Drama triangle


Karpman, Stephen B. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis. Oakland: University of California Press. S. 40f.

Only three roles are necessary in drama analysis to depict the emotional reversals that are drama. These action roles, in contrast with the identity roles referred to above, are the Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim, or P, R, and V, in the diagram. Drama begins when these roles are established, or are anticipated by the audience. There is no drama unless there is a switch in the roles. This is indicated by a change in the vector direction along the diagram. Examples will be given from three fairy tales to illustrate some of the ways of using this.

A. In the Pied Piper, the hero begins as Rescuer of the city and Persecutor of the rats, then becomes Victim to the Persecutor mayor’s double-cross (fee withheld), and in revenge switches to the Persecutor of the city’s children. The mayor switches from Victim (of rats), to Rescuer (hiring the Pied Piper), to Persecutor (double-cross), to Victim (his children dead). The children switch from Persecuted Victims (rats) to Rescued Victims, to Victims Persecuted by their Rescuer (increased contrast).
B. In Little Red Riding Hood, the heroine starts as Rescuer (food and company to grandmother, R V, and friendship and directions to the wolf, R ← V). In a suspense switch she becomes Victim to the wolf-Persecutor (P → V), who in turn, in a surprise switch, falls Victim to the woodsman Persecutor (P → V) who, in this one act, playing two roles at once (increased velocity), also Rescues LRRH and grandmother (R → VV). In one version, LRRH playing all three roles, winds up as Persecutor sewing stones in the wolf’s belly with the woodsman. Grandmother’s switches go V ← R, V ← P, V ← R; the wolf, V → R, P → V, V ← P (arrow direction indicates initiative, the letters refer to the participant’s position on the triangle).
C. In Cinderella, the heroine switches from Victim double Persecuted (mother then stepsisters), to Victim triple Rescued (fairy godmother then mice then prince), to Victim Persecuted again (after midnight) then Victim Rescued again. A rough quantitative analysis can be made of the intensity of the drama for her by totaling up the switches; Vpp → Vrrr → Vpp → Vr = 8 switches.

Drama compares to transactional games, but drama has a greater number of events, a greater number of switches per event, and one person often plays two or three roles at once. Games are simpler and there is one major switch, i.e. in „I’m Only Trying to Help You” there is one rotation (counterclockwise) in the drama triangle: the Victim switches to Persecutor and the Rescuer becomes the new Victim.