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36 Dramatic Situations

By Trevor Lawrence | Published Sep 07 1999 11:53 AM in Game Design

sacrificed slaying point unknowingly one' loved lover love kinsman
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Structure of George Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations

This is the basic structure of George Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations. It is a tool of analysis, a set of categories into which the analyst can place a dramatic situation. Read the book --- it's not out of print. Polti provides specific examples for each of the categories, drawing from fin-de-siécle French drama and classical literature.

Polti shows us just how enduringly relevant these dramatic situations are. Whether it is Othello (XXXII-B-3) or Terminator II (XXIV-A-2), humankind remains vulnerable to these powerful influences on our attitudes and actions.

Whether there are 36 or 20 dramatic situations is relatively immaterial. Two to three dozen situations, each with one or more variants should be more than adequate to fire the imagination of the writer.

History repeats itself, usually because no-one listens.

I - Supplication II - Deliverance III - Vengeance of a crime IV - Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred V - Pursuit VI - Disaster VII - Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune VIII - Revolt IX - Daring enterprise X - Abduction XI - The Enigma XII - Obtaining XIII - Enmity of kinsmen XIV - Rivalry of kinsmen XV - Murderous adultery XVI - Madness XVII - Fatal imprudence XVIII - Involuntary crimes of love XIX - Slaying of a kinsman unrecognised XX - Self-sacrificing for an ideal XXI - Self-sacrifice for kindred XXII - All sacrificed for a passion XXIII - Necessity of sacrificing loved ones XXIV - Rivalry of superior and inferior XXV - Adultery XXVI - Crimes of love XXVII - Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one XXVIII - Obstacles to love XXIX - An enemy loved XXX - Ambition XXXI - Conflict with a god XXXII - Mistaken jealousy XXIII - Erroneous judgement XXXIV - Remorse XXXV - Recovery of a lost one XXXVI - Loss of loved ones
I - Supplication
"a persecutor, a suppliant and a power in authority"


A
  • fugitives imploring the powerful for help against their enemies
  • assistance implored for the performance of a pious duty which has been forbidden
  • appeals for a refuge in which to die
B
  • hospitality besought by the shipwrecked
  • charity entreated by those cast off by their own people, whom they have disgraced
  • expiation, the seeking of pardon, healing or deliverance
  • the surrender of a corpse, or of a relic, solicited
C
  • supplication of the powerful for those dear to the suppliant
  • supplication to a relative in behalf of another relative
  • supplication to a mother's lover, in her behalf
II - Deliverance
"an unfortunate, a threatener, a rescuer"


A
  • appearance of a rescuer to the condemned
B
  • a parent replaced upon the throne by his children
  • rescue by friends or by strangers grateful for benefits or hospitality
III - Vengeance of a crime
"an avenger and a criminal"


A
  • the avenging of a slain parent or ancestor
  • the avenging of a slain child or descendant
  • vengeance for a child dishonoured
  • the avenging of a slain wife or husband
  • vengeance for the dishonour or attempted dishonouring of a wife
  • vengeance for a mistress slain
  • vengeance for a slain or injured friend
  • vengeance for a sister seduced
B
  • vengeance for intentional injury or spoliation
  • vengeance for having been despoiled during absence
  • revenge for a false accusation
  • vengeance for violation
  • vengeance for having been robbed of one's own
  • vengeance on a whole sex for a deception by one
C
  • professional pursuit of criminals
IV - Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
"avenging kinsman; guilty kinsman; remembrance of the victim, a relative of both"


A
  • a father's death avenged upon a mother
  • a mother avenged upon a father
B
  • a brother's death avenged upon a son
C
  • a father's death avenged upon a husband
D
  • a husband's death avenged upon a father
V - Pursuit
"punishment and fugitive"


A
  • fugitives from justice pursued for brigandage, political offences, etc
B
  • pursued for a fault of love
C
  • a hero struggling against a power
D
  • a pseudo-madman struggling against an Iago-like alienist
VI - Disaster
"a vanquished power; a victorious enemy or a messenger"


A
  • defeat suffered
  • a fatherland destroyed
  • the fall of humanity
  • a natural catastrophe
B
  • a monarch overthrown
C
  • ingratitude suffered
  • the suffering of unjust punishment or enmity
  • an outrage suffered
D
  • abandonment by a lover or a husband
  • children lost by their parents
VII - Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
"an unfortunate; a master or a misfortune"


