Objects as Symbols in Performance

Objects (or props) are probably the easiest way for drama students to understand and implement symbol in theatre performances. Objects become symbolic when we give them context via plot, characters and themes. A simple prop can suddenly become significant and represent something beyond its literal meaning. These are often abstract, such as a concept or quality, usually linked by association or resemblance.

Below is a list of 50 common objects with their symbolic meaning(s). Reasons vary as to why particular objects are symbolic of certain abstract ideas, though it is usually steeped in history, religion and culture.

ObjectSymbol
suitcasejourney, travel
hourglasspassing of time
hearthwarmth, family
goldwealth
lampknowledge
staffleadership
ringfriendship, eternity
wedding ringlove, eternity
crownpower, authority
olive branchgoodwill
crossChristianity, faith
starsdistance, magic
lit candlelife
snuffed candledeath
skulldeath, mortality
pursevanity, wealth
carved pumpkinHalloween
anchorhope
red roseromance, love
keyopening, closing, access
torch onlife
torch offdeath
book(s)knowledge, wisdom, learning
broomhome, marriage
sickle/scythedeath (final harvest)
four-leaf clovergood fortune
photograph(s)memories
starachievement, success
quill and inklearning
bonesdeath, mortality
chainunion
full bowlprosperity
mirrorvanity, reflection of one's soul
harphope
seednew life
flameeternity
round tableequality
living flowersfriendship, sympathy, affection, love
dying flowerstransience of life
musical instrumentsromance, wealth, leisure
wrist watchprosperity, innovation, fashion
balloonchildhood, holding on, letting go
coinpower, luck, superstition
knifebetrayal, division, sacrifice, superstition, survival, martyrdom
petunconditional love
bellwarning, alarm, time, religious, Christmas, wedding
birdfreedom
firedesire, destruction, passion
hammerjustice, revenge, destruction
scrolllearning, knowledge, wisdom, life, time
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