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Dramatic Techniques in Play 'Whose Life is it Anyway?'

The play “Whose Life is it Anyway? ” discusses the controversial issue of euthanasia and shows people’s different opinions on the subject. The issue of euthanasia is still very relevant today which makes Ken’s situation all the more realistic and believable. Brian Clark uses many different techniques in order to make the audience feel sympathy for Ken, the main character. The audience is also able to sympathise with Ken due the use of techniques such as shock tactics, sarcasm and persuasive language.

The play is centred around the main character, Ken. He has been involved in an accident, leaving him paralysed from the neck down.

The accident has left him powerless to refuse the treatment given to him and he is therefore at the mercy of the doctors. Before the accident he was a sculptor so the accident left him unable to continue with what he loves. This makes the audience sympathise with Ken because they are able to see through his sarcasm and see his sadness that he is unable to live life the way he wants.

He wants the doctors to stop his treatment so he can be left to die. For example he says to the judge, “Of course I want to live but as far as I’m concerned, I’m dead already. I merely want the doctors to recognise the fact.

” This shows that Ken agrees with euthanasia and believes in choice. He is choosing to be discharged from the hospital, not asking for anyone to kill him.

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The other main characters in the story are Dr. Emerson, Dr. Scott and John. Dr. Emerson is the main consultant and doesn’t agree with euthanasia. He believes the hippocratic oath prevents him from allowing Ken to die even though Ken has an opposite view. He is just doing his job and wants the best for his patients. This is shown when he goes to meetings in order to fight for new equipment for his hospital.

On the phone he is pushing for a medical machine by saying, “It would save on nursing costs. I’ve got four cardiac cases at the moment. With that unit I could save at least on one nurse a day”. He is trying to save money and do the best for his hospital. He is an excellent doctor and very knowledgeable. However, he lacks the ability to relate to his patients on a personal level. For example he only speaks about facts and figures to Ken. Brian Clark has made Emerson unsympathetic because it makes the audience find it hard to relate to him.

This makes them empathise with Ken, as the audience can see how he must feel, constantly being patronised and talked about as if he’s not in the room. At times, Dr. Emerson’s efficiency and authority over Ken makes him seem like the villain. For example Dr. Emerson injects Ken with a tranquilliser when Ken refuses it. The audience feel sympathy for Ken, as he is completely powerless. They can also feel empathy for the frustration he feels when he says, “I specifically refused permission to stick that needle in me and you didn’t listen. You took no notice.

” They also feel sympathy for him because Dr Emerson completely ignored his request. The audience also feels empathy for Ken when Dr. Emerson is patronising. For example after he injected Ken he says, “Of course you’re depressed. I’ll send someone along to have a chat with you”, implying that Ken’s problems can be easily solved with a cheery word. Dr. Scott is a female junior registrar in the hospital. Although she is a more junior doctor than Dr Emerson, she is a lot more understanding and takes the patients’ needs into consideration a lot more.

For example, when Ken refuses the tranquilliser, she tries to understand his point of view. At the beginning of the play, she is undecided on her opinion of euthanasia and throughout the play Ken and Dr Emerson are trying to persuade her to their beliefs on the subject. The fact that Dr Emerson can convince her a lot easier by intimidating her, creates sympathy for Ken because it emphasises the fact that he can’t do anything to show her that what he believes is right; he can only talk to her. The way in which Ken talks to Dr Scott, with sexual humour, creates sympathy for Ken.

For example, when Ken tells Dr Scott she “has lovely breasts”, her reaction to this is embarrassment, yet she doesn’t mind because she knows Ken will never be able to do anything about it. This creates sympathy for Ken because the audience knows he still thinks like a man, yet will never be able to do anything about his feelings or even move his arms and legs. John is a West Indian ward orderly. He is the opposite of the way Ken is now, however the audience is made to think that Ken used to be similar to John before his accident.

This creates sympathy for Ken because John is very fun loving, active and enjoys going out. It allows the audience to empathise with Ken as they can feel his frustration that he is no longer able to do the things he wants. John’s character is a stereotype of black men in the 1970s. He has a low paid job, smokes pot and plays in a steel band. John is also very clever and witty as we find out later in the play. The similarities between John’s and Ken’s personalities illustrate how much Ken has lost, like his ability to enjoy life.

The play is made very believable because the issue of euthanasia was a very controversial topic in the 1970s and still is today. Dr Emerson and Ken represent the very contrasting views, the judge represents the law’s view on the subject, and Dr Scott represents the people who are undecided on the topic. Clark also uses language, structure, staging and social and historical background of what was happening in the 1970s to create a powerful argument in favour of euthanasia by making the audience feel sympathy and empathy for Ken.

There is a wide variety of language used by the different characters. The language Ken uses is informal, yet without it being slang. Brian Clark did this because this is the language the audience finds easiest to relate to, helping the audience empathise with Ken. Clark also did this because if the language used by Ken was slang, then Ken’s intelligence wouldn’t show through to the audience as well and they wouldn’t want to listen as much. Ken also uses a lot of imagery in his language. For example, he describes the medical profession as a “monstrous regiment” and an “optimism industry”.

These metaphors tell us Ken’s views on the medical profession, describing the medical profession negatively and suggesting that it is run like an army when it says “regiment”. The second metaphor describes it as an “industry” where everyone is optimistic even when there is no hope. Also the word “industry” creates the image of an impersonal production line where the patients are processed. It is patronising for Ken and makes the audience feel sympathy for him. Clark also uses very persuasive language which includes emotive words and clear vocabulary.

