Georges Polti: The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

[Readings] (01.13.09, 6:06 pm)

The ostensible problem being addressed by this work is that there are no new plots in drama. The purpose of the work is not to create new plots, but rather expand the categories of what plots there are, and how they are structured and how they work. The content of this book is not actually about plots as whole objects, but rather it classifies a smaller unit, components of plots, which are situations. The situations are classified into these 36 varieties, but also may be subdivided into classes and sub classes. Together they form a dramatic language for looking at works as wholes. Situations may be chained or combined together in plots. An example given in the preface is that Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind uses two situations: Daring Enterprises (#9), and Obstacles to Love (#28). Polti’s work is an analytic model, which can classify existing works into objects that are well defined within the system. Authors can explore these situations and permute them, exploring the possibilities within the system.

It is important to note that Polti is focusing his analysis on drama, and hence dramatic experience, and thus is less relevant to consideration of “pure” simulation. However it is relevant for examining dramatic structures that come from situations.

Polti presents the 36 situations as integral to the human condition, and asserts that they are universal across cultures. He argues that these thirty six situations illustrate that there must be exactly thirty six emotions.

The actual analysis of situations is remarkable. A situation has a name, a list of participants (elements), and some ritual form for how they interact, forming the basic foundation of the situation itself. There can be several methods by which the interactions take place, and these have symbolic value within the situation. These are fascinating because actors can fill in these roles, and it is possible that when multiple situations are present, the actors may switch between them. The classes and subclasses of situations are presented with dramatic and historical examples. Afterwards, Polti gives a somewhat political analysis of the situation, giving more context, and also providing a discussion of how the situation is used and thought of in contemporary times (meaning in 1916).

It does not seem fruitful to provide a list of the situations, as there are a variety of these lists online: Wikipedia, Changing Minds.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorPolti, Georges
TitleThirty-Six Dramatic Situations
Tagsspecials, media traditions, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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