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The well-made play (French: la pièce bien faite, pronounced [pjɛs bjɛ̃ fɛt]) is a dramatic genre from nineteenth-century theatre that French dramatist Eugène Scribe first codified. Dramatists Victorien Sardou, Alexandre Dumas, fils, and Emile Augier wrote within the genre, each putting a distinct spin on the style. The well-made play was a popular form of entertainment. By the mid-19th century, however, it had already entered into common use as a derogatory term.Henrik Ibsen and the other realistic dramatists of the later 19th century (August Strindberg, Gerhart Hauptmann, Émile Zola, Anton Chekhov) built upon its technique of careful construction and preparation of effects in the genre problem play. "Through their example", Marvin Carlson explains, "the well-made play became and still remains the traditional model of play construction."
In the English language, that tradition found its early 20th-century codification in Britain in the form of William Archer's Play-Making: A Manual of Craftmanship (1912), and in the United States with George Pierce Baker's Dramatic Technique (1919).
The form has a strong Neoclassical flavour, involving a tight plot and a climax that takes place close to the end of the play. The well-made play retains the shape of Aristotle's ideal Greek Tragedy model outlined in Poetics (Aristotle)
|BOLINGBROKE, MARQUIS||Bol. promises to deliver the letter||late point of attack|
|BOLINGBROKE, MASHAM||They resolve to gain a court position for Abigail||Exposition; introduce seeds for conflict|
|ABIGAIL, BOLINGBROKE, MASHAM||Abigail agrees to deliver letter; Bol. agrees to manage Duchess||resolution; complication; resolution; establish protagonists (heroes)|
|DUCHESS, BOLINGBROKE, ABIGAIL||Duchess refuses Abigail's position; threatens Bol.||complication; downturn of fortune|
|MASHAM, ABIGAIL, BOLINGBROKE||Masham reports duel and perhaps death of his opponent||complication; increased downturn of fortune (quid pro quo)|
|QUEEN, THOMPSON||Queen reads the letter||resolution; reversal of fortune|
|DUCHESS, QUEEN||Duchess asserts power||complication; reversal of fortune|
|THOMPSON, ABIGAIL, QUEEN, DUCHESS||Queen denies Abigail's position||complication|
|BOLINGBROKE, ABIGAIL||Bol. confides his sudden inheritance||resolution; reversal of fortune|
|BOLINGBROKE, ABIGAIL, QUEEN, DUCHESS, TORIES, LORDS, LADIES||Bol. announces inheritance resulting from cousin's death in duel||resolution; increased upturn in fortune|
|BOLINGBROKE, ABIGAIL, QUEEN, DUCHESS, TORIES, LORDS, LADIES||Bol. resolves to punish murderer||complication|
|ABIGAIL, BOLINGBROKE||Abigail reveals Masham as culprit - Masham has fled||strategic reveal of information (quid pro quo); complication; resolution|
|MASHAM, ABIGAIL, BOLINGBROKE||Masham returns, summoned by an unknown benefactress - the Duchess||complication; reversal of fortune (brief quid pro quo)|
|BOLINGBROKE, DUCHESS||Bol. blackmails Duchess and secures position for Abigail; Duchess declares a short armistice with Bol.||first act resolution; set-up for act 2|
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