Schiller took great pains to find more, but he was unable to find even so many as Gozzi. There is, to me, some- thing tantalizing about the assertion, unaccompanied as it is by any explanation either from Gozzi, or from Goethe or Schiller, and presenting a problem which it does not solve. For I remembered that he who declared by this limited number so strongly synthetic a law, had himself the most fantastic of imaginations. He was the author, this Gozzi, of "Turandot," and of the "Roi Cerf," two works almost without analogue, the one upon the situation of the "Enigma," the other upon phases of metempsychosis; he was the creator of a dramatic system, and the Arabesque spirit, through him trans- fused, has given us the work of Hoffmann, Jean-Paul Richter and Poe.

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Schiller took great pains to find more, but he was unable to find even so many as Gozzi. There is, to me, some- thing tantalizing about the assertion, unaccompanied as it is by any explanation either from Gozzi, or from Goethe or Schiller, and presenting a problem which it does not solve.

For I remembered that he who declared by this limited number so strongly synthetic a law, had himself the most fantastic of imaginations. He was the author, this Gozzi, of "Turandot," and of the "Roi Cerf," two works almost without analogue, the one upon the situation of the "Enigma," the other upon phases of metempsychosis; he was the creator of a dramatic system, and the Arabesque spirit, through him trans- fused, has given us the work of Hoffmann, Jean-Paul Richter and Poe.

But Schiller, rigid and ardent Kantian, prince of modern aestheticians, master of true historic drama, had he not in turn, before accepting this rule, "taken great pains" to verify it and the pains of a Schiller!

Having early desired to know the exact number of actions possible to the theatre, he found, he tells us, twenty-four. His basis, however, is far from satisfactory. Falling back upon the outworn classifica- tion of the seven capital sins, he finds himself obliged at the outset to eliminate two of them, gluttony and sloth, and very nearly a third, lust this would be Don Juan, perhaps.

It is not apparent what manner of tragic energy has ever been furnished by avarice, and the divergence between pride presumably the spirit of tyranny and danger, does not promise well for the con- texture of drama, the manifestations of the latter being too easily confounded with those of envy. And that is all, absolutely all. Finally, in brief , f I rediscovered the thirty-six situa- tions, as Gozzi doubtless possessed them, and as the reader will find them in the following pages ; for there were indeed, as he had indicated, thirty-six categories which I had to formulate in order to distribute fitly among them the innumerable dramas awaiting classi- fication.

There is, I hasten to say, nothing mystic or cabalistic about this particular number; it might per- haps be possible to choose one a trifle higher or lower, but this one I consider the most accurate.

It is then, comprehensible that in viewing upon the stage the ceaseless mingling of these thirty-six emotions, a race or nation arrives at the beginning of its definite self-consciousness ; the Greeks, indeed, began their towns by laying the foundations of a theater. These thirty-six facets, which I have undertaken to recover, should obviously be simple and clean, and of no far-fetched character; of this we shall be convinced after seeing them repeated, with unfailing distinctness, in all epochs and in all genres.

The reader will find, in my brief exposition, but twelve hundred examples cited, of which about a thousand are taken from the stage; but in this number I have included works the most dis- similar and the most celebrated, nearly all others being but mosaics of these. There will here be found the prin- cipal dramas of China, of India, of Judea, and, needless to say, of the Greek theater.

However, instead of con- INTRODUCTION 11 fining ourselves to the thirty-two classic tragedies we shall make use of those works of Hellenism which, un- fortunately for the indolent public of today, still lie buried in Latin ; works from whose great lines might be reconstructed hundreds of masterpieces, and all offering us, from the shades to which we have relegated them, the freshness of unfamiliar beauty.

Leaving aside, for the present, any detailed consideration of the Persian and mediaeval Mysteries, which depend almost without ex- ception upon two or three situations, and which await a special study, we shall glance over, after the Jeux and Miracles of the thirteenth and fourteenth -centuries, the Spanish authors, the French classics, the Italians, the Germans of the Romantic revival, and our modern dra- matic literature.

And it seems to me we shall have final- ly proved this theory of the Thirty-six Situations, when we shall thus have brought it into contact with the dra- matic production of the last thirty years. Two hundred of the examples cited have been taken from other literary genres akin to the dramatic: romance, epic, history, and from reality. For this investigation can and should be pursued in human nature, by which I mean in politics, in courts of justice, in daily life.

Amid these explorations the present study will soon seem but an introduction to a marvelous, an inexhaustible stream, the Stream of Existence, where meet momentarily, in their primordial unity, history, mystic poetry, moralist and amoralist writings, humor, psychology, law, epic, romance, fable, myth, proverb and prophecy. It may here be allowable to ask, with our theory in mind, a number of questions which to us are of primary importance.