A
  • the innocent made the victim of ambitious intrigue
B
  • the innocent despoiled by those who should protect
C
  • the powerful dispossessed or wretched
  • a favourite or an intimate finds himself forgotten
D
  • the unfortunate robbed of their hope
VIII - Revolt
"a tyrant and conspirator"


A
  • a conspiracy chiefly of one individual
  • a conspiracy of several
B
  • revolt of one individual who influences and involves others
  • a revolt of many
IX - Daring enterprise
"a bold leader; an object; an adversary"


A
  • preparations for war
B
  • war
  • a combat
C
  • carrying off a desired person or object
  • recapture of a desired object
D
  • adventurous expeditions
  • adventure undertaken for the purpose of obtaining a beloved woman
X - Abduction
"the abductor; the abducted; the guardian"


A
  • abduction of an unwilling woman
B
  • abduction of a consenting woman
C
  • recapture of the woman without the slaying of the abductor
  • recapture of the woman with the abductor slain
D
  • the rescue of a captive friend
  • the rescue of a child
  • the rescue of a soul in captivity to error
XI - The Enigma
"interrogator, seeker and problem"


A
  • search for person who must be found on pain of death
B
  • a riddle to be solved on pain of death
  • a riddle to be solved on pain of death in which the poser is the coveted woman
C
  • temptations offered with the object of discovering his name
  • temptations offered with the object of ascertaining the sex
  • tests for the purposes of ascertaining the mental condition
XII - Obtaining
"a solicitor and an adversary who is refusing, or an abitrator and opposing parties"


A
  • efforts to obtain an object by ruse or force
B
  • endeavour by means of persuasive eloquence alone
C
  • eloquence with an arbitrator
XIII - Enmity of kinsmen
"a malevolent kinsman; a hated or reciprocally hating kinsman"


A
  • one brother hated by several
  • reciprocal hatred between brothers
  • hatred between relatives for reasons of self-interest
B
  • hatred of father and son
  • mutual hatred
  • hatred of daughter for the father
C
  • hatred of grandfather for grandson
D
  • 1 hatred of father-in-law for son-in-law
  • hatred of two brothers-in-law
E
  • hatred of mother-in-law for daughter-in-law
F
  • infanticide
XIV - Rivalry of kinsmen
"the preferred kinsman; the rejected kinsman; the object"


A
  • malicious rivalry of a sibling
  • malicious rivalry of two siblings
  • rivalry of two siblings, with adultery on the part of one
B
  • rivalry of a parent and a child for an unmarried lover
  • rivalry of a parent and a child for a married lover
  • rivalry of a parent and a child for the love of the other parent
  • rivalry of parent and child
C
  • rivalry of cousins
D
  • rivalry of friends
XV - Murderous adultery
"two adulterers; a betrayed spouse"


A
  • slaying of a husband by, or for, a paramour
  • slaying of a trusted lover
B
  • slaying of a wife for a paramour, and in self-interest
XVI - Madness
"mad person and victim"


A
  • kinsmen slain in madness
  • a lover slain in madness
  • slaying or injuring of a person not hated
B
  • disgrace brought upon oneself through madness
C
  • loss of loved ones brought about by madness
D
  • madness brought on by fear of heredity insanity
XVII - Fatal imprudence
"the imprudent; the victim or the object lost"


A
  • imprudence the cause of one's own misfortune
  • imprudence the cause of one's own dishonour
B
  • curiosity the cause of one's own misfortune
  • loss of possession of a loved one through curiosity
C
  • curiosity the cause of death or misfortune to others
  • imprudence the cause of a relative's death
  • imprudence the cause of a lover's death
  • credulity the cause of kinsmen's deaths
  • credulity the cause of misfortune
XVIII - Involuntary crimes of love
"the lover; the beloved; the revealer"


A
  • discovery that one has married one's mother
  • discovery that one has a sibling as a lover
B
  • discovery that one has married one's sibling
  • discovery that one has married one's sibling, in which the crime has been villainously planned by a third person
  • being on the point of taking a sibling, unknowingly, as a lover
C
  • being upon the point of violating, unknowingly, a child
D
  • being upon the point of committing an adultery unknowingly
  • adultery committed unknowingly
XIX - Slaying of a kinsman unrecognised
"the slayer; the unrecognised victim"


