Purpose of Drama (Cont'd)

David Mamet

Lesson time 8:10 min

Learn how drama functions as a form of myth, the ways in which it enlightens the complexities of humanity, and how it provides us with an outlet for expressing the issues that preoccupy us.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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Drama is also just a form of myth. Myth is a poetic statement of an unverifiable reality, right? Myth is not false. It's just unverifiable, right? For example, Jesus Christ died for our sins. It's not false. If you're a Christian, that's the essence of your life. You just can't point to it on a sheet of paper and say, see here. But it's nonetheless true for that. So myth, again, is a statement of truth which is not verifiable, and so is drama. Drama involves us in the quest of a human being to achieve something, whether it's Willy Loman, or whether it's Dr. King, or whether it's Jesus, whether it's Moses. They all become myths. And the fact that some of them actually happen to have lived, nonetheless they become a myth. We see, yes, I understand how at every step, this human being was trying to achieve something. And they underwent traumas I could not even begin to imagine. And they doubted themselves. And they all wanted to quit. Every hero, every heroine, wants to quit. Every hero and heroine wants to give it up and say, I've had enough. I'm not equal to the task, right? But nonetheless, they found strength somewhere, and they achieved a result which elevated them to the status of a god or killed them. I've been writing drama for about 50 years. The more you look at it, the more complex you understand the human being is, including ourselves. So one way that we try to-- we have to organize the world. That's the difference between human beings and animals, because we have the capacity to use reason to organize the world. We say, if A-- if A happened then B happened, perhaps there's a relationship between them, which would enable me to reason, oh, yes, C, I shouldn't sit on a hot stove again. Or I think it's obviously-- say in 1902, it's obviously impossible for human beings to fly because they're heavier than air. Human beings will never fly. But wait a second. Birds can fly, and birds are heavier than air. Therefore, my reason tells me I can figure out, as a human being, how to get people to fly, right? So this is what separates us from the animals, right? We have the capacity to reason. We aren't just working on instinct. But reason's insufficient because reason always has the capacity to lead us down the wrong path. We become arrogant. We say, I'm reasonable, right? I marry the wrong man. I marry the wrong woman. Oh, because I'm reasonable, it's their fault. I voted for a politician. The politician didn't keep his or her promises. Oh, yeah? Well, no politician keeps his or her promises. That's why they're politicians. So when you reason ourself-- it makes sense to go fight World War I. We'll draw a line from Belgium straight down south, and we'll line up the two most advanced civilizations in the world across each other. And from 1914 to 1918, they'll kill each o...

Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The door is marked no admittance. point finale

I really came to enjoy the uniqueness of David Mamet through this course. I had a difficult time getting acclimated to his style at first, but by the end I was convinced he is a genius.

I like everything about David Mamet. His voice is inviting, his stories are interesting, his jokes are funny and his information is valuable. I will approach my 2nd book with his class tips readily available. Thank you!!

I learned the plays are most suitable for my profile and was able to create my own approach to playwriting. I accomplished one play that I wrote jointly with the class.


Tara Jade B.

"Every hero wants to quit." Let's pin that. This is such a good take-home message!

A fellow student

Drama as a tool primarily for entertainment is actually completely contrary to how I generally go about it. While I agree with what he had to say about that play he used as an example (I think we all know he was referring to Hamilton), I'm not sure i agree when he says that it is not meant to teach. Drama is a unique form in that it almost forces the audience to be complicit in what is happening on stage. There is so much suspension of disbelief and implicit faith that the audience has to grant to any given theatrical production, and it is in this mindset that they open themselves up to new ideas and different systems of thinking. I think a play without a message isn't much of anything at all. I am so excited to hear him expand on this and how I can relate it to my own views on this and grow as a reuslt.

Mon M.

Thank you for openly defining the insanity of the entertaining industry. You are absolutely right when you say that the purpose of drama is to entertain, not lecture. Anything you write that has a lecturing purpose whether it’s film, tv, books, or these days, journalism, has NOTHING to do with entertainment. Write a documentary, a non fictional book, or tie yourself to a tree and set up a hunger strike if you want to lecture people, don’t force it down my throat when I paid you to make me laugh, cry, or feel.

A fellow student

This is dreadful - I am three lessons is and all I've got so far is a lot of tosh, and that David Mamet likes to hear himself talk!

