Rated 4.8/5 by parents & students

Literature: Drama

Literature: Drama


In literature, the word drama defines a genre, or style of writing.Drama is a unique literary form because they are designed to be acted out on a stage before an audience. The word ‘drama’ comes from the Greek word ‘dran’ meaning to act or to do. As “literature in action,” drama brings a story to life before our eyes. Drama is a play that can be performed for theatre, radio or even television. These plays are usually written out as a script, or a written version of a play that is read by the actors but not the audience. Drama is a mode of fictional representation through dialogue and performance. It is one of the literary genres, which is an imitation of some action. Drama is also a type of a play written for theaters, televisions, radios and films. In simple words, a drama is a composition in verse or prose presenting a story in pantomime or dialogue, containing conflict of characters, particularly the ones who perform in front of audience on the stage.

Types of Drama

Let us consider a few popular types of drama:

  • Comedy – Comedies are lighter in tone than ordinary writers, and provide a happy conclusion. The intention of dramatists in comedies is to make their audience laugh.  Hence, they use quaint circumstances, unusual characters and witty remarks. Comedy  is a play written in a kindly or humorous, perhaps bitter or satiric vein, in which the problems or difficulties of the characters are resolved satisfactorily, if not for all characters, at least from the point of view of the audience. Low characters as opposed to noble; characters not always changed by the action of the play; based upon observation of life. Comedy and tragedy are concerned more with character, whereas farce and melodrama are concerned more with plot.
  • Tragedy – Tragic dramas use darker themes such as disaster, pain and death. Protagonists often have a tragic flaw—a characteristic that leads them to their downfall. Tragedy is a play written in a serious, sometimes impressive or elevated style, in which things go wrong and cannot be set right except at great cost or sacrifice. Aristotle said that tragedy should purge our emotions by evoking pity and fear (or compassion and awe) in us, the spectators.The tragic pattern:
    1. a theme of fatal passion (excluding love) as a primary motive
    2. an outstanding personality as center of conflict (classical tragedy demanded a “noble” character)3. a vital weakness within the hero’s character (his tragic flaw which precipitates the tragedy)4. the conflict within the hero is the source of tragedy. However, since Nietzsche, the tragic flaw is often found to be in the universe itself, or in man’s relationship to it, rather than in the hero himself.
  • Farce – Generally, a farce is a nonsensical genre of drama, which often overacts or engages slapstick humor. Farce is a comedy in which story, character, and especially situations are exaggerated to the point of improbability; the situation begins with a highly improbable premise, but when that is accepted everything that follows is completely logical. Fast moving; uses such theatrical devices as duplications, reversals, repetitions, surprises, disguises, chance encounters, often many doors and closets.
  • Melodrama – Melodrama is an exaggerated drama, which is sensational and appeals directly to the senses of audience. Just like the farce, the characters are of single dimension and simple, or may be stereotyped.
  • Musical Drama – In musical drama, the dramatists not only tell their story through acting and dialogue, nevertheless through dance as well as music. Often the story may be comedic, though it may also involve serious subjects.
  • Other kinds of plays 
    1.Classical tragic-comedy; noble characters but happy ending.
    2. Classical comic-tragedy; low characters but ends badly 3. Satire 4. Vaudeville 5. Mime

    6. Propaganda plays (or didactic drama)

Elements of Drama

1. Characters

Characters are the people in the play’s plot. Most plays have a round, major characters and flat, minor characters. The main characters are more important to a work and usually have a bigger part to play. 