A
  • being upon the point of slaying a daughter unknowingly by command of a divinity or an oracle
  • being upon the point of slaying a daughter unknowingly through political necessity
  • being upon the point of slaying a daughter unknowingly through a rivalry in love
  • being upon the point of slaying a daughter unknowingly through hatred of the lover of the unrecognised daughter
B
  • being upon the point of slaying a son unknowingly
  • being upon the point of slaying a son unknowingly, strengthened by Machiavellian instigations
  • being upon the point of slaying a son unknowingly, strengthened by Machiavellian instigations, intermixed with hatred of kinsmen
C
  • being upon the point of slaying a brother, unknowingly, in anger
  • a sister, upon the point of slaying a brother, unknowingly, through professional duty
D
  • slaying of a mother unrecognised
E
  • slaying of a father unknowingly, through Machiavellian advice
  • slaying of a father unknowingly
  • insulting of a father unknowingly
  • being on the point of slaying of a father unknowingly
F
  • a grandfather slain unknowingly, in vengeance and through instigation
  • a grandfather slain involuntarily
  • a father-in-law killed involuntarily
G
  • involuntary killing of a loved woman
  • being on the point of killing a lover, unrecognised
  • failure to rescue an unrecognised son
XX - Self-sacrificing for an ideal
"the hero; the Ideal' the "creditor" or the person or thing sacrificed"


A
  • sacrifice of life for the sake of one's word
  • life sacrificed for the benefit of one's own people
  • life sacrificed in filial piety
  • life sacrificed for the sake of one's faith
B
  • both love and life sacrificed for one's faith
  • both love and life sacrificed to a cause
  • love sacrificed to interests of state
C
  • sacrifice of well-being to duty
D
  • the ideal of "honour" sacrificed to the ideal of "faith"
XXI - Self-sacrifice for kindred
"the hero; the kinsman; the "creditor" or person or thing sacrificed"


A
  • life sacrificed for that of a relative or loved one
  • life sacrificed for the happiness of a relative or loved one
B
  • ambition sacrificed for the happiness of a parent
  • ambition sacrificed for the life of a parent
C
  • love sacrificed for the sake of a parent's life
  • love sacrificed for the happiness of one's child
  • love sacrificed for the happiness of a loved one
  • love sacrificed for the happiness of one's child, but the situation brought about by unjust laws
D
  • life and honour sacrificed for the life of a parent or loved one
  • modesty sacrificed for the life of a relative or a loved one
XXII - All sacrificed for a passion
"the lover; the object of the fatal passion; the person or thing sacrificed"


A
  • religious vows of chastity broken foir a passion
  • a vow of purity broken
  • a future ruined by a passion
  • power ruined by passion
  • ruin of mind, health and life
  • ruin of fortunes, lives and honours
B
  • temptations destroying the sense of duty, of pity, etc.
C
  • destruction of honour, fortune and life by erotic vice
  • destruction of honour, fortune and life by any other vice
XXIII - Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
"the hero; the beloved victim; the necessity for the sacrifice"


A
  • necessity for sacrificing a daughter in the public interest
  • duty of sacrificing a daughter in fulfilment of a vow to a god
  • duty of sacrificing benefactors or loved ones to one's faith
B
  • duty of sacrificing one's child, unknown to others, under the pressure of necessity
  • duty of sacrificing, unknown to others, one's father, under the pressure of necessity
  • duty of sacrificing, unknown to others, one's husband, under the pressure of necessity
  • duty of sacrificing a son-in-law for the public good
  • duty of sacrificing a son-in-law for the sake of reputation
  • duty of contending with a brother-in-law for the public good
  • duty of contending with a friend
XXIV - Rivalry of superior and inferior
"the superior rival; the inferior rival; the object of rivalry"