Ramona H.

"Drama... a stepchild of religion," David Mamet. I blinked quite a few times during this lesson. Absolutely awesome.

Ludwig M.

Awesome - what a revelation! Drama does never teach. You're tricking the audience if you try do so. I love this class!


What would books be without some sort of myth? what would life be without myths? Curiosity is the key. Our forever quest for deception and the truth. It gives us reasons.

Vickie R.

While I "think" I believe in G-d, (seeing ghostly midsts at a German church and creepy music--the speaker systems outside my house), I'm not so sure anymore what I believe and who is right? ANd who really knows anyway? Although I did try getting God on my speed dial but he didn't call me back for some reason? Then at 5 when I had this genius idea to steal a Herhsey bar and stick it in my underwear, I got caught by the store manager and my religious Chrisitan pal's mother scared me to DEATH by saying, "VICKIE RUBINSON you have sinned in the eyes of the LORD!" That saying was worse than going to JAIL! So I don't trust anyone who is too religious to the left or the right. I'm just a moderate. I'm not sure and no one can force me to change my mind. Also I've found these people who act overly self righteous and religous often have something to hide. Almost every overly religious person I'v met never believed in a "gray" area of life. It was either all black or white and no in-between. Life isn't that easy. Not everyone is all good or all bad. I have my nice side...I feed five stray cats every night without fail, I take care of my mom with cong heart failure, I walk the dog who also has congestive heart failure and no teeth. So I do my part in society, yet I'm also no angel and never claimed to be.

Nina T.

In The Purpose of Drama 02 cont... you explain how Good Drama Doesn't Teach. I found that very helpful. In the same context you share how kids' love stories - the weirder, the better. When you said this it reminded me of when my children were young and how much they loved when I'd tell them stories, and as I look back I remember how much we all enjoyed that time together and the fun we had. Today, my children are grown, but I have 2 Grandchildren and another on the way, and since this is one of your suggestions (assignments) I decided to tell them a story, and to be honest, I was really looking forward to it. The following is that story: The Lion and the Little Boy There was a little boy that loved to go out and play and went everywhere. He'd play in the yard, sometimes alone and sometimes with his friends. There were times he'd go for walks and every now and then he'd encounter a stray dog, and even though the dog was friendly, he was afraid. So one day when the little boy was playing in the yard, a lion appeared, and you'd think the boy would have been more afraid of the lion than the dog, but he wasn't. The lion wanted to help the little boy to not be afraid. As the lion moved around the yard, he stopped and looked at the little boy and said, "Don't be afraid." The little boy asked the lion, "What do you mean don't be afraid?" And the lion responded and said, whenever you go out and play and see a stray dog, you're afraid, but I want you to know that you don't have to be afraid. Then the little boy said, OK, the next time I see a dog, I will not be afraid. So, the next time the little boy was out playing he saw a neighbor walking their dog on a leash, at that point the little boy decided to muster up some courage because he remembered what the lion had said to him, and when he did, he walked up to the owner and said, "Can I pet your dog?" And the owner said, "Yes, of course, he's very friendly." And so, the little boy bent down to pet the dog. He was so proud of himself and remembered what the lion said, and was so happy that he overcame his fear, and ran home to tell his Mommy, Daddy and his big sister, and as he came through the door, he said, "I did it! I did it! I wasn't afraid!" And they said, "What do you mean you weren't afraid?" The little boy said, "I pet a dog and I wasn't afraid!" He continued and said, "I have a friend; a lion friend." His Mommy and Daddy said, "What do you man you have a friend?" He said, "I have a lion friend. He came in the yard and as I was playing he appeared and told me to not be afraid." His parents and his big sister replied and said, "WOW, that's truly amazing!" The little boy continued to tell them that he had other things that he was afraid of." "Well, why don't you listen to what the lion told you?" Said his mother and father. One night as the parents were sitting and talking about what their son had told them, they started to think, I wonder if the lion represents Jesus? They opened their Bible and looked up scriptures that talk about being courageous and who Jesus represents. As they talked, they decided to tell their children what they found about courage and how in the Bible the lion represents Jesus, and that Jesus doesn't want us to be afraid. The next day the little boy's Mom and Dad called he and his sister into the room and said, "Sit down, we have something to tell you," and as they opened up their Bible, the children went to get their Bibles too. Then the parents said, "I think we know why you were no longer afraid, and this is why we believe the lion appeared to you while playing in the yard." They showed them the Bible verses of what it means to be strong and courageous, and how the lion represents Jesus (Revelation 5:5) and how He helps us to not be afraid, and they continued and quoted a verse to the little boy and his sister that says, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7) And so the little boy thought about it and said, "That makes sense! Because while I was in the yard and the lion appeared, I wasn't afraid of him." And so, the little boy sat up straight in his chair and said, "WOW, I don't have to be afraid anymore!" His big sister agreed and said, "I don't have to be afraid either!" As the boy grew older and started school, he encountered some children that weren't very friendly, and whenever he was around them, he remembered the lion that said, "Don' be afraid," and when he did, courage began to rise up inside of him. One day he asked himself, "How can I make friends with them?" Then he had an idea and said, "I'm going to do something good for them." During lunch that day, he saw his friends sitting around a table, then he looked over where the kids' that didn't like him were sitting and remembered seeing a basket of apples on the cafeteria counter and decided to buy some, went and sat at the table where the children that were mean were sitting, and when he did, they looked at him and said, "What are you doing? We don't want you here!" The little boy responded and said, "I want to give you something," and handed an apple to each of them, and they looked at him, amazed. Some of them thought, WOW, we were mean to this kid and yet he reacted to us with kindness. And because of what the little boy did, he made some new friends. If you think about it, the little boy not only learned how to not be afraid and how to have courage, he also learned how to love his enemies. Years later while he and his friends were fishing on a boat not far from shore, the winds picked up, and the waves were thrashing, when this happened he began to feel that fear again, and then he remembered the lion. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought back to that day in his yard when the lion appeared and said, "Don't be afraid." He then opened his eyes and realized, "I don't have to be afraid." Then he turned to his friends and said, "We're not to be afraid!" They agreed and all decided to row back to shore. As they were rowing the boy said his first prayer asking God to help them get back to shore, and He did. God helped them get back to shore safely. Many years had passed, and one night, while lying in his bed, the boy, who was now a young man, heard God speak to him, and said, "I want you to tell others to not be afraid." So the boy answered God and said, "I will do it; I will do whatever you've called me to do. I will teach people to not be afraid." And from then on, everywhere he went, he would begin by telling his story, "When I was a little boy..."

