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Three Unities

The Three Unities or dramatic unities are descriptions of how plays should be written, according to Aristotle. However, Aristotle was writing after the golden age of Greek drama, and many Greek playwrights, notably Aeschylus, wrote plays that do not fit within these conventions. The unities were:

  1. The Unity of Time: The play was to take place during a single day.
  2. The Unity of Space: The play must take place in a single location.
  3. The Unity of Action: All action within the play was to be directed towards a single overarching idea.

Although it is often believed that these conventions originated in Aristotle's Poetics, it was not until French neo-classical drama in the 17th century that all Three Unities were actually maintained. Aristotle had merely recommended that 'Action' should only consist of the main plot without sub-plots, and that 'Time' should represent action not extending beyond the length of one day. The Unity of Place was not mentioned at all.

Maintenance of the three unities was particularly important to the classical French dramas of Molière, Racine, and Corneille. They held sway until Victor Hugo's Ernani; one of the things that made that play so controversial at its nineteenth century debut was its violation of this rule of classicism.

See also: History of theater and Theatre technique