UNIT 10: Drama
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:

  • Introduction 
  • Origin and Development of Drama
  • Types of Drama
  • Characteristics of Drama
  • Common elements used in Drama
  • Conclusion 
A drama is a story that is intended to be performed by actors in front of an audience. The story in a drama is told in a way that it can be acted by characters before an audience, hence making a kind of communication between a playwright and the audience through actors. It is also defined as an art form that tells a story through the speech and actions of the characters in the story.

Origin and development
A drama is a specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word which means ‘to do’ or ‘accomplish’. There are three theories regarding the origin of drama. The first one is that drama is believed to have developed from ancient religious ceremonies that were performed in order to win favor from the gods. During these ceremonies, priests often impersonated supernatural beings or animals and sometimes initiated such actions as haunting. These ceremonies that were performed and attended by a large number of audiences are believed to have formed the basis of drama. This theory upholds that the Greeks invented drama because the Greeks are ones who held festivals honoring he god of wine, Dionysus. But later, they started to relate the heroic deeds that were not based on Dionysus. Another source says that the drama was originated in choral hymns of praise sung at the tomb of a dead hero. At some point, a speaker was separated form from the chorus and began to act out deeds in the hero’s life. This acted part became more elaborate and the role of the chorus diminished. Eventually, the stories were fully performed as plays, and their origins forgotten. According to third theory, drama grew out of a natural love of storytelling. Stories told around campfires re-created victories in the hunt or in battle or the feats of dead heroes. These stories also were then developed into dramatic retellings of the events.

Types of drama
There are several kinds of drama but many plays combine more than one form in a single drama. Among of them are:
1. Tragedy. Is the form of drama that shows seriousness and has a tragic end. In the kind of dram, there may be moments of comic reliefs but the main character die or experience unhappy ending. Examples of such plays are like Kinjeketile, and Dedan Kimathi.
2. Comedy. This is the kind of drama that evokes laughter often by exposing the pretensions of the fools and rascals. But even in the midst of laughter, comedy can raise surprisingly serious questions, hence comedy can be both critical and playful. Most comedies have happy ending. Examples of comedies are like The Trials of Brother Jero and The Lion and the Jewel.
3. Tragi-Comedy. This is the kind of drama that combines the elements of tragedy and comedy. In this type of drama, the main character does not die or end in danger. Examples of tragi-comedy is Dilemma of a Ghost.
4. Historical drama. This is the type of drama which expresses the history of a certain society. In this drama, a reader can also find elements of tragedy and comedy. Dedan Kimathi and Kinjeketile are examples of historical drama.
5. Melodrama. This is the kind of drama for entertainment. Is a play with sensational and romantic plot and often accompanied with music.
6. Farce. It is the kind of play that ridicule the society and it uses ridiculous situations and broad physical clowning for its humorous effects. It is sometimes considered a distinct dramatic form, but it is essentially a type of comedy.
7. Closet drama. This is the drama that is not intended to be performed onstage, but read by a solitary reader or sometimes, out loud in a small group.
8. Serious drama. It was developed out of tragedy and became established in the 1800s. it shares the serious tone and often the serious purpose of tragedy, and like tragedy it concentrates on unhappy events. But serious drama can end happily, and its heroes are less imposing and more ordinary than the tragic hero. Serious drama is sometimes viewed as tragedy’s modern successor.

Characteristics of Drama
Drama is a unique genre because it can be presented and discussed both as a literature and as a performance-the production of plays in the theatre. The following are the features of drama that distinguish it from other genres of literature like novel and poems:
1. Drama tells the story through the combination of dialogues unlike other genres that do not use dialogues or use rare dialogues.
2. Drama is performed. Unlike other literary genres, drama is intended to be performed before the audience.
3. Many plays are written in prose, that is to say, plays are written in everyday language.
4. Plays employ stage directions as a narrative point of view. Unlike novels that do not use stage directions.
5. Most plays are divided into acts and scenes. Novels and short stories are divided into parts, sections and chapters while poems are divided into stanzas.
6. The act or scene in a play ends with a curtain or blackout to show the end of an act of a scene, but this is rare to other literary genres.

Common elements used in drama:
Soliloquy. In drama, it is a dramatic device in which a character, alone on the stage, reveals his or her private thoughts and feelings as if thinking aloud. A soliloquy gives information that the character would not reveal to other characters on the stage.
Aside. In a play, it is a character’s comment that is directed to the audience or another character, but is not heard by any other characters on the stage.
Stage directions. These are the directions in the play that are given to instruct the characters what to do on the stage. They are mostly at almost each beginning of an act or a scene and sometimes they are put in parenthesis. 
Dialogue. This is the conversation of two or more people who speak in turn. The characters in the plays are made to speak in dialogues, that is, in turn.
Curtain. In drama, this marks that end of an act or a scene.

Being one of the oldest forms of literature, drama has long served as the art that works as reflective of social realities.

Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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