A
  • rivalry of a mortal and an immortal
  • rivalry of two divinities of unequal power
  • rivalry of a magician and an ordinary man
  • rivalry of conqueror and conquered
  • rivalry of victor and vanquished
  • rivalry of a master and a banished man
  • rivalry of suzerain king and vassal king
  • rivalry of a king and a noble
  • rivalry of a powerful person and an upstart
  • rivalry of rich and poor
  • rivalry of an honoured man and a suspected one
  • rivalry of two who are almost equal
  • rivalry of equals, one of whom has in the past been guilty of adultery
  • rivalry of a man who is loved and one who has not the right to love
  • rivalry of the two successive husbands of a divorcee
B
  • rivalry of a sorceress and an ordinary woman
  • rivalry of a victor and a prisoner
  • rivalry of a queen and a subject
  • rivalry of a queen and a slave
  • rivalry of a lady and a servant
  • rivalry of a lady and a woman of humbler position
  • rivalry of two who are almost equals, complicated by the abandonment of one
  • rivalry between a memory and an ideal (that of a superior woman) and a vassal of her own
  • rivalry of mortal and immortal
C
  • double rivalry (A vs B vs C vs D)
D
  • rivalry of two immortals
  • rivalry of two mortals
  • rivalry of two lawful wives
XXV - Adultery
"a deceived spouse; two adulterers"


A
  • a mistress betrayed for a young woman
  • a mistress betrayed for a young wife
  • a mistress betrayed for a girl
B
  • a wife betrayed for a slave, who does not love in return
  • a wife betrayed for debauchery
  • a wife betrayed for a married woman
  • a wife betrayed with the intention of bigamy
  • a wife betrayed for a young girl, who does not love in return
  • a wife envied by a young girl who is in love with her husband
  • a wife betrayed by a courtesan
  • rivalry between a wife who is antipathetic and a mistress who is congenial
  • rivalry between a generous wife and an impassioned girl
C
  • an antagonistic husband sacrificed for a congenial lover
  • a husband, believed to be lost, forgotten for a rival
  • a commonplace husband, sacrificed for a sympathetic lover
  • a good husband betrayed for an inferior rival
  • a good husband betrayed for a grotesque rival
  • a good husband betrayed for an odious rival
  • a good husband betrayed for a commonplace rival, by a perverse wife
  • a good husband betrayed for a rival less handsome, but useful
D
  • vengeance of a deceived husband
  • jealousy sacrificed for the sake of a cause
E
  • a husband persecuted by a rejected rival
XXVI - Crimes of love
"the lover; the beloved"


A
  • a mother in love with her son
  • a daughter in love with her father
  • violation of a daughter by a father
B
  • a woman enamoured of her stepson
  • a woman and her stepson enamoured of each other
  • a woman being the mistress, at the same time, of a father and son, both of whom accept the situation
C
  • a man becomes the lover of his sister-in-law
  • a man becomes enamoured of his sister-in-law
  • a brother and sister in love with each other
D
  • a man enamoured of another man, who yields
E
  • a woman enamoured of a bull
XXVII - Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
"the dishonourer; the guilty one"


A
  • discovery of a parent's shame
  • discovery of a child's dishonour
  • discovery of a sibling's shame or dishonour
B
  • discovery of dishonour in the family of one's fiancee
  • discovery that one's wife has been violated before marriage
  • discovery that one's wife has been violated since the marriage
  • discovery that one's spouse has previously committed a fault
  • discovery that one's spouse has formerly been a prositute
  • discovery of dishonour on the part of a lover
  • discovery that one's mistress, formerly a prostitute, has returned to her former life
  • discovery that one's lover is of bad character
  • discovery that one's spouse is of bad character
  • 1discovery that one's lover is specifically weakened
C
  • discovery that one's son is an assassin
D
  • duty of punishing a traitorous relative
  • duty of punishing a son condemned under a law which the father has made
  • duty of punishing a son believed to be guilty
  • duty of sacrificing, to fulfil a vow of tyrranicide, a father until then unknown
  • duty of punishing a wrongdoing relative
  • duty of punishing one's mother to avenge one's father
XXVIII - Obstacles to love
"two lovers, an obstacle"


A
  • marriage prevented by inequality of rank
  • inequality of fortune an impediment to marriage
B
  • marriage prevented by enemies and contingent obstacles
C
  • marriage forbidden on account of the young woman's previous betrothal to another
  • marriage forbidden on account of the young woman's previous betrothal to another, complicated by an imaginary marriage of the beloved object
D
  • free union impeded by the opposition of relatives
  • family affection disturbed by the parents-in-law
E
  • free union impeded by the incompatibility of temper of the lovers
XXIX - An enemy loved
"the beloved enemy; the lover; the hater"


