Glossary Home Movements

Academic Drama

Academic drama is a theatrical movement that was popular during the Renaissance, in the 16th-century. It was performed in universities.

Academic Drama was focused on the study of classical theater in high education or within universities. New interest in classical and neoclassical drama meant that students were studying the works of Sophocles, Euripides, and others. In England, students performed plays by these writers, while in other European countries, the classical plays were adapted for their particular interests. The plays performed often conveyed moral lessons and sought to contend with particularly complex issues of politics and religion, gender was even referenced on occasion.

Academic drama pronunciation: ah-cuh-dem-ick drah-muh

academic drama


Definition of Academic Drama

The academic drama was the production of classical and neoclassical plays during the Renaissance. These productions focused on topics like economics, mortality, politics, knowledge acquisition, and more. Today, this dramatic period is understudied, but many scholars believe that it served as an important, culture-shaping theatrical movement. The narratives in these plays, as described in Early Modern Academic Drama by Paul D. Struefert and Jonathan Walker, were an exercise in and representation of knowledge formation. Colleges like Cambridge and Oxford played an important role in the production of these plays.

The plays the college students chose were often comedies. They featured hapless and comedic characters like slaves, tutors, cooks, and lovers blinded by their affection for one another. Often, Puritans were included in the plays as a way of mocking their consideration of plays as a sin. The advancement of puritanism in the 17th century meant that slowly the production of plays ceased. Queens’ College and Trinity were two of the last insinuations putting on plays. In 1642, theaters were closed, and plays were banned. They reopened after the Restoration, according to Queens College Cambridge.

History of Drama

The earliest dramatic works, according to PBS’s The Origins of Theatre, were created in Athens, Greece. There, authors created dithyrambs for the god Dionysus that were later turned into processions. These featured costumes and masks. There were three distinct genres of drama, tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play. Eventually, competitions were created around the genres. The primary dramatists of the time were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Drama expanded during the Roman Republic and spread around Europe. It was at this time that it started to break out of the genres defined in Athens. In the Middle Ages, dramatic performances were put on by churches that dramatized scenes from the Bible during celebrations.

The word “drama” was not used as it is today until the modern period. It refers to something that sits between comedy and tragedy.

Examples of Academic Drama

Eunuchus” by Terence

Eunuchus” by Terence is one of the many academic dramas that were performed during the Renaissance in English universities. It was written by the Roman play writer Terence. The plot is complex, including characters like Demea, Pahedria, Chaerea, and Antipho, among many others. The narrator focuses on a family and a central misunderstanding. It is usually categorized as a comedy. The play is considered to be Terence’s most popular and successful. Here are the best-known lines from the play, translated into English:

All these vices are in love: injuries,

Suspicions, enmity, offenses,

War, peace restored. If you think that uncertain things

can be made certain by reason, you’ll accomplish nothing more than

if you strived to go insane by sanity.

The play follows several plot lines. There is a love affair between Phaedria and Thais, humorous conflicts, misplaced and unwarranted advice, and more. Thraso plays an important role later on in the play, as does Chaerea, recently returned from the military.

“Stichus” by Titus Maccius Plautus

“Stichus” is a Latin play written by Roman author Titus Maccius Plautus, although there is some controversy surrounding the authorship. The plot follows two daughters and their husbands, brothers Epignomus and Pamphilus. The husbands become merchants and travel for three years away from home. The title character, Stichus is a slave. According to Loeb Classics, the play was staged for the first time during the Plebain Games in 200 BC.

“Oedipus” by Seneca the Younger

“Oedipus” is another play that was famously performed during this period. Written by the famed satirist Seneca the Younger, the play was based around the story of Oedipus Rex (as told by Sophocles). It follows the protagonist as he tries to outrun a prophecy predicting that he’d marry his mother and kill his father. Famously, the further he moves away from what he thinks is the source of the prophecy, the closer he gets to fulfilling it.

“Pseudolus” by Titus Maccius Plautus

“Pseudolus” is another well-known Plautus play that was performed during the period of academic drama. It is also one of the earliest examples of Roman literature, first performed in 191 B.C. Some of the themes that the play touches on include the power of true love, boundaries, class, and it does not correspond with intelligence and objectification of women.

“Phormio” by Terence

“Phormio” is another play written by Terence. It was based around another play, “Epidikazomenos,” or “The Claimant,” that’s now lost. It was first perfumed in 161 B.C. and is often considered to be one of the best Roman comedies. It tells the story of two character’s, Phaedria and Anitpho, cousins who are both involved in love affairs. They both face difficulties in marrying the women they want. But, Phormio, who is regarded as cunning, figures out a way for both men to marry the women they want. He also gets away with a great deal of money. Other characters include Hegio, Crito, Davos, and Chremes.

“Bacchides” by Titus Maccius Plautus

“Bacchides” is a comedy that is focused on a  misunderstanding between two sisters, both of whom have the same name and work in the same place as prostitutes. The play features servants who prove that class does not equal intelligence. Two men fall in love with the sisters who try to buy the sister’s freedom. The misunderstanding at the heart of the play is concerned with which Bacchis is which and who loves whom.

FAQs

What is drama?

Drama is a mode of fiction, such as a play or opera, that’s performed for an audience. This could be a live audience in a theater or one over the radio or television.

What is academic drama?

Academic drama is a theatrical movement that was important around Europe during the Renaissance (mid-16th century).

Is drama an academic subject?

Historically, drama played a more important role in academics than it does today. It was less of an extracurricular activity and more of a requirement during previous centuries.

What plays were performed in the academic drama movement?

Plays included “Phormio,” “Oedipus,” and “Stichus.”

What period did the academic drama movement focus on?

It focused on classical and neoclassical Roman plays.


  • Aside: a dramatic device that is used within plays to help characters express their inner thoughts.
  • Drama: a mode of storytelling that uses dialogue and performance. It’s one of several important literary genres that authors engage with.
  • Dramatic Monologue: conversation a speaker has with themselves, or which is directed at a listen or reader who does not respond.
  • Melodrama: a work of literature or a theatrical performance that uses exaggerated events and characters.
  • Soliloquy: a dramatic literary device that is used when a character gives a speech that reveals something about their thought process.
  • Tragedy: a type of drama that explores serious, sometimes dark, and depressing subject matter.
  • Tragicomedy: a fictional genre that incorporates elements of tragedies and comedies.
  • Comedy: a humorous and entertaining genre of literature, film, and television.


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