Examples of Characters in a drama


JIM BONO, Troy’s friend

ROSE, Troy’s wife

LYONS, Troy’s oldest son by previous marriage

GABRIEL, Troy’s brother

CORY, Troy and Rose’s son

RAYNELL, Troy’s daughter

Let’s take a look at the different characters.
Protagonist: The main character, usually the one who sets the action in motion.
Example: Hamlet is the protagonist in the play ‘Hamlet’.
Antagonist: The character that stands as rival to the protagonist is called the antagonist. He is the villain.
Example: Claudius is the major antagonist in the play ‘Hamlet’ as he contrasts sharply with the main character in the play.
Foil: A character whose traits contrast with those of another character. Writers use foil to emphasize differences between two characters. For example, a handsome but dull character might be a foil for one who is unattractive but dynamic. By using foil, authors call attention to the strengths or weaknesses of a main character.
Example: In Hamlet, the passionate and quick to action Laertes is a foil for the reflective Hamlet.
Confidant: A character that lends an ear and gives his input to usually the protagonist is a confidant. This type of character is most commonly a closest friend or trusted servant of the main character, who serves as a device for revealing the mind and intention of the main character. The confidant’s inputs are revealed only to the audience and not to the other characters in the play.
Example: In Hamlet, Horatio is the confidant.
Stock characters: A stereotypical character who is not developed as an individual but as a collection of traits and mannerisms supposedly shared by all members of a group. These characters are easily recognized by audience due to their recurrent appearance and familiar roles.
Example: A comic, a servant, a fool, a coward, a crooked stepmother, and wicked witch.
Each character is distinct from the other and must have their own peculiar personality, background, and beliefs. The mannerisms and use of language too may differ. The way the characters in the play are treated by the playwright is important to the outworking of the play.
2. Dialogue
The words uttered by characters in a play forms a dialogue. The dialogue reveals the plot and characters of the play. What is spoken must be suitable to the situation and the role of the character.
Things that are said on stage may take on greater worth or typical qualities than the same things said in everyday speech. Good dramatic speech involves a proper construction of words spoken in the appropriate context. 
Good dialogue sheds light on the character speaking and the one spoken about, and aids in the furtherance of the plot.
Dialogue may take various forms:-
  • An exchange between two or more characters.
Titinius – These tidings will well comfort Cassius.
Messala – Where did you leave him?
Titinus – All disconsolate,With Pindarus his bondman, on this hill.
Messala – Is not that he lies upon the ground?
  • Soliloquy A character that is typically alone on stage delivers a long speech which is called a soliloquy. Emotions and innermost thoughts of the character are revealed in a soliloquy.
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][They exit. ANTONY remains.]
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
  • Aside This is spoken by a character to another character or to the audience but is not heard by the other characters on stage. Asides reveal what a character is thinking or feeling.
       Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me,
       And we (like friends) will straightway go together.
Brutus (aside) .
        That every like is not the same, O Caesar,
        The heart of Brutus earns to think upon.  [Exeunt.]
3. Plot
The plot include events that occur in a story sequentially. Normally the introduction of the characters in the beginning of the play gives the audience an idea about what the plot maybe. This information will enlighten the audience as to why characters behave the way they do and an incident maybe expected to surface that will create a problem for the main characters.
As the action heightens, the characters encounter the problem and find themselves in trouble. The conflict in a plot may vary but nevertheless it forms the basis for the plot. The conflict leads the characters from one incident to another unfolding the plot and increasing the suspense and excitement of the reader or viewer.
The turning point of the plot is called the climax when the outcome of the conflict takes place. The climax takes several forms. It may be a revelation of information or it may be a decision or an action. It is the point where suspense no longer exists.
The plot is crucial for the success of a play.
4. Setting
The setting and time in a play tell us where the story happened and the time it occurred.
The setting is very important because what usually happens in the play is influenced by it. Visual components of a setting maybe limited to a painted tree, a bridge, or a hut, or it could be more elaborate. Shifts in time and space are often indicated by the actors through their speech and movements.
In setting, the lighting plays an important role for it shows an illusion of time. Lighting also may be used to focus on an action or stress the importance of an event.
Costumes and props too are involved in setting. Costumes are used to portray a character’s profession, status, ethnicity, age and so on.
Props are items used by actors on stage to create an atmosphere of the play.  These can be simple writing materials, chairs and tables, flowers, thrones, blood-soaked clothes, blankets, and beds and so on.
The effect created by the setting creates the mood for a theatrical spectacle.
5. Stage directions
An audience is prompted to react by the movements or positions of the actors in a play. It can build up tension, trigger laughter, or shift the focus of the audience to a different part of the stage.
To achieve this purpose, the writer communicates to the actors, director, and the rest of the crew in the play by means of stage directions.
He does this by means of short phrases, usually printed in italics and enclosed in parentheses or brackets. These directions describe the appearance and actions of characters as well as the sets, costumes, props, sound effects, and lighting effects.
Stage directions may also include the characters’ body language, facial expressions, and even the tone of voice. Comments or remarks about the surroundings and when a character enters or exits are also made in stage directions. Thus stage directions help us understand the feelings of the character and the mood of the story.
For movies and teleplays, camera instructions are provided.
HUCK. [Picks up a hard little sphere.] What’s this?
JIM. Must a been in there a long time to coat it over so.
[JIM cuts open the sphere and hands HUCK a coin.]
HUCK. It’s gold.
JIM. What sort of writing is that on it?
HUCK. Spanish…I think. This is a Spanish d’bloon, Jim, it’s priate gold!
Why I reckon this fish could be a hundred years old. Do you reckon so, Jim?
JIM. [Nodding.] He go along on the bottom. Eat the little ones. Get older and older and bigger and bigger. He here before people come maybe. Before this was a country. When there was nothing here but that big river…
[He grabs HUCK’s arm.] 
6. Theme
The theme actually tells what the play means. Rather stating what happens in the story, the theme deals with the main idea within the story. Theme has been described as the soul of the drama. The theme can either be clearly stated through dialogue or action or can be inferred from the entire performance. We shall conclude plot and theme in drama should compliment each other and should be synchronized to give a complete output.
General themes are:
i. conflict–between two individuals 
ii. conflict between man and a supernatural power
iii. conflict between the man and himself

