Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Owen Schaud


One of the most essential aspects of any dramatic work is dramatic form - the categorization of whether a given play is a tragedy, comedy, melodrama, or something else. Most dramatists argue that dramatic form is inherent to the play and cannot be changed. Typically, dramatic form is determined by the playwright's choice in writing the play, and many dramatic theorists believe this determination to be unquestionable. One such theorist, Giovanni Battista Guarini, wrote,

" ... And there is no doubt that anyone who imagines that he can make one of these genres slip in its entirety intothe confines of the other, and that he can put into tragedy that which is only proper to comedy, or vice versa, would produce an improper and monstrous play."~ Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry (1599) (Dukore, 1974)

The purpose of this thesis is to question the unquestionable - would such a result actually be ""improper and monstrous""? What if the director (and actors) decided to change the audience's perception of dramatic form? In theory, the play would be in the form that the dramatist wrote it, but in practice, the production and performance team would present the play differently and the audience would perceive it differently. The hope was to prove it is possible to alter an audience's (readers') perception of the dramatic form of a play by altering the way in which the dramatic form is presented. In order to best prove the concept, three plays whose inherent form is nearly indisputable were used. They were the tragedy Desire under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill, the melodrama Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht, and the comedy Tartuffe by Moliere. Synopses of each play were written in accordance with each of the three main dramatic forms. Participants in the experiment read the definitions of the dramatic forms and the synopses and were then asked to identify to which dramatic form the synopsis applies. Results indicated that audiences could perceive presentations of plays in alternate dramatic forms for the tragedy Desire under the Elms and the melodrama Mother Courage and Her Children, but not the comedy Tartuffe. These results imply that the presentation of tragic and melodramatic elements is malleable while that of comedy is too distinct to be changed. Limitations and future research are also discussed.