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Drama: Definition

Drama is a form of composition designed for performance in the theater, in which actors take the
roles of the characters, perform the indicated actions, and utter the written dialogue. (The
common alternative name for a dramatic composition is a play.) In poetic drama the dialogue is
written in verse, which in English is usually blank verse. Almost all the heroic dramas of the
English Restoration Period, however, were written in heroic couplets (iambic pentameter lines
rhyming in pairs).

Types of Drama

1- Tragedy: The term is broadly applied to literary, and especially to dramatic, representations
of serious actions which eventuate in a disastrous conclusion for the protagonist (the chief
character). Tragedy deals with the big themes of love, loss, pride, the abuse of power and the
fraught relationships between men and gods. Typically the main protagonist of a tragedy
commits some terrible crime without realizing how foolish and arrogant he has been. Then, as he
slowly realizes his error, the world crumbles around him.

Types of Tragedy

1-1 Senecan Tragedy: A precursor of tragic drama were the tragedies by the Roman poet
Seneca (4 BC–65 AD). His tragedies were recited rather than staged but they became a model for
English playwrights entailing the five-act structure, a complex plot and an elevated style of

1-2 Revenge Tragedy / Tragedy of Blood: This type of tragedy represented a popular genre in
the Elizabethan Age and made extensive use of certain elements of the Senecan tragedy such as
murder, revenge, mutilations and ghosts. Typical examples of this sub-genre are Christopher
Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish
Tragedy. These plays were written in verse and, following Aristotelian poetics, the main
characters were of a high social rank (the higher they are, the lower they fall). Apart from
dealing with violent subject matters, these plays conventionally made use of dumb shows or
play-within-the-play, that is a play performed as part of the plot of the play as for example ‘The

Mousetrap’ which is performed in Hamlet, and feigned or real madness in some of the

1-3 Domestic / Bourgeois Tragedy: In line with a changing social system where the middle
class gained increasing importance and power, tragedies from the 18th century onward shifted
their focus to protagonists from the middle or lower classes and were written in prose. The
protagonist typically suffers a domestic disaster which is intended to arouse empathy rather than
pity and fear in the audience. An example is George Lillo’s The London Merchant: or, The
History of George Barnwell (1731).

Modern tragedies such as Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman (1949) follow largely the
new conventions set forth by the domestic tragedy (common conflict, common characters, prose)
and a number of contemporary plays have exchanged the tragic hero for an anti-hero, who does
not display the dignity and courage of a traditional hero but is passive, petty and ineffectual.
Other dramas resuscitate elements of ancient tragedies such as the chorus and verse, e.g., T.S.
Eliot’s The Murder in the Cathedral (1935).

2- Comedy

In the most common literary application, a comedy is a fictional work in which the materials are
selected and managed primarily in order to interest and amuse us: the characters and their
discomfitures engage our pleasurable attention rather than our profound concern, we are made to
feel confident that no great disaster will occur, and usually the action turns out happily for the
chief characters. The term “comedy” is customarily applied only to plays for the stage or to
motion pictures; it should be noted, however, that the comic form, as just defined, also occurs in
prose fiction and narrative poetry.

Types of Comedy

Sometimes, scholars distinguish between high comedy, which appeals to the intellect (comedy
of ideas) and has a serious purpose (for example, to criticize), and low comedy, where greater
emphasis is placed on situation comedy, slapstick and farce. There are further sub-genres of

2-1 Romantic Comedy: A pair of lovers and their struggle to come together is usually at the
center of romantic comedy. Romantic comedies also involve some extraordinary circumstances,
e.g., magic, dreams, the fairy-world, etc. Examples are Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s
Dream or As You Like It.

2-2 Satiric Comedy: Satiric comedy has a critical purpose. It usually attacks philosophical
notions or political practices as well as general deviations from social norms by ridiculing
characters. In other words: the aim is not to make people ‘laugh with’ the characters but ‘laugh
at’ them. An early writer of satirical comedies was Aristophanes (450-385 BC), later examples
include Ben Jonson’s Volpone and The Alchemists.