Ken uses very persuasive language when he convinces Dr Scott not to give him the tranquilliser. He uses emotive and persuasive language to play on the feelings of Dr Scott. For example he says, “My consciousness is the only thing I have and I must claim the right to use it”. This makes the audience feel more sympathy for Ken as it emphasises the fact that he is paralysed and cannot move, he only has his mind. The language used by the doctors is technical some of the time. Clark did this in order for the audience to take them seriously.

However, he also did this in order to help them empathise with Ken’s situation. For example when Dr Scott and Dr Emerson are talking about Ken, as if he is not even there, using technical jargon that is hard to understand, such as “the blood urea is back to normal and the cultures are sterile”, the audience can empathise because they don’t fully understand what is being said so they assume Ken can’t really either. Also they can sympathise with him as Ken must hear this language all the time as he is constantly in similar hospital situations.

The structure of the play also enables the audience to fully understand what’s going on and allows them to empathise and sympathise with Ken. The play is split up into two acts. The first act presents the views of all the characters on euthanasia and the second act is the trial. There is an interval in between the two acts which allows the audience to discuss the subject of the play. They may talk about their own opinions on the subject which at the time was something which people didn’t often talk about.

This allows the audience to feel more sympathy for Ken, as they are anxious to know what’s going to happen to him. The play was originally written for TV, it was a 20th century drama in 1972. A stage version of the story did not come until 1978. As stage was not the original medium for the story, Brian Clark has had to be particularly clever in the structure he uses. The play is structured in such a way that the audience finds out things gradually. In using gradual revelation, the audience is given more time to fully understand Ken’s situation and is able to empathise with him.

Another important structure Clark uses is his use of argumentative writing. Ken talks very argumentatively in order to get his point across. For example Ken’s language is very persuasive when he convinces the judge that he is fit to make his own decisions. Ken and the Judge’s dialogue goes on for five pages which gives Ken plenty of time to prove he is not depressed. In this time the audience also feels a lot of sympathy for Ken because they want the judge to listen to what he is saying. The staging is another important thing which creates sympathy and empathy for Ken.

The actions of the play are continuous, the only break is the interval. The whole play is set around Ken’s bed in hospital. Ken is still the whole way through. For example in the play when Ken is asked to take the oath, Dr Scott has to put his hand on it for him. This creates sympathy for him because when the audience sees that he can’t move, it emphasises that he is completely paralysed and unable to do anything for himself. Social and historical changes in the 1970s also help the audience to sympathise with Ken.

In the 1970s the first test tube baby was made and doctors explained how insulin was made using bacteria. There was an increase in the success of keeping patients alive for longer, despite horrific injuries. This is shown in the play as Ken is kept alive by machines like dialysis machines. The play is set in a hospital; this makes the audience feel slightly nervous. Doctors are seen as people of authority and power. This is because generally they earn more money than people in other professions and also they have the power to keep people alive.

The audience is able to empathise with Ken, as they feel nervous knowing that his life is in the power of Dr Emerson. Clark also uses many techniques in the play such as sarcasm and shock tactics in order for this to affect the audience’s reactions towards Ken. For example a lot of the dialogue he gives Ken is simple and straight to the point. However, it is also sarcastic a lot of the time. The effect this has is that it makes the audience feel sympathy for Ken. The audience is able to see through Ken’s cheery front and see that he is very upset about his condition.

Brian Clark also uses humour mainly in the form of sarcasm. Ken is very sarcastic. An example of this in the play is when Ken talks about Dr Emerson to Dr Scott saying, “I suppose he will sweep in here like Zeus from Olympus, with his attendant nymphs and swains” In this example Ken is mocking Dr Emerson’s powerful status. The effect this has on the audience is that it makes the play more enjoyable for the audience as the issue of euthanasia is very serious. The use of humour makes the play funny at times and therefore less solemn to watch.

Brian Clark also uses shock tactics in the play in order to keep the audience interested. For example at the beginning of the play, the audience are unaware of Ken’s accident, he is introduced to the nurse for the first time he says, “I’m afraid I can’t offer you my hand. You’ll have to do with my backside like all the other nurses. ” This shocks the audience because it makes then want to know why he can’t offer his hand to greet them. It also shocks the audience because it is right at the beginning of the play and some people may feel taken aback by Ken’s rude comments and bluntness.

The key themes and ideas in the play are free will and having the ability to make your own decisions about life or death. Determination is a key theme. It shows the audience how Ken’s determination all the way through enabled him to win the court case. If he had not been determined to make other people hear his views on euthanasia, then characters like Dr Scott, who were undecided in their opinion about euthanasia, would not have heard his opinion. In conclusion, Brian Clark uses a wide variety of dramatic techniques to make the audience sympathise and empathise with Ken.

Ken’s personality creates a lot of sympathy for him because he is a free spirit and he is also a sculptor. The accident left him unable to continue with the things he loves and he therefore doesn’t want to live anymore. Also the way in which the other characters treat Ken creates sympathy for him. The way Dr Emerson patronises Ken allows the audience to empathise with Ken, as they feel the same frustration he does. Euthanasia is still a highly controversial topic today. This creates sympathy for Ken because it makes the play seem all the more realistic and believable.

Other aspects of the play such as language and structure also allow the audience to sympathise and empathise with Ken. For example the way the play is structured with two acts with an interval in the middle gives the audience a chance to discuss the topic in further detail and they are given more time to empathise with the way Ken is feeling. I personally agree with the judge’s decision to allow Ken to be left to die. I believe in free will and quality of life. Ken didn’t think his life was worth living after his accident and I respect his decision.

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Dramatic Techniques in Play 'Whose Life is it Anyway?'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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