- Galactic empires, decline and collapse of.
- Time travel, serial closed loop.
- Alien contact, hidden aliens among us.
Later, it turned out he was not alone.
Enter PoltiGeorges Polti (1867-1946) was a French writer, critic, and theorist - and what self-respecting French litterateur is not a theorist? - who possessed a masterful command of the theater. Based on a remark by Goethe that there were 36 dramatic situations - and Schiller's inability to find even that many - he set about cataloging and typing them, supplying for each situation examples from ancient and modern theater, occasional novels, and even historical and everyday events. Criticized by Etienne Souriau for artificially tweaking the list in order to achieve the magical 36, he did not, in TOF's undeniably humble opinion, achieve a true taxonomy, in that the canonical 36 were not apparently organized as to species, genus, and family. Some indeed seemed to be the same situation, though they may have appeared distinct to those with the sensibilities of an earlier generation.
M. Polti did not claim there were 36 plots. He claimed there were 36 distinct dramatic situations. A plot is a series of encounters. A novel might contain several of these situations; a short story may revolve around only one. About one of the Situations, the first one, he made the curious observation that:
It is apparent that, in the modern theater, very little use has been made of this First Situation.
We'd tell you (TOF hears you say) if you would tell us what the @#$% this Situation is!
TOF is glad you asked.
Situation #1. Supplication.The necessary dynamic elements are:
- a Persecutor,
- a Suppliant and
- a Power in authority whose decision is doubtful
This seems to TOF no more than the usual jury trial, with the Prosecutor, Defendant, and Jury as the primary actors. But Polti's claim is that it is little used in modern theater. He subdivides the Situation into three groups, and these in turn into sub-situations.
1.A The Power is a distinct personage. Shall he decide for the Persecutor out of prudence or apprehension; or for the Suppliant out of generosity? [3 persons]
1.A.1 Fugitives Imploring the Powerful for Help Against Their Enemies1.B The Power is an attribute of the Persecutor himself. He is of two minds. Shall anger or pity determine his course? [2 persons]
1.A.2 Assistance Implored for the Performance of a Pious Duty Which Has Been Forbidden
1.A.3 Appeals for a Refuge in which to Die
1.B.1 Hospitality Besought by the Shipwrecked
1.B.2 Charity Entreated by Those Cast off by Their Own People, Whom They Have Disgraced
1.B.3 Expiation: The Seeking of Pardon, Healing or Deliverance
1.B.4 The Surrender of a Corpse, or of a Relic, Solicited
1.C The Suppliant element is divided between two persons, the Persecuted and the Intercessor. [4 persons]
1.C.1 Supplication of the Powerful for Those Dear to the SuppliantTOF is struck by the evident arbitrariness of the least categories. In a work structure breakdown the tasks at the lower indenture must be necessary to the higher indenture and collectively sufficient. In this taxonomy, the third level seems scattershot. The surrender of a corpse? Really? Why is 1.C.3 supplication to a mother's lover and not to the mother's husband? (A French thing, perhaps?) Why not a supplication to a father's lover? Or are all these to be regarded as essentially the same? Are the "shipwrecked" in 1.B.1 to be interpreted as refugees and displaced persons of all sorts?
1.C.2 Supplication To a Relative in Behalf of Another Relative
1.C.3 Supplication to a Mother's Lover, in Her Behalf
Most of the examples Polti lists are from ancient Greece, and the odd content of the list likely reflects the actual plots of these plays. Perhaps they have not been sufficiently generalized. Polti states that subgroup C does have modern examples and compares it to prayer for the intercession of saints among Catholics. But he says that otherwise the First Situation is relatively rare in modern theater...
...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 elaborated 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.But of course elaboration is possible, even if Shakespeare (or the transformative playwright of your own milk tongue) did not do so. Subgroup C, he says, may have survived not only because of the Catholic example, but because the addition of an Intercessor is an elaboration, from three characters to four. But Polti himself suggests ways in which the basic three characters can be elaborated -- and these to TOF suggest a more satisfying taxonomy.
- one or many,
- voluntary or unconscious,
- greedy or revengeful,
- spreading the subtle network of diplomacy, or revealing himself beneath the formidable pomp of the greatest contemporary powers;
- artless or eloquent,
- virtuous or guilty,
- humble or great;
- neutral or partial to one side or the other,
- perhaps inferior in strength to the Persecutor and surrounded by his own kindred who fear danger,
- perhaps deceived by a semblance of right and justice,
- perhaps obliged to sacrifice a high ideal;
- sometimes severely logical, sometimes emotionally susceptible, or even overcome by a conversion a la Dostoievsky, and
- as a final thunderbolt, abandoning the errors which he believed to be truth, if not indeed the truth which he believed to be error!
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 -- despairs and their resulting blasphemies -- hope surviving to the last breath, the blind brutality of fate -- nowhere can they become so condensed and burst forth with such power as in this First Situation, in our day ignored.
Working Up an ExampleLet's pick 1.A.1 Fugitives Imploring the Powerful for Help Against Their Enemies.
Suppose the Persecutor is many, voluntary, and vengeful. The Suppliant is artless, guilty, and humble. The Power is neutral and inferior in strength to the Persecutor, but has high ideals relative to justice.
Now put in a container and shake vigorously.
Anbar Hekeltone and Basheen Walapa have violated the tabus of Joraland. They have fallen in love even though Basheen belongs to the same moiety as Anbar and even though all such alliances are negotiated by the clanmothers affected, not by the runaway hormones of the young. What they have done is classified by all right-thinking Jors as incest and rape. The tribe rises up against them (the Persecutor) and they flee into the surrounding wilderness. But Snidely, the deputy headman of Joraland is determined to pursue them because he belongs to the proper moiety and the clanmothers had agreed to his suit for Basheen. But Anbar and Basheen have heard of the great and powerful Oz who lives in a high castle and has a reputation for justice (the Power). They decide to strike for the mountains and plead for his protection (becoming the Suppliants).In any realistic story, this will involve multiple dramatic situations. Even if the main thrust is Supplication, an extended story will encompass multiple situations. The story will open with Situation 22 (Sacrifice for Passion) developing into 13 (Enmity of Kin). The body of the story will feature Situation #5 (Pursuit). In the denouement we have #1 (Supplication). Anbar and Basheen reach the high castle only to discover to their horror that the Power is a paper tiger and is weaker than Snidely and his minions. By the Power's own lights (he is not a Jor) the Suppliants have committed no crime; but by law (of Joraland) they have. Snidely surrounds the high castle with his minions. Oz must:
- stay out of it; refuse to decide at all
- turn the Suppliants over to Snidely, succumbing to threats but upholding justice
- defy Snidely and fight on to the end with his own (weaker) powers and
- go down gloriously
- miraculously triumph through bluff or chance
Now make it an SF story.Joraland is an alien planet. Oz is an expedition from Earth. Anbar and Basheen have committed a crime that makes utterly no sense to the Earthlings. But while the Earthlings have way kool ray guns and space-ships, they are only a small survey crew and there is also that pesky non-interference policy of the Interstellar Union of Namby-Pambies.
OR...The Suppliants are Earthlings who have committed a crime which we do recognize -- incest, rape -- but which the visiting aliens do not. (In-group sex is normal; elopement is standard practice.)
Elaborate on this story. Fill in some details. Cast your own story using a different scenario from Situation #1. E.g., The Greeks demand the return of the Elgin Marbles (1.B.4).