A
  • the loved one hated by kinsmen of the lover
  • the lover pursued by the brothers of his beloved
  • the lover hated by the family of his beloved
  • the lover is a son of a man hated by the kinsmen of his beloved
  • the lover is an enemy of the party of the woman who loves him
B
  • the lover is the slayer of the father of his beloved
  • the beloved is the slayer of the father of her lover
  • the beloved is the slayer of the brother of her lover
  • the beloved is the slayer of the husband of the woman who loves him, but who has previously sworn to avenge that husband
  • the beloved is the slayer of a previous lover of the woman who loves him, but who has previously sworn to avenge the dead lover
  • the beloved is a slayer of a kinsman of the woman who loves him
  • the beloved is the daughter of the slayer of her lover's father
XXX - Ambition
"an ambitious person; a thing coveted; an adversary"


A
  • ambition watched and guarded against by a kinsman or patriot friend
  • ambition watched and guarded against by a brother
  • ambition watched and guarded against by a relative or person under no obligation
  • ambition watched and guarded against by partisans
B
  • rebellious ambition
C
  • ambition and covetousness heaping crime upon crime
  • parricidal ambition
XXXI - Conflict with a god
"an immortal; a mortal"


A
  • struggle against a deity
  • strife with believers in a god
B
  • controversy with a deity
  • punishment for contempt of a god
  • punishment for pride before a god
  • presumptuous rivalry with a god
  • impudent rivalry with a deity
XXXII - Mistaken jealousy
"the jealous; the object of whose possessions he is jealous; the supposed accomplice; the cause or the author of the mistake"


A
  • the mistake originates in the suspicious mind of the jealous one
  • mistaken jealousy aroused by a fatal chance
  • mistaken jealousy of a love which is purely platonic
  • baseless jealousy aroused by malicious rumours
B
  • jealousy suggested by a traitor who is moved by hatred
  • jealousy suggested by a traitor who is moved by self-interest
  • jealousy suggested by a traitor who is moved by jealousy and self-interest
C
  • reciprocal jealousy suggested to husband and wife by a rival
  • jealousy suggested to the husband by a dismissed suitor
  • jealousy suggested to the husband by a woman who is in love with him
  • jealousy suggested to the wife by a scorned rival
  • jealousy suggested to a happy lover by the deceived husband
XXIII - Erroneous judgement
"the mistaken one; the victim of the mistake; the cause or author of the mistake; the guilty person"


A
  • suspicion where faith is necessary
  • false suspicion
  • false suspicions aroused by the a misunderstood attitude of a loved one
  • false suspicions aroused by indifference
B
  • false suspicions drawn upon oneself to save a friend
  • false suspicions fall upon the innocent
  • false suspicions fall upon the innocent spouse of the guilty one
  • false suspicions fall upon an innocent but guilty-intentioned
  • false suspicions fall upon an innocent who believes themselves guilty
  • a witness to a crime, in the interests of loved one, lets accusation fall upon the innocent
C
  • the accusation is allowed to fall upon an enemy
  • the error is provoked by the enemy
  • the mistake is directed against the victim by her brother
D
  • false suspicion thrown by the real culprit upon one of his enemies
  • false suspicion thrown by the real culprit upon the second victim against which he has plotted from the beginning
  • false suspicion thrown upon a rival
  • false suspicion thrown upon an innocent because he has refused to be an accomplice
  • false suspicion thrown by a deserted mistress upon a lover who left her because he would not deceive her husband
  • struggle to rehabilitate oneself and to avenge a judicial error purposely caused
XXXIV - Remorse
"the culprit; the victim or sin; the interrogator"


A
  • remorse for an unknown crime
  • remorse for a parricide
  • remorse for an assassination
  • remorse for the murder of husband or wife
B
  • remorse for a fault of love
  • remorse for an adultery
XXXV - Recovery of a lost one
"the seeker; the one found"


A
  • recovery of a lost one
XXXVI - Loss of loved ones
"a kinsman slain; a kinsman spectator; an executioner"


A
  • witnessing the slaying of kinsmen while powerless to prevent it
  • helping to bring misfortune upon one's people through professional secrecy
B
  • divining the death of a loved one
C
  • learning of the death of a kinsman or ally
D
  • relapse into primitive baseness, through despair on learning of the death of a loved one





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