2-3 The Comedy of Manners: is also satirical in its outlook and it takes the artificial and
sophisticated behaviour of the higher social classes under closer scrutiny. The plot usually
revolves around love or some sort of amorous intrigue and the language is marked by witty
repartees and cynicism. Ancient representatives of this form of comedy are Terence and Plautus,
and the form reached its peak with the Restoration comedies of William Wycherley and William

2-4 Farce: The farce typically provokes viewers to hearty laughter. It presents highly
exaggerated and caricatured types of characters and often has an unlikely plot. Farces employ
sexual mix-ups, verbal humour and physical comedy, and they formed a central part of the
Italian commedia dell’arte. In English plays, farce usually appears as episodes in larger comical
pieces, e.g., in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

2-5 Comedy of Humours: Ben Jonson developed the comedy of humours, which is based on the
assumption that a person’s character or temperament is determined by the predominance of one
of four humours (i.e., body liquids): blood (= sanguine), phlegm (= phlegmatic), yellow bile (=
choleric), black bile (= melancholic). In the comedy of humours, characters are marked by one of
these predispositions which cause their eccentricity or distorted personality. An example is Ben
Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour.

2-6 Melodrama: Melodrama is a type of stage play which became popular in the 19th century. It
mixes romantic or sensational plots with musical elements. Later, the musical elements were no

longer considered essential. Melodrama aims at a violent appeal to audience emotions and
usually has a happy ending.

3- Tragicomedy:

The boundaries of genres are often blurred in drama and occasionally they lead to the emergence
of new sub-genres, e.g., the tragicomedy. Tragicomedies, as the name suggests, intermingle
conventions concerning plot, character and subject matter derived from both tragedy and
comedy. Thus, characters of both high and low social rank can be mixed as in Shakespeare’s The
Merchant of Venice (1600), or a serious conflict, which is likely to end in disaster, suddenly
reaches a happy ending because of some unforeseen circumstances as in John Fletcher’s The
Faithful Shepherdess (c.1609). Plays with multiple plots which combine tragedy in one plot and
comedy in the other are also occasionally referred to as tragicomedies (e.g., Thomas Middleton’s
and William Rowley’s The Changeling, 1622).

The Six Elements of Drama:

The six elements of tragedy are Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song and Spectacle.

1- Plot:

The plot (which Aristotle termed the mythos) in a dramatic or narrative work is
constituted by its events and actions, as these are rendered and ordered toward
achieving particular artistic and emotional effects. This description is deceptively
simple, because the actions (including verbal discourse as well as physical actions) are
performed by particular characters in a work, and are the means by which they exhibit
their moral and dispositional qualities.

There are a great variety of plot forms. For example, some plots are designed to achieve
tragic effects, and others to achieve the effects of comedy, romance, satire, or of some
other genre. Each of these types in turn exhibits diverse plot-patterns, and may be
represented in the mode either of drama or of narrative, and either in verse or in prose.
The following terms, widely current in traditional criticism, are useful in distinguishing

the component elements of plots and in helping to discriminate types of plots, and of the
characters appropriate to them, in both narrative and dramatic literature.

The chief character in a plot, on whom our interest centers, is called the protagonist
(or alternatively, the hero or heroine), and if the plot is such that he or she is pitted
against an important opponent, that character is called the antagonist. Elizabeth
Bennet is the protagonist, or heroine, of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813);
Hamlet is the protagonist and King Claudius the antagonist in Shakespeare's play, and
the relation between them is one of conflict. If the antagonist is evil, or capable of cruel
and criminal actions, he or she is called the villain. Many, but far from all, plots deal
with a conflict; Thornton Wilder's play Our Town (1938), for example, does not. In
addition to the conflict between individuals, there may be the conflict of a protagonist
against fate, or against the circumstances that stand between him and a goal he has set
himself; and in some works (as in Henry James' Portrait of a Lady) the chief conflict is
between opposing desires or values in the protagonist's own temperament. For the
recent exploitation of an anti-traditional protagonist, see antihero.

