Comparing a play to two poems

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A play, a lyric poetry and an epic poetry are some of the kinds of literary works. A play is normally written by a person known as a playwright, it usually consist of scripted conversation among characters who aims at performance rather than reading. Hence, play can be used to refer to both playwrights' written work as well as to their whole theoretical performance. A play can either be a comedy (Designed to be humorous), farce (Generally nonsensical form of a play), a satire (Generally meant to poke fun at current situations, issues, places and people), tragedy (These generally involve death or tragic events meant to make people feel sad) and historical (Focus on actual historical events and may include all other play types.)

A poem is simply a composition in verse form. Poems depend strongly on precise word choice, metaphors, and symbolism. One cannot readily characterize poetry precisely. Typically though, poetry as a kind of literature makes significant use of the real properties of the words it uses

All these literary works make use of different elements which include; plot, setting, theme, character and style. These elements therefore become the basis by which these literary works are differentiated from one another. Analyzing the element of character in these three categories of genres will show how similar they can be and to the extent they differ.

A play has three major categories of characters i.e. the protagonist, the antagonist, and the foil characters. The protagonist is the main character in a play. The word "protagonist" means the one who plays the first part, the chief actor. The terms leading role, major character and hero are differently and sometimes not so well defined and, depending on the origin, the theme, the setting and the style may denote different concepts of a story, for example, in fiction protagonist story might be narrated from the viewpoint of a various character. This character may be but not necessarily the narrator. An example would be a narrator who relates the fate of a protagonist, perhaps as a famous figure recalled in a historical perspective. The chief rival of the leading role is a character known as the antagonist, who represents and creates barriers that must be overcome by the protagonist.

As with a protagonist, there might be more than one antagonist in a story. Sometimes, a play may take a particular character as a protagonist in the early stages of a play only to dispose off that character in the later development of the play as a dramatic device to make the play interesting. Such a character is known as a false protagonist. Where a play contains sub plots, these sub plots may contain different antagonists from the main plot. In some plays, characters might not be easy to identify, since multiple plots in the plays do not allow clear identification of one as the major plot. Such characters are illustrated in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The First Circle," showing a variety or different characters imprisoned and live in a gulag camp, or in Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" depicting 15 major characters involved or affected by a war.

The antagonist in a play is the opponent, competitor or the rival of the protagonist character. This character presentments the opposition in the play for which the protagonist must fight to overcome. In other words, a person or a group of individuals opposing the protagonist i.e. the protagonist is or are the antagonist or the antagonists. In the story's classic style whereby the in the action involves a hero fighting a villain, the two parties can be considered respectively as protagonist and antagonist. The antagonist is not constantly the bad character, but simply those who oppose the major character unlike popular belief. The antagonist is in no way in any play the "good guy."

Play writers have as well formed more complex situations. In some situations, a story is told from the wicked person's point of view, and any protagonist trying to stop the wickedness can be considered as antagonist. In the story "K-19: The Widowmaker" an American movie of the Soviet Cold War submarine group, United States enemies as portrayed as protagonists, creating a paradox, as always the American film industry tries to portray the forces of the America as the people fighting for good and justice, which is contrary to Russia (particularly the former Soviet Union) being as the antagonists who always have maniacal intentions (like world control). Characters of that kind are typically police officers or other law enforcement bureaucrats. Antagonists and protagonists can overlap at a time, in regard to what their final objectives are considered to be.

A foil is a character that contradicts another character (in most cases the protagonist) so as to bring out the different features of the chief character's personality and to throw the trait of the main character into sharper relief. A halt always posses some significant personality in common with the other character, frequently, superficial traits or personal history. A corresponding task of the foil might be accentuated by physical differences. For instance Don Quixote the dreamy and impractical in Cervantes is thin in comparison to his cohort, the practical and realistic Sanco Pansa who is fat. Sherlock Holmes is tall and lean thus becoming additional popular illusory character; Dr. Watson is always described as middle-sized, strongly built. However, the straight man in a comedy pair is a comic foil. The other illustrates a humorous, dumb, or just unconventional one while the straight man presents a practical and serious character. The funniness in these affiliations results from the relations among these drastically different personalities. In some other cases, a subplot can always be used as a halt to the major plot. This is particularly true in the case of Meta-fiction together with the story within a story motif.

The style with which poetry is written by the poet depends on the various elements of literary works including the purpose and the message it is meant to deliver. Poetry also has characters as a play(Alexander, 1988). This is one major similarity between a poem and a play, however, while the characters in a play are categorized into three major ways depending on the role taken by each of the characters, a poet is one major character in a poem who principally centers the theme of the poem to another character which includes both the living and non -living things. In a play the characters are majorly human beings or living things associated with supernatural being. In a poem, the characters various greatly from places, people, objects, super naturals, etc.

As we are aware, both the play and poems are of various categories. A play focuses on love, praise, politics, gods and ancestors and so on. Poetry is also categorized into the following depending on the topics as highlighted above. It is therefore only imperative that the kind of characters in both the play and a poem therefore depends on the category within which these literary works belong. Poems in some cases can be categorized into more than one category and therefore one need not to focus on this classification too much.

