Closed and open form in drama

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Closed and Open Form in Drama (1960) is a book by the literary scholar Volker Klotz , which proposes a very successful classification principle for dramas in the 1960s and 1970s , which is still alive today in school lessons.

According to Klotz, "open" and "closed" form describe two opposing types of drama . Often, however, no clear delimitations are possible, sometimes both directions in the development of a playwright can be demonstrated, as in the case of Goethe .


Klotz ties in with the pair of opposites tectonic building principle - atectonic building principle of the Viennese literary scholar Oskar Walzel (1864–1944). For his part, Walzel based himself on the third art-historical pair of terms closed form - open form by the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin . - Another forerunner of the theory is Gustav Freytag , who represented a normative concept of drama, which he defended against the less cohesive acting " drama " ( Die Technik des Dramas , 1863).

Based on the poetics of Aristotle , many theories of drama try to define action, time, place, people and language as criteria of a drama. On the basis of them, according to Klotz, the open (or atectonic) drama can be distinguished from the closed (or tectonic) drama. Aristotle only speaks of a "self-contained action of a certain size" ( Poetik , 6) that the drama should possess, Freytag for his part distinguishes the ideal drama from the "situation play" without using the terms open and closed.

Closed drama

Klotz cites Goethe's Torquato Tasso (1790) as an example of a closed drama . It can be observed that the units of time, place and action (“ three Aristotelian units ”) are observed. The class clause and the genera dicendi prevail.

The plot continuously follows a development towards a certain conclusion, whereby the individual scenes are causally linked. The actions of the actors are stylized and avoid the creature ( bienséance ).

The structure is strictly symmetrical, which is evident not only in the symmetry of the acts , but also in the symmetry of the individual dialogues . Dialogues are always speech duels, which are based on verse and counter-verse and in which each of the dialogue partners receives the same number of speech parts. The figures are largely unaffected by time and space.

The language is also based on the principle of the class clause. The linguistic style of the characters is carried, elevated and can range to pathos . The most important stylistic figure is the antithesis next to the stitch myth (duel of speech) . There are metaphors from the heraldry used and many other pictorial realities. The text is in blank verse (5-hebiger rhyming loose iambic written). A hypotactic style of language prevails , but main and subordinate clauses can always be distinguished from one another.

Open drama

Klotz mentions Georg Büchner's Woyzeck (1836) as a typical example of an open drama . The plot has no red thread like in the closed drama. But the main theme is taken up again in every scene (Marie suffers from being a soldier / Woyzeck suffers from his superiors). Several actions take place at the same time ( polymethy ). There is no exposition , so no introduction to the prehistory of the characters and no clear opening scene. The sequence of actions is torn and can only be recognized through the connection between the "complementary strands" (collective strand, private strand).

The episodes therefore stand next to each other relatively autonomously and can only be linked with a more detailed analysis. There is little forward and backward references in the scenes. Each scene represents the overall problem of the drama, so that it appears independent and relocatable. In contrast, the scenes are connected by constant repetitions: a central figure, a central I (Woyzeck only does not appear in four scenes), recurring locations (barracks, tavern, open field ...), motifs that appear in almost all scenes (e.g. B. red - knife - blood - death), as well as word motifs (sequence of several words: "Always close!").

The duration of the action is usually very extended in open drama. Time leaps between the scenes can often be observed. A variety of locations can be identified, whereby the behavior of the characters corresponds directly to the space in which they appear.

Another feature of open drama is the large number of characters. The people represent their stands. Also, no class boundaries are taken into account as in the closed drama, so that conversations between higher-ups and members of the lower classes are quite common.

The language also deviates from the norm in open drama. The levels of style and expression are mixed. In this way, an orientation towards everyday language takes place (different sociolects , jargon , spontaneous expressions, 'talking past each other'). In contrast to closed drama, where " consciousness dominates language, language dominates consciousness" (Klotz).

Historical background

The drama of the French classical period exhibits a “closed form” . It consists of five acts , each with defined functions and the three units of place, time and action (as demanded by French theorists such as Nicolas Boileau ). In particular, the class clause contained some social explosives. This norm of French classical music, often mistakenly transferred to antiquity and attributed to Aristotle , was still decisive for theater practice at court theaters in the 18th century (see Gottsched's theater reforms) and was still decisive in the 19th century for the theoretical occupation with theater ( Gustav Freytag , Oskar Walzel ). In the German-speaking area one always had a kind of inferiority complex towards her and felt that one had to adapt or rebel against it without hope. A contrast was formed between the less elegant “open” and the more elegant “closed” forms, which reflects this conflict.

In the drama of the open form, these rules are given up, the number of acts is arbitrary, the action can be dissolved into a mere sequence of scenes, the location of the action can jump in place and time as desired. The Spanish and English dramas before the French Classical era ( Calderón , Shakespeare ) have open forms and have therefore been underestimated since the late 17th century. The rediscovery and rehabilitation of Shakespeare from around 1760 ( Wieland , Herder , Goethe ) made open forms possible again, which was related to the social changes of the French Revolution (see Ludwig Tieck's Romanticism or the so-called Sturm und Drang ). The Battle of Hernani in Paris around 1830 ended with a historic victory for the open form over the closed form .

The greater freedom of the drama of the open form, it has often been argued, is bought by the author with a loss of concentration. While in drama of the closed form ideally every detail is oriented towards the tragic conflict, in the open form this conflict tends to get lost in a jumble of main and secondary conflicts.

In modern literature, playwrights often find the open form more suitable because it reflects the chaotic conditions of modern (post-aristocratic) societies more appropriately, while classical drama describes a conflict between two models of behavior that can still be precisely represented.


  • Volker Klotz: Closed and open form in drama. Hanser, Munich 1960, 14th edition 1999, ISBN 3-446120-27-0
  • Klaus Naderer: Oskar Walzel's approach to a new literary study. 3rd edition Naderer, Bonn 1994, ISBN 3-928799-12-6

Individual evidence

  1. Gustav Freytag: Die Technik des Dramas, Hirzel, Leipzig 1863, p. 99.