The order of a unified plot, Aristotle pointed out, is a continuous sequence of beginning,
middle, and end. The beginning initiates the main action in a way which makes us look
forward to something more; the middle presumes what has gone before and requires
something to follow; and the end follows from what has gone before but requires
nothing more; we feel satisfied that the plot is complete. The structural beginning
(sometimes also called the "initiating action," or "point of attack") need not be the initial
stage of the action that is brought to a climax in the narrative or play. The epic, for
example, plunges in medias res, "in the middle of things", many short stories begin at
the point of the climax itself, and the writer of a drama often captures our attention in
the opening scene with a representative incident, related to and closely preceding the
event which precipitates the central situation or conflict. Thus Shakespeare's Romeo
and Juliet opens with a street fight between the servants of two great houses, and his
Hamlet with the apparition of a ghost; the exposition of essential prior matters—the
feud between the Capulets and Montagues, or the posture of affairs in the Royal House
of Denmark—Shakespeare weaves rapidly and skillfully into the dialogue of these

startling initial scenes. In the novel, the modern drama, and especially the motion
picture, such exposition is sometimes managed by flashbacks: interpolated narratives
or scenes (often justified, or naturalized, a memory, a reverie, or a confession by one of
the characters) which represent events that happened before the time at which the work
opened. Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman (1949) and Ingmar Bergman's film
Wild Strawberries make persistent and skillful use of this device.

The German critic Gustav Freytag, in Technique of the Drama (1863), introduced an
analysis of plot that is known as Freytag's Pyramid. He described the typical plot of a
five-act play as a pyramidal shape, consisting of a rising action, climax, and falling
action. Although the total pattern that Freytag described applies only to a limited
number of plays, various of his terms are frequently echoed by critics of prose fiction as
well as drama. As applied to Hamlet, for example, the rising action (a section that
Aristotle had called the complication) begins, after the opening scene and exposition,
with the ghost's telling Hamlet that he has been murdered by his brother Claudius; it
continues with the developing conflict between Hamlet and Claudius, in which Hamlet,
despite setbacks, succeeds in controlling the course of events. The rising action reaches
the climax of the hero's fortunes with his proof of the King's guilt by the device of the
play within a play. Then comes the crisis, the reversal or "turning point" of the fortunes
of the protagonist, in his failure to kill the King while he is at prayer. This inaugurates
the falling action; from now on the antagonist, Claudius, largely controls the course of
events, until the catastrophe, or outcome, which is decided by the death of the hero, as
well as of Claudius, the Queen, and Laertes. "Catastrophe" is usually applied to tragedy
only; a more general term for this precipitating final scene, which is applied to both
comedy and tragedy, is the denouement (French for "unknotting"): the action or
intrigue ends in success or failure for the protagonist, the conflicts are settled, the
mystery is solved, or the misunderstanding cleared away. A frequently used alternative
term for the outcome of a plot is the resolution.

In many plots the denouement involves a reversal, or in Aristotle's Greek term,

peripety, in the protagonist's fortunes, whether to the protagonist's failure or
destruction, as in tragedy, or success, as in comic plots. The reversal frequently depends

on a discovery (in Aristotle's term, anagnorisis). This is the recognition by the
protagonist of something of great importance hitherto unknown to him or to her:
Cesario reveals to the Duke at the end of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that he is really
Viola; the fact of Iago's lying treachery dawns upon Othello; Fielding's Joseph Andrews,
in his comic novel by that name (1742), discovers on the evidence of a birthmark—"as
fine a strawberry as ever grew in a garden"—that he is in reality the son of Mr. and Mrs.

2- Character and Characterization.