Which are the dramatic situations neglected by our own epoch, so faithful in repeating the few most familiar? Which, on the other hand, are most in use today? Which are the most neglected, and which the most used, in each epoch, genre, school, author?

What are the reasons for these preferences? The same questions may be asked before the classes and sub-classes of the situations. On the way it may chance that we shall discern, hidden within this or that one of our thirty-six categories, a unique case, one without analogue among the other thirty-five, with no immediate relationship to any other, the product of a vigorous inspiration.

But, in carefully determining the exact position of this case among the sub-classes of the situation to which it belongs, we shall be able to form, in each of the thirty-five others, a sub-class correspond- ing to it; thus will be created thirty-five absolutely new plots.

These will give, when developed according to the taste of this or that school or period, a series of thirty- five "original imitations," thirty-five new scenarios, of a more unforeseen character, certainly, than the majority of our dramas, which, whether inspired by books or real- ities, when viewed in the clear light of the ancient writ- ings revealed to us only their reflections, so long as we had not, for our guidance, the precious thread which van- ished with Gozzi.

Since we now hold this thread, let us unwind it. Among the examples here offered will be found those of three slightly differing" classes. In the first, the power whose decision is awaited is a distinct personage, who is deliberating; -shall he yield, from motives of prudence or from apprehension for those he loves, to the menaces of the persecutor, or rather, from generosity, to the appeal of the persecuted?

In the second, by means of a con- traction analogous to that which abbreviates a syllogism to an enthymeme, this undecided power is but an attri- bute of the persecutor himself, a weapon suspended in his hand; shall anger or pity determine his course? In the third group, on the contrary, the suppliant element is divided between two persons, the Persecuted and the Intercessor, thus increasing the number of principal char- acters to four.

A historical example : the burial of Moliere. A familiar instance : a family divided in its religious belief, wherein a child, in order to worship according to his conscience, appeals to the parent who is his co-religionist. Com- plete example: " Edipus at Colonus. Complete example : "Nausicaa" and "The Pheacians" of Sophocles.

Familiar instances: a large part of the fifteen or twenty thousand adventures which, each year, come to an end in the Bureau des Enfants-Assistes. Special instance of a child received into a home : the beginning of "Le Reve," by Zola. Historical example: the penitence of Barbarossa. Familiar instances : petitions for pardon, confession of Catholics, etc. Fa- miliar instances : the reclaiming of the remains of a great man buried in a foreign land ; of the body of an executed person, or of a relative dead in a hospital.

It should be noted that the "Phrygians," and the Twenty-fourth Book of the Iliad, which inspired the play, form a transition toward the Twelfth Situation A Refusal Overcome. Complete example : Esther. Example corresponding also to A 3 : the "Propompes" of Aeschylus. Example: the "Eurysaces" of Sophocles. It is apparent that, in the modern theater, very little use has been made of this First Situation. If we except subdivisions C 1 , which is akin to the poetic cult of the Virgin and the Saints, and C 3 , there is not a single pure example, doubtless for the reason that the antique models have disappeared or have become unfamiliar, and more particularly because, Shakespeare, Lope and Corneille not having transformed this theme or elab- orated it with those external complexities demanded by our modern taste, their successors have found the First Situation too bare and simple a subject for this epoch.

As if one idea were necessarily more simple than an- other! It is, however, our modern predilection for the com- plex which, to my mind, explains the favor now accorded to group C alone, wherein by easy means a fourth figure in essence, unfortunately, a somewhat parasitic and mo- notonous one , the Intercessor, is added to the trinity of Persecutor, Suppliant and Power.

Of what variety, nevertheless, is this trinity capable! Nowhere, certainly, can the vicissitudes of power, be it arbitral, tyrannical, or overthrown, the superstitions which may accompany doubt and indecision, on the one side the sudden turns of popular opinion, on the other the anxiety with which they are awaited, de- spairs and their resulting blasphemies, hope surviving to the last breath, the blind brutality of fate, no- where can they become so condensed and burst forth with such power as in this First Situation, in our day ignored.

The last example and the following show particularly the honor of the unfor- tunate at stake: Daniel and Susanna, and various ex- ploits of chivalry. A parody: "Don Quixote. The denouement of "Bluebeard" here the element of kinship enters, in the defense by brothers of their sister, and increases the pathos by the most simple of means, forgotten, however, by our playwrights.