Structure of Drama

Ancient Greek drama contained structural divisions and these gradually evolved to a five part structure in drama. By the 16th century, Five Act plays were the order of the day with any number of scenes in each act.
A traditional play thus came to be a Five Act Play. What was the structure followed here?
  • Exposition or introduction
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Denouement or conclusion
Exposition: This is the introduction of the play which provides important background information about the characters, setting, and the conflict they face or are about to face. It may reveal an incident in a character’s past that has a bearing on the plot. The exposition leads the audience to follow through the rest of the story.
Rising action: This is the second characteristic in the structure of a drama. The plot moves forward with further twists and complications in the conflict and many sub-plots. The actions lead the audience toward high intensity, anticipation, and suspense.
Climax: The highest point of dramatic intensity and the most intense moment in the plot is the climax. The questions and mysteries are unraveled at this point. It is a turning point in the play for the protagonist where things from then on will either turn out better or worse for him depending on the kind of play it is.
Falling Action: This is the part where conflicts are more or less resolved and the play moves on to its end.
Denouement: This is the conclusion of the play where everything is better off than when it started, as in a comedy, or things are worse than when the play began, as in the case of a tragedy. Conflicts are resolved. Motives are clear. Final details are straightened up.

Let us examine Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and look at the characteristics that determine the structure of the play.
In the exposition or the introduction what do we learn?
We are introduced to the plot. Here we see at least two conflicts:
1) Between Shylock and Antonio (Scenes I and III)
2) Portia’s Marriage (Scene II)
These events give us an insight to the purpose of the events.
We are introduced to the main characters of the play in the exposition. Some of them are, 
  • Antonio
  • Bassanio
  • Gratiano
  • Shylock
  • Portia 
  • Nerissa
There are two settings we are introduced to
1) Belmont’s sitting a very fancy and fairy ‘tailish’ place ideal for a comedy.
2) Venice that represents real life with traders and merchants ideal setting for a tragedy.
Rising Action: There are many obstacles that a protagonist must face when reaching his goal. In this play, we see that Antonio’s ships which are the only means by which he can pay Shylock’s debt, is reported lost in the sea.
Climax: This is a turning point in the play where changes may take place for better or worse. In this play, Portia comes to Antonio’s rescue to plead in his behalf by disguising herself as a man of law.
Falling Action: Shylock is given orders to give up all his possessions and convert to be a Christian. Portia and Nerissa convince their husbands to hand over their rings.
Denouement: The conclusion of the play shows that everything is in harmony. All return to Belmont and the couples are reconciled.

Examples of Drama from Literature

Example 1


Much Ado About Nothing is the most frequently performed Shakespearian comedy. The play is romantically funny in that love between Hero and Claudio is laughable, as they never even get a single chance to communicate on-stage until they get married. Their relationship lacks development and depth. They end up merely as caricatures, exemplifying what people face in life when their relationships are internally weak. Love between Benedick and Beatrice is amusing, as initially their communications are very sparky, and they hate each other. However, they all of sudden make up, and start loving each other.

Example 2


Sophocles’’ mythical and immortal drama, Oedipus Rex, is thought to be his best classical tragedy. Aristotle has adjudged this play as one of the greatest examples of tragic drama in his book, Poetics by giving following reasons:

  • The play arouses emotions of pity and fear, and achieves the tragic katharsis.
  • It shows the downfall of an extraordinary man of high rank, Oedipus.
  • The central character suffers due to his tragic error called hamartia; as he murders his real father, Laius, and then marries his real mother, Jocasta.
  • Hubris is the cause of Oedipus’ downfall.

Example 3


Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest ,is a very popular example of Victorian farce. In this play, a man uses two identities; one as a serious person Jack (his actual name) that he uses for Cesily, his ward, and as a rogue named Ernest for his beloved woman, Gwendolyn. Unluckily, Gwendolyn loves him partially because she loves the name Ernest. It is when Jack and Earnest must come on-stage together for Cesily, then Algernon comes in to play Earnest’ role, and ward immediately falls in love with another Ernest. Thus, two young women think that they love the same man – an occurrence that amuses the audience.

Example 4


The Heiress is based on Henry James’ novel the Washington Square. Directed for stage performance by William Wyler, this play shows an ungraceful and homely daughter of a domineering and rich doctor falling in love with a young man, Morris Townsend wishes to elope with him, but he leaves her in lurch. Author creates melodrama towards the end, when Catherine teaches a lesson to Morris and leaves him instead.

An Outline for Play Analysis

Name of play

Date of play

The author and his social milieu

Type of theatre for which the play was written

Genre: tragedy, comedy, drama, farce, melodrama

Author’s purpose

Theme: major theme

minor themes

Breakdown of play by acts and scenes

Plot development




Protagonist: character analysis


fatal flaw or comic weakness

character evolvement


Other characters: their function in relation to protagonist

their function within structure of play

Plot: main action


Other production requirements

Exposition demanded by the text: lighting

Initiating incident costumes

Obstacles or conflicts music

Crisis dance

Climax sound effects

Resolution or denouement important props

Use of dramatic devices: irony, foreshadowing, suspense, surprises

Language: realistic, heroic, archaic, poetic, incantatory, orghast

Setting: period of style

scene changes or changes within single set as play progresses


essential scenic elements



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top