Genre Exploration: Reading vs. Watching Plays

Another day, another installment of my Genre Exploration series, where I discuss genres and anything interesting I find about them.

Since I joined the online book community I’ve noticed that not many pay attention to written plays. Of course, this all changed this year, when most hurried to bookstores and got one they couldn’t wait to read and discuss with other readers – Harry Potter & the Cursed Child.

Seeing everyone reading that got me very excited because I love reading plays and I thought that people were going to start paying more attention to that genre. Sadly, it didn’t really mean that, as it was a one time thing for many. A Potter exception. Still, as part of this series I wanted to discuss a little what the pros of reading plays vs. watching them are. I’m not exactly trying to convince you to read plays… but I totally am. So let’s go!


Firstly, I have to admit I haven’t read nearly enough plays to feel well-versed in this genre. I love them, but I’ve neglected them over the years and feel terrible about it! Still, I do think that I’ve enjoyed every single play I’ve picked up so much that it’s enough to be an advocate for them. I love the theater and whether I see the plays I read or not, I believe it’s a genre worth a shot every once in a while.

As some love to read the book before seeing the film adaptation, some people love to read a play before going to the theater. But realistically speaking, there are very few plays we could do that with. At least considering my own experience, where the plays I want to read are not the ones being performed at the theater. That, in itself, is the biggest advantage of reading plays. It means that reading from this genre gives you the opportunity to experience something that you might never get to see performed. Case in point: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child for most of us outside the UK. Besides that advantage, there are definitely other pros of reading plays.

pros of reading plays.png

  • You get to imagine the whole thing: the scenery, the characters, the clothing. I love picturing everything my own way. I imagine I’m the director and the text comes to life in a different way than a novel might.
  • You don’t miss anything because you can read calmly or reread any passage more than once. Sometimes if you only watch the play, you can get distracted or you can’t understand what the actors are saying and it’s really frustrating. The latter always happens to me and I feel like I miss a lot of interesting details!
  • You digest the story at your own pace. This is related to the last point. When reading a play, you can stop at any time and then go back to it when you feel like it. Also, if it’s a tough play to follow (like an absurdist play), you have time to take notes and highlight or research quotes, references or terms you might not know.
  • They are quick reads because they are mostly dialog. Conversations are quicker to read, so if you are looking to reach your goal for the yearly Goodreads challenge or maybe you want to get out of a reading slump, plays are a great way to go!
  • It’s a unique reading experience. Different from novels and different that watching them performed, reading a play is a very special experience. With only dialogs and minor descriptions, virtually the only thing you have is characters, bare and unhindered, waiting for you to “hear” or even “perform” their voices yourself in your own way. I mean that metaphorically speaking, unless, of course, you are a very theatrical person. You have to figure them out, seek the themes, maybe follow a plot based on solely their conversations, monologues, etc. I can’t really explain it, but it’s a very different feeling compared to reading a novel. I simply love it.

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you think it’s better to watch plays? Do you like reading them?

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32 thoughts on “Genre Exploration: Reading vs. Watching Plays

  1. I haven’t read plays but I have read some scripts… but in the end I prefer reading books and watching plays/movies haha I don’t know, I guess I never thought that was the right format for them

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  2. I read plays every so often, and I usually wish I could see them as well. My preference would be to do both–read first, see it, then maybe read again with better understanding. I’m not super-great at imagining everything — it’s easy for me to get characters mixed up!

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  3. I have to admit I never enjoyed reading plays.The only ones I read are the ones that were obligatory reads in school, and I pretty much hated them. Now when I’m out of school, I can’t imagine myself picking one up. I’d rather go to theatre if I have to know the story.

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  4. Great post, Esther! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone talk about reading plays before. The only play I’ve read was The Cursed Child and whilst I didn’t enjoy it that was more the plot than the format. I read the Fantastic Beasts script and really enjoyed that one. One play that I really, really want to read is The Crucible. I’m definitely open to exploring more things from that genre. Did you have any recommendations?

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    1. Thank you, Lauren! ❤ I haven't read The Cursed Child, and I'm not planning to either because I know I won't enjoy it, so I prefer to skip it 😦 That's so great that you liked the script of Fantastic Beasts! I haven't read any scripts ever, so I'm really curious about that.
      The Crucible sounds interesting! I haven't read any Arthur Miller, despite his plays being so popular and famous. Maybe The Crucible will be the first one I pick up by him 😉
      As for recommendations go, I'd say A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen is a classic that you might like. It's on marriage, the role of women, and feminism. Very interesting, especially considering it's a 19th century play!

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  5. Awesome post! I agree that not enough people read or blog about plays. I really enjoyed the plays I read in school and I also really enjoyed teaching plays when I was an English teacher. I prefer watching plays to reading them because so much is up to the director’s interpretation that you can see several different productions of the same play and they can all be totally different. Reading them is another experience that is also valuable because you can be in the director’s seat and do the interpreting. Nice post!

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    1. Thank you ❤ It would be amazing to read the play and then get to see many different interpretations of it in the theater. I mean, it's not like that doesn't happen (Shakespeare is *everywhere*), but with more contemporary work it'd be nice 🙂
      That's so great that you liked teaching plays! Any favorites?

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  6. Plays are not written to be read!! I have read plays all my career, only from necessity. They only truly come alive through the actors voice. They are written for it, to be spoken. However, they are a great source for writers. Most tv soaps all have their origins deep in Jacobean scripts! My blog focuses on Ibsen. Thank you for yours.

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    1. Haha I understand. I can’t say you are wrong. They are meant to be performed, but I can’t help but like reading them, too, given that I don’t have the opportunity to see them all performed.
      That’s so interesting about tv soaps based on those scripts. I didn’t know.
      Henrik Ibsen? I loved (reading) A Doll’s House. I’d love to see a performance of it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I had not heard of that play until now, but it sounds really interesting! It’s a shame that you’ve only found that one to your liking, but I understand. Maybe you just have to look into which sort of plays you like better – comedies, dramas, musicals.

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  7. I don’t think I’ve ever read a whole play, but I remember reading excerpts of some Filipino plays back in high school. One of my old college roommates is a theater actress so I get to read some scripts every now and then. Apart from these, I’m a certified noob at the genre. Do you have any good recommendations? 🙂 Ones that are more contemporary, preferably haha.

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