Gustav Freytag

The Structure of Drama According to Gurtav Freytag

By on July 15, 2013 . Category Tips

We all know that there is a beginning, middle, and end with literary works, but not all philosophers believe the structure for drama stops there. Scholar German Gurtav Freytag divided dramatic structure up into five acts. Those parts are:

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Denouement


Freytag believes that these five acts should be used as the structure for drama, regardless if it is a play or film.

The introduction of your protagonist and plot takes place during the exposition. Some scholars believe an introduction should be done naturally, but this is ultimately up to the writer. You always want to be comfortable when you write, because if you are writing to appease a scholar, your story is not your own; so keep that it mind.

Rising action will begin after the exposition. At this time, you are setting up the climax of the story. The most important events and situations of your story will occur during this act. Plot depends on the rising action to move forward.

Climax is extremely important, even in today’s drama. This is the point of the story where the protagonist changes in a positive or negative way. The protagonist may be facing obstacle after obstacle, but when they reach the climax of the story, the situation shifts into their favor; if the story is a tragedy, the protagonist will begin to fall or lose his power at this point.

The falling action occurs after the climax. During this act, you must make your audience believe the protagonist will not win. All hope is lost, and the protagonist must be at the point where she has given up, and ready to surrender. If this is a tragedy, then you already know your protagonist will not win in the end, but you must make the audience believe she will win at this point.

Denouement is immediately following the falling action. Whatever roadblock was in the protagonist’s way has now been moved. The protagonist has won, and the story is over. During this act, the ending of your story is revealed. The couple will reunite, or they will split apart forever. The protagonist will live, or he will die. The story is now over.

Many contemporary writers challenge Freytag’s dramatic structure theory because of the type of literature his five-act structure was originally applied to. While it is true Freytag developed the structure for Shakespearean and ancient Greek drama, the theory can still be applied to dramas that are more modern.


  • Wayne Hicks

    I’m one of those who disagrees with Freytag, particularly during what he calls “Falling Action”. In modern writing, this situation must almost always come during the climax, rather than after. The Climax is the final confrontation between Protagonist and Antagonist, and any intimation that the protagonist will fail or lose in his or her endeavors should come during that scene. This builds the drama of the moment and makes it possible for the reader to become emotionally connected to the protagonist for what they believe is an inevitable loss.Such a connection can be so powerful that it creates a bond between reader and character.

    The denouement allows the reader to recover his breath, then, and accept the victory or loss that came with the climax. It should give the reader the feeling that the protagonist has somehow grown through his or her ordeal, and leave them wanting more.

See Also

When the Poetry Arises in Other Languages

Read More       →