Drama is a composition, either in verse or prose, that tells a story through dialogue and stage directions. Drama contains all the normal plot ,elements including rising action, conflict, and falling action. Usually, there is a central character around which the story revolves and secondary characters that help the story play out. While drama is most commonly associated with plays, it also refers to operas, mimes, ballets, or works performed on stage, radio, or television. Dramatic texts are different than novels, poems, or essays because of their collective nature. They are performed together and received by the audience together. It’s a group activity.
Definition of Drama
Drama is a type of production that involves dialogue and performance. Drama features in Aristotle’s famous book Poetics, in which it is contrasted against lyrical and epic modes of writing. The word itself comes from the Greek meaning “action” and “I do.” Until the time of William Shakespeare, according to Wikipedia, the word “play” or “game” was synonymous with “drama.” Now, the word is used in a more narrow way to refer to a play that’s not a tragedy or a comedy. It is also used in this mode when used by film and television creators.
Types of Drama
- Comedy: one of the main types of drama. It is lighthearted and happy. There are comical misunderstandings, weddings, serious topics addressed humorously, and more—for example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- Farce: absurd dramas that use base humor. It is often crude and uses slapstick jokes, drunkenness, cases of mistaken identity, and more—for example, A Comedy of Errors.
- Opera: the first of two musical types of drama. The characters sing every line of the story rather than speaking. There is a musical score with soliloquies (known as arias) and tragic, comic, or melodramatic subject matter. There is some dancing, but it is usually minimal.
- Melodrama: tell a serious story with heroes, villains, and more. There are larger-than-life outcomes and circumstances and exaggerated reactions on the part of the characters. The themes are clear and lead to a happy or unhappy ending—for example, A Doll’s House.
- Musical Drama: storyline includes some songs and some dialogue. Characters sing together about the conflicts they’re facing. There is a musical score that’s often accompanied by dancing—for example, Phantom of the Opera.
- Tragedy: the darkest of all dramas. It features a tragic hero, flaw, and a central conflict that leads to the deaths of one or (usually) more characters. There is a tragic catharsis at the end of the story—for example, Macbeth and Othello.
- Tragicomedy: a combination of tragedy and drama. This type of story has a serious plotline that’s told humorously. There are tragic characters whose actions don’t lead to deaths, as they do in pure tragedies. The end is not happy, nor is it sad.
Examples of Drama
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
In this classic Shakespearean comedy, the poet uses many of the elements that are today used to define a comedy. The play tells the story of Count Claudio, Hero, Beatrice, and Benedict. The latter two are convinced that the other is in love with them. Claudio falls in love with Hero, despite the fact that the two never talk on stage until their wedding, and much chaos ensues. Here are a few lines from the play:
What should I do with him—dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.
This passage appears in Act II Scene 1. Beatrice explains why she’ll never get married and end up alone as an old woman. There’s no man, she asserts, who’s perfect for her. Those with beards are too manly, while those without are too adolescent.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poems.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen’s most famous work, A Doll’s House, is a well-loved play that tells the story of the Helmer family. It’s divided into three acts and premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1879. It focuses on the mother of the family, Nora, and her attempts to save her husband, Torvald. She secretly borrowed a large sum of money that her husband could recover from an illness. She never told him about this and has been paying it back a bit at a time. She’s treated like a doll and disrespected by her husband. She eventually leaves him. This play is a great example of a melodrama. Here are a few lines from the play that depicts its style and method of storytelling:
I believe that before anything else I’m a human being — just as much as you are… or at any rate I shall try to become one. I know quite well that most people would agree with you, Torvald, and that you have warrant for it in books; but I can’t be satisfied any longer with what most people say, and with what’s in books. I must think things out for myself and try to understand them.
Here, Nora asserts her independence from her husband in response to his assertion that before all else, she’s a “wife and a mother.” She knows that she is her husband’s equal and tells him so. She decides she has to think things out for herself rather than depend on him to shuttle her through the world.
Related Literary Terms
- Aside—a dramatic device that is used within plays to help characters express their inner thoughts.
- Dramatic Monologue— a conversation a speaker has with themselves, or which is directed at a listen or reader who does not respond.
- Point of View—what the speaker, narrator, or character can see from their perspective. This can change dramatically, depending on the character.
- Soliloquy—a dramatic literary device that is used when a character gives a speech that reveals something about their thought process.
- Watch: The Tempest Film by William Shakespeare
- Read: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
- Watch: A Raisin in the Sun