Since drama presents us directly with scenes which are based on people’s actions and
interactions, characters play a dominant role in this genre and therefore deserve close attention.
Characters are the persons represented in a dramatic or narrative work, who are
interpreted by the reader as being endowed with particular moral, intellectual, and
emotional qualities by inferences from what the persons say and their distinctive ways of
saying it—the dialogue—and from what they do—the action. The grounds in the
characters' temperament, desires, and moral nature for their speech and actions are
called their motivation. A character may remain essentially "stable," or unchanged in
outlook and disposition, from beginning to end of a work (Prospero in Shakespeare's
The Tempest, Micawber in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, 1849-50), or may
undergo a radical change, either through a gradual process of development (the title
character in Jane Austen's Emma, 1816) or as the result of a crisis (Shakespeare's King
Lear, Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations). Whether a character remains stable or
changes, the reader of a traditional and realistic work expects "consistency"—the
character should not suddenly break off and act in a way not plausibly grounded in his
or her temperament as we have already come to know it.

E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927), introduced popular new terms for an old
distinction by discriminating between flat and round characters. A flat character (also
called a type, or "two-dimensional"), Forster says, is built around "a single idea or
quality" and is presented without much individualizing detail, and therefore can be
fairly adequately described in a single phrase or sentence. A round character is
complex in temperament and motivation and is represented with subtle particularity;

such a character therefore is as difficult to describe with any adequacy as a person in
real life, and like real persons, is capable of surprising us. A humours character, such as
Ben Jonson's "Sir Epicure Mammon," has a name which says it all, in contrast to the
roundness of character in Shakespeare's multifaceted Falstaff. Almost all dramas and
narratives, properly enough, have some characters who serve merely as functionaries
and are not characterized at all, as well as other characters who are left relatively flat:
there is no need, in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, for Mistress Quickly to be as
globular as Falstaff.

The characters in plays can also be divided into major characters and minor characters,
depending on how important they are for the plot. A good indicator as to whether a character is
major or minor is the amount of time and speech as well as presence on stage he or she is

Techniques of Characterization

Characters in drama are characterized using various techniques of characterization. Generally

speaking, one can distinguish between characterizations made by the author in the play’s
secondary text (authorial) or by characters in the play (figural), and whether these
characterizations are made directly (explicitly) or indirectly (implicitly). Another distinction can
be made between self-characterization and characterization through others (see also
characterization techniques in narrative prose ch. 2.4.1.). The way these different forms of
characterization can be accomplished in plays can be schematized as follows:

authorial figural

explicit descriptions of characters in characters’ descriptions of and comments

author commentary or stage on other characters; also self-
directions; telling names characterization

implicit correspondences and contrasts; physical appearance, gesture and facial

indirectly characterizing names expressions (body language); masks and
costumes; stage props, setting; behaviour;
voice; language (style, register, dialect, etc.);
topics one discusses

Dramatic language is another important means of indirect characterisation in plays. Characters

are presented to the audience through what they say and how they say it, their verbal interactions
with others and the discrepancies between their talk and their actions. In an actual performance,
an actor’s voice and tone thus also play a major role for how the audience perceives the played
character. This can also be seen in plays where dialect or specific sociolects are used. Dialect
indicates what region or geographical area one comes from, while sociolect refers to linguistic
features which give away one’s social status and membership in a social group. An example is
Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock where the characters speak with a broad Irish accent and
use a lot of local colloquialisms (even the title already employs accent: ‘paycock’ instead of
‘peacock’). Their language immediately categorises the characters as members of a lower social
class and it also underlines one of the major themes of the play: patriotism.

3- Diction

The term diction signifies the types of words, phrases, and sentence structures, and
sometimes also of figurative language, that constitute any work of literature. A writer's
diction can be analyzed under a great variety of categories, such as the degree to which
the vocabulary and phrasing is abstract or concrete, Latin or Anglo-Saxon in origin,
colloquial or formal, technical or common. The verbal exchange among the characters is
called dialog.