The Fool

I seem to recall Aleister Crowley having a great big essay on the power of laughter to evoke the inner creative genius. Maybe I'm making up a myth, maybe old Uncle Al was talking gibberish. It's really amazing how drama can take us away from our worries. It's now known that fantasy induces our sleep neurotransmitters so those old stories around the fire were likely extremely important for our ancient ancestors to lull themselves to sleep instead of worrying about what lurks in the dark of the forest. Certainly you could also trigger the fight,flight,freeze response with a story, so tales of battle and slaying beasts would keep the watchmen up all night. I know war stories from my brother would keep me up all night, couldn't get enough, so much so I wanted to be a part of it. Those are dangerous stories. Now to tell ya'll a story, a myth, a legend..How about the time I seduced a married woman at a David Mamet play? I don't know if I can tell that one without it becoming pornographic. I wish I knew how to write about the romance of it all, the stupidly cute lunch dates and sneaking around to flirt at work, worrying about being filmed through wall length mirrors at sleazy hotels, and screwing behind every bush or shadow.. Back then it all seemed as easy as writing some poetry and love letters or singing what ever song was on the mix tapes I made. But now, where are the words for this story? Maybe I should tell the myth of my inner creative genius, which has perhaps gone silent, I need a good laugh to evoke it. Perhaps if I laugh at it, it will try to defend itself by telling its own story. One thing I feel deeply about this assignment is that I'm missing much of the oral history of my great big family. Since so many of them drank, or died of drink, or there was 'drama' that Ididn't want to hear about or be associated with, I haven't been close to my cousins and such. But there is mythology there. I wrote a big long family history once, then checked with my mom and like 50% of my 'truth' was totally made up. Oops. Sure seemed true when I was typing away like Steven King. Why did the Internal Creative Genius cross the road? It was a called a chicken.