Symbols are commonly used in drama works and theatre performances as a sophisticated method of communicating meaning to an audience. By definition, a symbol must be goes beyond its literal meaning initially conveyed or understood.
In the theatre, symbols can be anything from props, sets, costumes and gestures to colours, movement, sounds, concepts and words.
If you are a drama student, using an object as a prop is the easiest way to understand and implement a symbol in performance. Physical objects usually require less conceptualising in order to convey a symbolic meaning than is sometimes found when relating to an idea or hand gesture, which are often very challenging.
Objects become symbolic in theatre when we give them a specific context via plot, characters and themes. A simple prop can suddenly become significant and represent something beyond its literal meaning. This is often an abstract quality such as a concept usually linked by association or resemblance.
In the late 19th century, there was an even a short-lived but significant movement in the theatre based purely on symbolism.
Objects can also prove very powerful symbols in films as can be seen below in this excellent video on why props matter in movies.
Below is a list of 100 common objects with their symbolic meaning(s). Reasons vary as to why particular objects are symbolic of certain abstract ideas, though these are usually steeped in history, religion and culture.
Teacher and students are encouraged to use some of the props listed below as symbols in drama work and see if the symbolism was successfully communicated to the audience in performance?
Common Objects and Their Meanings As a Symbol
|angel||spirituality, God, heaven|
|apple||temptation, original sin|
|balloon||childhood, holding on, letting go|
|bell||warning, alarm, time, religious, Christmas, wedding|
|bicycle||progress, circle of life|
|book(s)||knowledge, wisdom, learning|
|briefcase||ambition, importance, psychological baggage|
|broken mirror||misfortune, bad luck, separation|
|clock||inevitability of change, deadline|
|clouds||trouble brewing, impending storm|
|coffin / casket||death, mortality|
|coin||power, luck, superstition|
|cross||Christianity, faith, healing|
|crown||power, authority, immortality, righteousness|
|door (open)||welcome, opportunity, transition|
|door (closed)||safety, imprisonment, exclusion, privacy, control, protection|
|dying flowers||transience of life|
|eye glasses||intelligence, insight|
|feather||freedom, travel, truth, ascension, wisdom|
|fire||desire, destruction, passion, anger, punishment|
|flowers (living)||friendship, sympathy, affection, love|
|flowers (dead)||sadness, grief, death, decay|
|four-leaf clover||good fortune|
|gates||passage into the afterlife|
|hammer||justice, revenge, destruction|
|horseshoe||good luck, protection|
|hourglass||passing of time|
|key||opening, closing, access|
|knife||betrayal, division, sacrifice, superstition, survival, martyrdom|
|ladder||ascension, relationship between heaven and earth|
|lantern||enlightenment, illumination, the right path|
|light bulb||invention, intelligence|
|lipstick||sexuality, strength, defiance|
|match||warmth, comfort, safety|
|mirror||vanity, reflection of one’s soul|
|mistletoe||love, friendship, good luck|
|musical instruments||beauty, transience, romance, wealth, leisure|
|pen||stability, power, authority|
|piano||family, romance, prosperity|
|pipe (tobacco)||contentment, contemplation|
|poppy||remembrance of World War I|
|quill and ink||learning|
|rainbow||hope for tomorrow|
|ring (wedding)||love, eternity|
|rose (red)||romance, love|
|scroll||learning, knowledge, wisdom, life, time|
|shell||birth, good fortune, resurrection, fertility|
|sickle / scythe||death (final harvest)|
|snow||purity, innocence, calmness|
|stones||endurance, permanence, stability|
|suitcase||journey, travel, holidays|
|water||birth, fertility, cleansing|
|weapons||power, violence, vengeance|
|wrist watch||prosperity, innovation, fashion|