The story of a play is taken forward by means of dialogs. The story is narrated to the
audiences through the interaction between the play's characters, which is in the form of
dialogs. The contents of the dialogs and the quality of their delivery have a major role to
play in the impact that the play has on the audiences. It is through the dialogs between
characters that the story can be understood. They are important in revealing the
personalities of the characters. The words used, the accent, tone, pattern of speech, and
even the pauses in speech, say a lot about the character and help reveal not just his
personality, but also his social status, past, and family background as given by the play.
Monologues and soliloquies that are speeches given to oneself or to other characters
help put forward points that would have been difficult to express through dialogs.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"
from Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet tells Romeo of the insignificance of names or "To
be, or not to be", a soliloquy from Hamlet are some of the greatest lines in literature.

1- Thought / Idea or Theme

The theme of a play refers to its central idea. It can either be clearly stated through
dialog or action, or can be inferred after watching the entire performance. The theme is
the philosophy that forms the base of the story or a moral lesson that the characters
learn. It is the message that the play gives to the audience. For example, the theme of a
play could be of how greed leads to one's destruction, or how the wrong use of authority
ultimately results in the end of power. The theme of a play could be blind love or the
strength of selfless love and sacrifice, or true friendship. For example, the play Romeo
and Juliet, is based on a brutal and overpowering romantic love between Romeo and
Juliet that forces them to go to extremes, finally leading them to self-destruction.

2- Song

This element includes the use of sounds and rhythm in dialogs as well as music
compositions that are used in the plays. The background score, the songs, and the sound effects
used should complement the situation and the characters in it. The right kind of sound effects or

music, if placed at the right points in the story, act as a great supplement to the high and low
points in the play. The music and the lyrics should go well with the play's theme. If the scenes
are accompanied by pieces of music, they become more effective on the audiences.
The heart of the play. Plot, character, language, and spectacle all have their individual
rhythms in time. The combination of all these rhythms create the impelling force of the play
leading to a final climax and Denouement. Rhythm creates mood. In Greek times, a group of
people called Chorus performs the songs. Among the ancient Greeks the chorus was a group
of people, wearing masks, who sang or chanted verses while performing dancelike
maneuvers at religious festivals. A similar chorus played a part in Greek tragedies,
where (in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles) they served mainly as commentators on
the dramatic actions and events who expressed traditional moral, religious, and social
attitudes; beginning with Euripides, however, the chorus assumed primarily a lyrical
function. The Greek ode, as developed by Pindar, was also chanted by a chorus; see ode.

3- The Spectacle/Visual Element

While the dialog and music are the audible aspects of drama, the visual element deals with the
scenes, costumes, and special effects used in it. The visual element of drama, also known as the
spectacle, renders a visual appeal to the stage setup. The costumes and makeup must suit the
characters. Besides, it is important for the scenes to be dramatic enough to hold the audiences to
their seats. The special effects used in a play should accentuate the portion or character of the
story that is being highlighted.

Tragic Hero

The ideal tragic hero, according to Aristotle, should be, in the first place, a man of
eminence. The actions of an eminent man would be ‘serious, complete and of a certain
magnitude’, as required by Aristotle. Further, the hero should not only be eminent but
also basically a good man, though not absolutely virtuous. The sufferings, fall and death
of an absolutely virtuous man would generate feelings of disgust rather than those of
‘terror and compassion’ which a tragic play must produce. The hero should neither be a
villain nor a wicked person for his fall, otherwise his death would please and satisfy our

moral sense without generation the feelings of pity, compassion and fear. Therefore, the
ideal tragic hero should be basically a good man with a minor flaw or tragic trait in his
character. The entire tragedy should issue from this minor flaw or error of judgment.
The fall and sufferings and death of such a hero would certainly generate feelings of pity
and fear. So, Aristotle says: “For our pity is excited by misfortunes undeservedly
suffered, and our terror by some resemblance between the sufferer and ourselves.”
Finally, Aristotle says: “There remains for our choice a person neither eminently
virtuous nor just, nor yet involved in misfortune by deliberate vice or villainy, but by
some error or human frailty; and this person should also be someone of high-fame and
flourishing prosperity.” Such a man would make an ideal tragic hero.

