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Well-made play


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)


Characters Plot Action Function
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

  • HENRY ST. John, Viscount Bolingbroke
  • MARQUIS DE TORCY
  • ARTHUR MASHAM
  • ABIGAIL CHURCHILL
  • SARAH CHURCHILL, Duchess of Marlborough
  • ANNE, Queen of England
  • THOMPSON, the Queen's doorkeeper
  • LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE COURT
  • MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. .
  • Cardwell, Douglas. "The Well-Made Play of Eugène Scribe," French Review (1983): 876-884. JSTOR. Web.10 Feb. 2015.
  • Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. .
  • Elsom, John. 1976. Post-War British Theatre. London: Routledge. .
  • "problem play". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2015
  • "well-made play". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2015
  • Innes, Christopher, ed. 2000. A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre. London and New York: Routledge. .
  • Stanton, Stephen S. "Shaw's Debt to Scribe", PMLA 76.5 (1961): 575-585. JSTOR. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
  • Taylor, John Russell. The Rise and Fall of the Well-Made Play, Great Britain: Routledge, Cox and Wyman, Ltd.,1967. Print.
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