Playwright is a weird word, linguistically.

It’s fun, given that it’s also a homonym for what the actual profession entails: wright and write. Of course, writing is what we stake our names on. Many playwrights are generally writers by trade, and dabble in other similar areas – screenwriting, prose fiction, journalism, blogging – to flesh out their resumes in the face of the drastic lack of opportunities for playwrights in the current climate. The act of writing, being a writer in whatever medium, is what we all do in order to practice our craft.

But the actual word playwright, linguistically, actually has more to do with the idea of craft than of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and we see that in the spelling of the second half of the word.

According to the OED, the word wright traces all the way back to a set of Old English/Old Germanic words, and has the following definitions:

1. a. An artificer or handicraftsman; esp. a constructive workman
    b. Applied to the Deity
2. One who does or performs something; a doer or worker.
3. One who works in wood; a carpenter, a joiner.

Now, as a self-defined playwright, I like looking at these definitions because I feel like it grounds me in a real sense of the origins of the word. While, obviously, we’d all like to see ourselves under definition 1.b – the Deity – I’m going to sadly bypass that definition and defer it to my former career stint as a stage manager. We don’t really work in wood, the most literal originating definition, which eliminates definition 3. Which leaves us with definitions 1.a and 2.

Now definition 2 is just more or less what the word has evolved to, a “doer” as it says. This is accurate, but I also find it disappointingly vague. On a personal level, I certainly am a “doer” of things, but those things vary widely based on day/week/month/level of inebriation/etc. I’d like a definition that can sink my teeth into (metaphorically, at least). So that’s why I like to circle back around the primary definition, 1.a.

Definition 1.a of wright, according to the OED, is “an artificer or handcraftsman; esp a constructive workman” and this, I feel, is where the meat of the definition lies for me. The idea of construction feels particularly relevant to the idea of plays, cutting scenes apart, rearranging, and hammering them back together. But even more than that, I think I really love the word artificer. The connection to the word “art” is present in both the name and the concept. But it is also linguistically tied to the word artificial, something false made to appear true. Something constructed in the image of something else, in this case, often life and humanity on some level or another, and made to represent them in the desired fashion of the one constructing them. And so I always think back to the old adages about art reflecting life, and vise versa. It’s comforting to me to think that no matter what I words I try to put on stage, there is some aspect of it that reflects life, or humanity, or some part of reality that may be worth paying attention to.

But I really also appreciate the ability to use aliens, or animals, or long-dead historical figures to get my point across, because sometimes life is just so much more unmanageable that whatever weird scenario I can wright into existence.

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