In analyzing characters in a poem, lyric poetry is a form of poems that expresses personal feelings of the poet. For example, romantic lyric poetry consists of first-person accounts of the opinions and approaches of a definite moment; feelings are tremendous, but personal. As opposed to a play Wright, the poet becomes the central attention in a lyric poem because of these personal feelings and not the characters themselves as seen in a play. The character in such a poem for example becomes the lovers, the moments shared by the duo, the features of a place or the feeling of one lover to another. One of the lovers might be the poet in which case expresses a personal feeling.

This is similar to a play in the sense that both have characters but totally different from the viewpoint that in a play, the characters has particular roles such as overcoming the obstacles presented by the other character while in a poem the characters becomes the centre from which the theme and the message of the poem is derived. As noted, a play has stages where the conflict is developed, where it is at its maximum and fully developed and where finally a solution as a result of such a conflict is reached (Alexander, 1988). The role of characters in a play is therefore one of bringing out such conflicts, developing the conflicts and finally availing a way of solving the conflict. This is different from the poem where majorly the poet praises, or generally gives a particular description of one character to emphasize his personal feelings towards such a character. In general, the poem may be regarded as a mere prose however, in deeper form it quiet intensely and appealingly brings out and expresses the personal feelings of the character (usually the poet) towards the other character (e.g. love). In the poem "Wedding Eve" by Dr. Everett Standa,

    Should I
    Or should I not
    Take the oath to love For ever this person I know little about?
    .............................. To love without hope?

The poet here is in conversation with himself. In this poem, the poet introduces dialogue and achieves a conversational tone with himself. He is expressing his fears about marriage and the uncertainty with which man and woman take each other to the altar for matrimony. But Standa is doing it in an enquiring or questioning way. In other words, he is posing rhetorical questions which do not necessarily require immediate answers but which gives the reader an opportunity to reflect upon the issues the poet is raising including his feelings. The characters in this poem are the poet and the woman who is to take him to the altar (Everett, 1999). The poet expresses his feelings and doubts towards this marriage. The woman is brought out as the centre of analysis. She is the reason the poem is composed because the poet keeps on wondering whether the woman is truly and sincerely in love with him or his riches.

An epic poetry is a long narrative poem. It is mostly concerned with a serious subject with details of the heroic actions and happenings important to a culture or a country. However, the first epics were the products of pre - literate communities and traditions. In these times, the epics were transmitted to the viewers and from the actor to actor purely by oral means.epics try to be constructed in the short episodes, all of equal status, interest and significance. This facilitates easy memorization as the poet recalls every episode in turn as well as using the whole episodes in recreating the complete epic to be performed. Epics present characters of high position in adventures creating a natural whole via their interactions to a major heroic figure and also through their episodes development that is important to the history of a country. The main character is the hero. The hero takes part generally in a repeated journey or mission, encounters opponents that try to defeat him and returns home considerably reformed by the journey. The epic hero shows characteristics, actions and exemplifying some morals that are greatly valued by the community from which the subject comes. Most heroes are repeating characters in their native culture's legends.

An epic poetry is different from the lyric poetry in the sense that while the former is a long narrative poem concerned majorly with legends, the latter is a poem expressing the individual attitude of a poet. The character in an epic poem is usually a person, object, or a thing associated with some supernatural power which forms cultural and beliefs of a community. The poets articulate a people's collective experience; it must enrich the precious safe in which the sinews of the collective group are preserved (Everett, 1999). The character therefore, offers an opportunity for shared experiences since it consists of spontaneous recollections which stir the emotions of the community. While a play might also convey the same legends, the protagonist character is helped by other characters to attain the appraisal status which the community sees as being of supernaturalism and hence contains some cultural associations. This therefore brings out clearly the difference in terms of characters between a play and an epic poem.

    The poem "Nyalgunga" by A. D. Amateshe,
    "........... you led selfless life
    Now you return home, a hero,
    Crowned in silent casket
    Your speech and sight embalmed.
    You will need a guide, our son,..........."

This poem talks about a hero who died fighting for the freedom and liberty of a community known as the "Luo" in Kenya. It brings out the ways and the styles of the community on burying a hero and the warm send off the Hero receives during burial (Amateshe, 2004). He becomes a memory and a mentor of the young boys in the community who holds his name high and usually strives to be like him. The poet showers the character with praises bringing out in details the character's personality and journey that makes the members of the community view him as a hero.

In conclusion therefore, the character as brought out in these three literary works shows some similarities and differences. All the three literary works makes use of characters in building and bringing out their story. In a play the characters convey the message to the audience in the same way the character in a lyric poem conveys the feelings of the poet to the audience. In an epic poem, the character usually a hero associated with supernaturalism conveys either a moral lesion or a strong warning by which the ways of a particular community lives and is shaped forming a major basis of their culture and beliefs.

Of the three, however, the various characters depend on the style, the setting, the message or theme of the literary work. The number of characters varies in a play with its length and the message while in the other two literary works, the character is usually one. This one character becomes the centre of analysis by the poet. In a play, the main character is helped to fight against the obstacles presented by the antagonist to solve the conflict as brought out in the play. In the other two literary works the character becomes the only attraction and the centre from which the story is developed.


    Alexander S. (1988). The First Circle. New York: Harvill P
    Amateshe D. (2004). Nyalgunga. Franklin Watts: American Library Association
    Everett S. (1999). Wedding Eve. Oxford University: Oxford University Press