The characteristics of Tragic Hero

According to Aristotle, in a good tragedy, character supports plot. The personal

motivation / actions of the characters are intricately involved with the action to such an
extent that it leads to arouse pity and fear in the audience. The protagonist / tragic hero
of the play should have all the characteristics of a good character.

The tragic hero having all the characteristics mentioned above, has, in addition, a few
more attributes. In this context Aristotle begins by the following observation,

• A good man – coming to bad end. (It’s shocking and disturbs faith)
• A bad man – coming to good end. (neither moving, nor moral)
• A bad man – coming to bad end. (moral, but not moving)
• A rather good man – coming to bad end. (an ideal situation)

Aristotle disqualifies two types of characters – purely virtuous and thoroughly bad.
There remains but one kind of character, who can best satisfy this requirement – ‘A man
who is not eminently good and just yet whose misfortune is not brought by vice or
depravity but by some error of frailty’. Thus the ideal Tragic Hero must be an
intermediate kind of a person- neither too virtuous nor too wicked. His misfortune
excites pity because it is out of all proportion to his error of judgment, and his overall
goodness excites fear for his doom. Thus, he is a man with the following attributes: He
should be a man of mixed character, neither blameless nor absolutely depraved. His
misfortune should follow from some error or flaw of character; short of moral taint. He

must fall from height of prosperity and glory. The protagonist should be renowned and
prosperous, so that his change of fortune can be from good to bad. The fall of such a
man of eminence affects entire state/nation. This change occurs not as the result of vice,
but of some great error or frailty in a character. Such a plot is most likely to generate
pity and fear in the audience. The ideal tragic hero should be an intermediate kind of a
person, a man not preeminently virtuous and just yet whose misfortune is brought upon
him not by vice or depravity but by some error of judgement. Let us discuss this error of
judgement in following point.

The meaning of Hamartia

Hamartia (‘fatal flaw’ or ‘tragic flaw’) may consist of a moral flaw, or it may simply be a
technical error/ error of judgement, or, ignorance, or even, at times, an arrogance
(called hubris in Greek). It is owing to this flaw that the protagonist comes into conflict
with Fate and ultimately meets his/her doom through the workings of Fate (called Dike
in Greek) called Nemesis.

The Three Unities

1- Unity of Action 2- Unity of Time 3- Unity of Place

1- Unity of Action

The combination of incidents which are the action of the play, should be one – one story
told, which is not to say it has to be about only one person, since characters are not in
the centre of the tragedy, but the action itself is. He is against the plurality of action
because it weakens the tragic effect. Number of incidents should be connected to each
other in such a way that they must be conducive to one effect. In short, a play should
have one single plot or action to sustain the interest of the spectators and it can also lead
him to proper purgation.

The Unity of Action limits the supposed action to a single set of incidents which are
related as cause and effect, "having a beginning, middle, and an end." No scene is to be

included that does not advance the plot directly. No subplots, no characters who do not
advance the action.

2- Unity of time

As for the length of the play, Aristotle refers to the magnitude called for, a grandness
indeed, but one which can be easily seen in its entirety – in the aspect of length, than,
one that can easily be remembered. The ideal time which the fable of a tragedy
encompasses is “one period of the sun, or admits but a small variation from this period.”
In other words, the action in a play should not exceed the single revolution of the sun.

The Unity of Time limits the supposed action to the duration, roughly, of a single day.
Aristotle meant that the length of time represented in the play should be ideally
speaking the actual time passing during its presentation. We should keep in our minds
that it is a suggestion i.e. to be tried “as far as possible”; there is nothing that can be
called a rule.

3- Unity of place

Unity of Place means the setting of the play should have one place. In other words, a
play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress
geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.