Look closely at the form of any poem or play. Authors put a lot of thought into the structure of their work.
This lesson discusses how that structure contributes to the overall meaning of the piece as a whole.
Structure in Literature
Everything we write has a specific structure. A text message is short and filled with slang, an email is formatted like a letter, and an essay is in formal paragraphs. These various structures contribute to the overall meaning or message of the writing.
Think of structure as how the parts in a piece of literature are put together.Authors will carefully consider the structure of every piece of writing because changing the parts will change the whole message. For instance, having slang in a formal essay will undoubtedly make the writing less serious.Two types of literature that have specific structures are poetry and drama.
Let’s look at the structure of both poetry and drama to analyze how it contributes to the author’s message.
Structure of Poetry
Poetry is literature written in stanzas and lines that use rhythm to express feelings and ideas. Poets will pay particular attention to the length, placement, and grouping of lines and stanzas.
This is called form. Lines or whole stanzas can be rearranged in order to create a specific effect on the reader.One example is the sonnet, which is a 14 line poem with a specific rhyme scheme. The key with sonnets is that most end with a pair of lines set apart from the rest. Setting those two lines aside gives emphasis to their content, so whatever message is being sent will be given more importance.
Another aspect of the structure of poems is the rhythm, which is the beat of the poem. This is usually measured in meters, which are sets of stressed and unstressed syllables. Poets often arrange words according to meter in order to create specific sounds or beats.
Think about any song (which is a type of poem) that you sing along to. Think about the rhythm of the music and the words. Is the singer angry? Or sad? The notes and meter might at first be fast, harsh, or short, while later it might be slow, soft, and drawn-out.
These rhythms affect the overall message.Finally, a poet might use figurative language techniques to establish an overall effect. Rhyme scheme is one such method using a pattern of repeated final sounds in the last words of each line. Creating a pattern of rhyming can also affect the rhythm of a poem. In addition, whole rhyming lines can be repeated throughout a poem in order to emphasize the author’s message.
Again, let’s use songs as an example. Each one has a chorus, or the few lines that are repeated over and over. Aren’t these the lines everyone knows by heart? The writer of that song knows that by manipulating rhyme and repetition, he/she can have the audience repeating his/her message over and over.
Rhyme and repetition are very powerful tools.The following is an example of rhyme scheme in a poem by William Wordsworth called ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’ The bold words, italicized words, and underlined words represent the rhyming sounds:
|I wandered lonely as a cloud|
|That floats on high o’er vales and hills|
|When all at once I saw a crowd,|
|A host of golden daffodils;|
|Beside the lake, beneath the trees,|
|Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.|
Structure of Drama
Drama, on the other hand, is literature that uses dialogue and action to express a plot. The form for drama consists of the length and order of acts and scenes. Think of acts as chapters and the scenes as sections within those chapters. Each act and scene relates differently to the other parts and to the play as a whole.
One way an author can have the structure affect overall meaning is to manipulate the acts and scenes. The great playwright William Shakespeare is a perfect example of this. Shakespeare always structured his plays in a specific format: each has five acts, with anywhere from two to seven scenes, with the climax, or the turning point, occurring in the third act.In this way, the first two acts set up the conflict and create suspense, and the final two acts show the falling action leading to a dramatic conclusion. In addition, Shakespeare’s scenes in the final act are much shorter than the first.
The short scenes create a sense of suspense and excitement for the finale. Many playwrights manipulate the length and purpose of acts and scenes in order to have a specific effect on the audience.Finally, authors can use other structural techniques for different purposes. Flashbacks, parallel plots, and the starting point of the story all contribute to the meaning of the play as a whole:
- Flashbacks, which involve short scenes of events that happened previous to the time frame of the play, can create tension or surprise.
- Parallel plots, which are separate plot lines that merge towards the end of a story, can emphasize differences between two characters or ideas.
- Lastly, many playwrights like to begin their drama in medias res, which is Latin for ‘in the middle of things.
Shakespeare used this last strategy often. Most of his plays began in the middle of the action. For instance, in the play Hamlet, we start off with a depressed Hamlet whose father has just died. Furthermore, the scene centers on his father’s ghost appearing and telling Hamlet he was murdered. This moment sparks the plot, which is Hamlet trying to avenge his father.
Beginning a drama in this fashion grabs the audience’s attention immediately and creates many different effects. Overall, flashbacks, parallel plots, and starting in medias res can all dramatically affect the underlying message of the drama.
To review, structure is the author’s method of putting parts together to create literature. The form of poetry consists of stanzas and lines, whereas the form of drama consists of acts and scenes. Furthermore, there are other aspects of these types of literature the author can manipulate in order to create a specific effect.
In poetry, form refers to changing the length and arrangement of lines and stanzas. Poets use rhythm to manipulate the beat, or meters, in each line, and rhyme scheme is used to create a pattern of sounds through repetition.In drama, form refers to changing the length and arrangement of the scenes and acts. A flashback shows an event that occurred before the action of the play. Parallel plots are when two plot lines merge towards the end of the story, and the phrase in medias res means that the story begins in the middle of the action. All of these ideas are strategies authors use to manipulate the structure of a poem or drama in order to support their meaning or message.