The well-made play is a genre of drama with a strict structure which appeared at the theater in the 19th century. The name of its creator is Eugene Scribe. He is the one who had built up the form, and the developer was Victorien Sardou who brought the well-made play to the other level. The play is well-made because it has its technical principles which require strictness. It helps with the constructing of the effective theater work.
The well-made play has some important peculiarities. First of all, each play of this genre must have a secret, the revelation of which is the basis of the entire work and becomes the main goal of its characters. The reader always knows it while some of the characters – do not. The two obligatory types of characters are protagonist and antagonist. Of course, the heroes suffer, but then they get the fortune back. The bigger part of the story takes place before the events of the play, and its details discovers during the development of plot. This prehistory is significant for the origin of secret and its disclosing. Of course, the structure of the well-made play has a high place in the list of importance. It consists of the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. The exposition of the well-made play is a kind of “introduction” to the story, and it leads to the secret, but withholds it. The rising action is in all conversations between the characters. Theses dialogues and polylogues have their ups and downs. They help to get closer to the revelation of the story’s secret. During the climax, some character discloses this secret and reveals the dishonest personalities. The climax takes place almost in the end of the plot. This is an obligatory and the most important part. The falling action and resolution are relative short. In the other words, the conclusion must be quick. It presents how the knowledge of this secret influences the events, characters and their relationships. The critics consider the play of Henrik Ibsen “A Doll’s House” and Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” as the well-made plays.
“A Doll’s House” has a structure of the well-made play and follows most of its conventions. The main story contains the secret, and it has the important events which cause the secrecy now. The story is about Nora whose life changes at once, and her fortunes turns away from her when she decides to be helpful. The plot of the play begins with the Nora’s favor to a widow Mrs. Linde who needs to get a job. She finds it in the bank. Unfortunately, in such way, she causes the loss of Mr. Krogstad’s working place. The prehistory of the events in the play is in the past of Mrs. Linde and this man as they used to be together. The reader also finds out that previously Mr. Krogstad has lent Nora money which she needed for the upkeep of her husband Helmer. This fact becomes the secret of the play because the information about that loan might destroy the relationships of Nora and Helmer after he finds it out. The threats and fears become the basis of the most of conversations. In this play, Nora is a protagonist and Mr. Krogstad – antagonist. The climax part reveals the secret to Helmer. The falling actions show how this revelation influences the characters and their relationships. Helmer gets so angry that he abandons Nora. In such way, he demonstrates his antagonistic side. She is so disappointed that she is ready to commit a suicide. However, she realizes herself and understands the problem of her life. She is always a doll which her father passed to her husband. Even though, later, he changes his mind and begs her to stay, Nora prefer to live poor and alone than to be an object in the Doll’s House. The resolution is that she will never come back to this life.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” also contains most of the techniques of the well-made play. First of all, these are the missing papers conceit and a final revelation thirty seconds before the end. It is a play with a common structure, but with the complicated plot. Two men Algernon and Jack want to marry two young ladies Cecily and Gwendolen. However, there is on problem. Both girls dream to marry a man with a name Earnest, so these selfish gentlemen pretend to be Earnest. The secret of the play is in the truth about the men’s origin. It becomes obvious that they both are brothers, and the name of one of them is Earnest. The beginning is simple with the introduction of the main characters. The reader finds out the little prehistory about these men that they are similar in their selfishness and irresponsibility. They both have an excuse for the cases they want to escape. Both excuses are fictive. The other part of the previous events is the fact that Jack is a lost baby. He is also the protagonist of the story as the reader understands the play has a title after him. His wish to marry Gwendolen and to make Lady Bracknel to accept him is the reason why Lady Bracknel is an antagonist of the story. She causes all the “problems”. She does not accept Jack because he is an orphan and Cecily as she assumed her poverty. However, her opinion changes, when she learns that this young lady is wealthy. The conversations are pretty ironical and full of lies when the men want to impress the ladies. The rising action leads the characters to the meeting with Miss Prism. The arrival is the push to the revelation of the main secret of the story. This climax part discloses the irony and humor of the entire play. The main characters find out that she is the woman who has lost Jack. This explains that he is the elder brother of Algernon. The other big secret is the truth about the Jack’s real name which is Earnest. The resolution is short and quick the dream of his young fiancé has come true. The continuation of the story is open.
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The well-made play has its requirements and strict rules, but, even by following them, it is impossible to write similar plays. Observing the examples of the Henrik Ibsen’s and Oscar Wilde’s plays, it becomes clear how different and dissimilar they can be. Both plays have a secret. However, “The Doll’s House” has a great secret which everyone knows except Helmer, while “The Importance of Being Earnest” reveals the main secret for all the characters and reader at once, in the end of the story. The both plays have a resolution which completely changes the lives of the main characters.