, she tiptoes to the far left door and listen ). Ah! She’s in the office. ( He hums again and goes to the table on the right ).

HELMER: Is it my squirrel that is making a fuss?

NORA: Yes!

HELMER: Has the squirrel been here long?

NORA: I just arrived. (He puts the candy cone in his pocket and wipes his mouth .) Come here, Torvaldo, look at the purchases I’ve made.

HELMER: Don’t interrupt me. ( Shortly after he opens the door and appears with pen in hand, looking in different directions ). Bought, you say? All that? Has the little girl found a way to spend money again?

NORA: But Torvaldo! This year we can make some extra expenses. It is the first Christmas in which we are not forced to walk with shortages.

HELMER: Yes… but we can’t waste either.

NORA: A little, Torvaldo, a little bit, right? Now that you are going to receive a higher salary, and that you will earn a lot, a lot of money …

HELMER: Yes, starting in the new year; but it will be a quarter before perceiving anything …

NORA: What does that matter? Meanwhile it is borrowed.

HELMER: Nora! ( He approaches Nora, whom he jokingly grabs by one ear ). Always that lightness! Suppose I borrow a thousand crowns today, that you spend them during the Christmas holidays, that a tile falls on my head on the eve of the year and that …

NORA ( putting her hand over her mouth ): Shut up, and don’t say such things.

HELMER: But make sure it happened. And so?

NORA: If such a thing happened… I would not care if I had debts or not ”.

Example 2: Tragedy Romeo and Juliet , by William Shakespeare

“Act II, Scene I (excerpt)

Under Juliet’s balcony ( Romeo enters the Capulet palace unseen. Juliet appears in a window ).

ROMEO: Hush! What glow breaks through that window? It is the East, and Juliet, the sun ! Rise, splendid sun, and kill the envious moon, languid and pale with feeling because you, her maiden, have surpassed her in beauty! Do not serve her, she is envious! Her vestal headdress is sickly and yellowish, and it is only buffoons who wear it, throw it away! It is my life, it is my love that appears! … Speak … but nothing is heard; but what does it matter? Her eyes speak, I will answer them!… (…) Look how she rests her cheek on her hand! Oh! Who was the glove of that hand to be able to touch that cheek!


ROMEO: Speak, oh, speak again, resplendent angel … For tonight you appear so splendid above my head as a winged celestial messenger before the static and wondering eyes of mortals, who lean back to see him, when he rides over the late lazy clouds and sail through the air.

JULIET: Oh, Romeo, Romeo! Why are you Romeo? Deny your father and refuse your name, or if you don’t want to, just swear to me that you love me, and I will stop being a Capulet.

ROMEO ( Aside ): Will I continue to hear her, or am I speaking to her now?

JULIET: Only your name is my enemy! Because you are yourself, whether you are a Montague or not! What is Montague? It is not my hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any part that belongs to a man. Oh, be another name! What’s in a name? What we call rose would give off the same pleasant perfume under any other name! In the same way, Romeo, even if he was not called Romeo, would retain without this title the rare perfections that he treasures. Romeo, reject your name, and in exchange for that name, which is not part of you, take me whole!

ROMEO: I take you at your word. Just call me ‘my love’ and I will be baptized again. From now on I will stop being Romeo!

JULIETA: Who are you, that thus, wrapped in the night, you surprise my secrets in such a way?

ROMEO: I don’t know how to express who I am with a name! My name, adored saint, is hateful to me, for being an enemy to you. If I had it written, I would rip that word off.

JULIETA: I haven’t heard a hundred words in that language yet, and I already know the accent. Are you not Romeo and Montague?

ROMEO: Neither one nor the other, fair maiden, if you dislike them both. “


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