The taste of the future author of "GEdipus at Colonus" for stories in which the Child plays the role of deliverer and dispenser of justice, forms 17 a bitter enough contrast to the fate which awaited the poet himself in his old age. For us, indeed, it should possess some little at- traction, if only for the reason that two thousand years ago humanity once more listened to this story of the Deliverer, and since then has so suffered, loved and wept for the sake of it.

This situation is also the basis of Chivalry, that original and individual heroism of the Middle Ages; and, in a national sense, of the French Revolution. Despite all this, in art, if we except the burlesque of Cervantes, and the transplendent light flash- ing from the silver armor of Lohengrin, in art, as yet, it is hardly dreamed of. The two Homeric poems both end with an in- toxicating vengeance, as does the characteristic Oriental legend of the Pandavas ; while to the Latin and Spanish races the most satisfying of spectacles is still that of an individual capable of executing a legitimate, although illegal, justice.

So much goes to prove that even twenty centuries of Christianity, following five centuries of So- cratic philosophy, have not sufficed to remove Vengeance from its pedestal of honor, and to substitute thereon Pardon. And Pardon itself, even though sincere, what is it but the subtile quintessence of vengeance upon earth, and at the same time the claiming of a sort of wergild from Heaven? In the last three cases, as well as in the following one, the vengeance is accomplished not by a son, but by a daughter.

Historic example: the death of Lucrece. Con- temporary instance : the trials of Mme. Veuve Barreme. Historic example : the priest of Ephraim. Familiar instances: a large number of duels. A contemporary instance : Ravachol. Case in which the vengeance is perpetrated upon the mistress of the avenger: "La Casserole" Metenier, A similar case involving at the same time the saving of a loved one by a judicial error: "La Cellule No.

T Zaccone, A case appertaining also to Class A : the motive an improbable one of the corruptress in "Possede," by Lemonnier. We here encounter for the first time that grimacing personage who forms the keystone of all drama dark and mysterious, the "villain. Frequently used though this situation has been in our day, many an ancient case awaits its rejuvenescence, many a gap is yet to be filled. Indeed, among the bonds which may unite avenger and victim, more than one de- gree of relationship has been omitted, as well as the ma- jority of social and business ties.

The list of wrongs which might provoke reprisal is far from being exhaust- ed, as we may assure ourselves by enumerating the kinds of offenses possible against persons or property, the varying shades of opinion of opposing parties, the differ- ent ways in which an insult may take effect, and how many and what sort of relationships may exist between Avenger and Criminal.

And these questions concern merely the premises of the action. To this we may add all the turns and bearings, slow or instantaneous, direct or tortuous, frantic or sure, which punishment can take, the thousand resources which it offers, the points at which it may aim in its deadly course, the obstacles which chance or the defen- dant may present.

Neither, it seems, do our dramatists dare intervene to modify the Greek tragedy, such as it is after thirty appalling centuries. These may be a spontaneous desire on his own part the simplest motive ; the wish of the dying victim, or of the spirit of the dead mysteriously appearing to the living; an imprudent promise; a professional duty as when the avenger is a magistrate, etc. There yet remains that case in which the Avenger strikes without having recognized the Criminal in a dark room, I suppose ; the case in which the act of intended vengeance is but the result of an error, the sup- posedly guilty kinsman being found innocent, and his pseudo-executioner discovering that he has but made of himself a detestable criminal.

Thus, of twenty-two works, eighteen are in the same class, seventeen in the same sub-class, thirteen upon the same subject; four classes and one sub-class alto- gether. Let us, for the moment, amuse ourselves by counting some of those which have been forgotten. Upon his sister. Upon his wife. Upon his son. Upon his daughter. Upon his paternal uncle. Upon his maternal uncle. Upon his paternal or maternal grand- father; his paternal or maternal grandmother.

Upon half-brother or half-sister. Upon a person allied by mar- riage brother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc. These numerous variations may of course be successive- ly repeated for each case: the avenging of a brother, a sister, a husband, a son, a grandfather, and so on. By way of variety, the vengeance may be carried out, not upon the person of the criminal himself, but upon some one dear to him thus Medea and Atreus struck Jason and Thyestes through their children , and even in- animate objects may take the place of victims.


36 situations dramatiques

May 23, How do I dramatize thee? These immortal words were uttered by Georges Polti who concluded there were only 36 basic stories after studying numerous Greek, Latin and French works. Many are similar, but they all contain elements of struggle and conflict. Should you be worried about plagiarism?


Georges Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations

Schiller took great pains to find more, but he was unable to find even so many as Gozzi. The original French-language book was written in The list is popularized as an aid for writers, but it is also used by dramatists, storytellers and many others. Other similar lists have since been made.


Rehabilitating Georges Polti and his 36 Dramatic Situations


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