Fictional or non-fictional events are acted out through written dialogue to create a dramatic presentation (either prose or poetry). Plays can be shown live, on video, or over the airwaves. Plays are written by people called “playwrights” or “dramatists,” and the people who perform them are called “actors.”

The Greek words drama and drame (both meaning “act” or “play”) are the origins of the English word “drama,” which has been in use since Aristotle’s time (about 335 BCE) (to act, to take action). Thalia, the Greek Muse of comedy, and Melpomene, her counterpart, the Muse of tragedy, are represented by the laughing and crying masks, respectively.

To What Do Drama’s High Tension Moments Owe Their High Tension?

Playwrights work hard to increase the drama of their works by ratcheting up the tension and suspense in the tale. The dramatic tension rises as the audience waits to see what will happen next. The suspense in a mystery, for instance, rises steadily throughout the story until the thrilling or unexpected finale.

The key to creating suspense in a drama is to keep the spectators guessing. How likely is it that Oedipus, the protagonist of the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, will come to realize that the plague that wiped out his city was caused by his murder of his father and infidelity with his mother? Will Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, ever kill Claudius to avenge his father’s death and put an end to his father’s spirit and his visions of flying daggers?

Dialogue is crucial in dramas because it conveys information about the characters’ inner lives, goals, and intentions to the viewer. Playwrights commonly employ soliloquies and asides to heighten the dramatic tension in their works, since the audience watches the characters in a drama experience events firsthand, with no authorial commentary to provide context.

Classifications of Drama

The plot’s mood, tone, and actions are commonly used to label a performance’s category. Here are a few examples of well-liked dramas:

Comedies are lighter in mood than dramas, with the goal of making the audience laugh and often ending with a positive message. In comedies, zany characters are put in outlandish scenarios where they act and speak in hilarious ways. In addition to being lighthearted, comedy can also be sarcastic. Romantic comedies, sentimental comedies, comedies of manners, and tragic comedies (plays that tackle tragedy with humor to bring about good endings) are all sub-genres of comedy.

Darker in tone, tragedies present weighty topics like death, calamity, and human suffering with solemnity and depth. Tragic heroes, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, are usually doomed by their own tragic defects, and the stories rarely end happily.

A farce is a ridiculous type of drama in which the characters deliberately overact and participate in slapstick or physical comedy. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and Airplane! by Jim Abrahams, both from 1980, are great examples of farce.

Melodrama is an exaggerated kind of drama in which stereotypical heroes, heroines, and villains face off against dramatic, romantic, and often life-threatening circumstances. Melodramas are works that are intended to evoke strong emotional responses from their audiences; examples include the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind, set during the American Civil War.

Opera is a multifaceted form of drama that uses singing, acting, speaking, and dancing to convey epic tales of tragedy or humor. Performers need acting and singing chops because songs are used to convey the characters’ emotions and motivations rather than words. Classic examples of opera range from the distinctly melancholy La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini to the raucous farce Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi.

Docudrama is a new genre that uses drama to depict real-life or historical events or circumstances. Popular examples of docudramas are the films Apollo 13 and 12 Years a Slave, both of which are based on the autobiographies of real people but are typically presented on film or television rather than live theater.

Prototypical Case of Both Comedy and Tragedy

These two famous plays by Shakespeare are often cited as examples of the contrast between humor and tragedy as dramatic masks.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Comedic Play

Shakespeare’s “love conquers all” motif is a recurring one in his works, and he plays with it in a lighthearted way in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young people continually falling in and out of love because of a string of comedic and random events. Puck, a mischievous sprite, miraculously fixes their issues while they deal with the comical pitfalls of romantic love. In a very Shakespearean happy ending, bitter rivals reconcile and real lovers are finally able to be together.

Playwrights have always seen comedic potential in the age-old tension between romantic desire and societal norms, and it is often referenced as evidenced by works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Romeo and Juliet Tragic

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a memorable tragedy about young lovers, but their story does not end happily ever after. Romeo and Juliet’s love is ruined by the seething enmity between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, in what is today one of the most performed dramas in history. Romeo murders Juliet’s cousin in a duel and Juliet fakes her own death the night before their secret wedding so that neither of their families will find out about it. Romeo, unaware of Juliet’s plot, goes to the cemetery to see if she has died and ends up killing himself when he is convinced she is no longer alive. After hearing the news that Romeo has died, Juliet takes her own life.

Shakespeare builds devastating dramatic tension in Romeo and Juliet by rapidly shifting the play’s tone from hopeful to hopeless and back again.

Dramatic Glossary

Drama is the representation of events, either real or imagined, in a dramatic form such as theater, film, radio, or television.