Drama, as a literary genre, can be categorised into different types based on its content, style, structure, and purpose. The performing art of drama has captivated audiences for centuries, with depictions of human emotion and conflict. But what are the different types of drama?
Prominent types of drama are:
- Historical Drama, and
These categories can be further refined, and plays may straddle or blend multiple types. Drama’s vast and varied nature allows it to reflect every facet of human experience.
Drama is literature written with the intention that it should be performed:
- on stage,
- in film,
- in video, or
- on television.
Different types of drama explore the complexities of human relationships and emotions, often depicting characters in difficult or challenging situations. Understanding the types of drama requires a basic knowledge of its forms. Those forms include tragedy, musical, action and comedy.
They can be found in the mediums of literature, film, television, and theatre. And the different types of drama are characterised by focussing on human experience and exploring complex themes and ideas.
Drama has a number of unique characteristics that set it apart from other forms of literature. It is often marked by its use of dialogue, which is used to convey the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the characters. Drama is also known for its use of conflict, which serves to drive the plot forward and create tension. Additionally, it explores a variety of themes:
- betrayal, and
Making it a powerful and emotionally resonant genre.
- Key Takeaways
- Drama is literature that is meant to be performed.
- Different types of drama take a number of forms and can be found in several mediums.
- Drama is characterised by its focus on human experience, use of dialogue, and exploration of complex themes and ideas.
Understanding the Different Types of Drama
Drama is literature and is also regarded as one of the performing arts. Therefore, it involves the enactment of the story through a performance by actors for an audience. Thus, a play or a movie written to be performed on stage.
It usually involves a plot, characters, and dialogue. The plot is the main storyline of the play, while the characters are the people who act out the plot. The dialogue is the words spoken by the characters, which help to advance the plot and reveal their personalities.
The term drama is derived from the ancient Greek word dran. It was later adopted into Latin and then into various European languages, and eventually into English as drama. Drama can refer both to a specific genre of literature or theatrical performance and, more broadly, to any situation or series of events that has intense, conflicting, or striking interest or results.
Theatres are buildings originally designed for the purpose of staging plays. The theatre usually has a stage, where the actors perform, and an auditorium, where the audience sits to watch the play. They have evolved and have been modified to be used for other purposes, such as concerts, meetings, and corporate events.
Plays are classified as different types, such as tragedies, comedies, or historical dramas.
- Tragedies are serious and usually end with the death of the main character.
- Comedies are funny and make the audience laugh.
- Historical dramas are based on real events drawn from history.
The different types of drama as an art form involve the enactment of a story through a performance. Actors perform in a theatre or on film for an audience. Plays can be classified as different genres, such as tragedy, comedy, melodrama, musical or historical drama.
Types of Drama
Drama, as a literary and theatrical form, has evolved over the centuries and is classified into types based on content, structure, and presentation. This is not an exhaustive list, as drama is continually evolving and new sub-genres or fusion genres might emerge over time. And different cultures and traditions have their own types of drama. For instance, Noh and Kabuki are traditional Japanese forms of drama, and Indian cultures have forms like Kathakali and Yakshagana.
So, let’s take a brief look at some types of drama.
Serious plays that end unhappily for the main character are called tragedies. Ancient Greek classical tragedies address themes of fate, hubris, and the tragic flaws of the hero. They include Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Tragedy is characterised by a dark and often somber tone. It usually features a protagonist who is faced with an overwhelming situation. He or she must make a decision that will lead to their downfall. Examples of tragedy include Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Comedy makes us laugh. Designed to be humorous and to entertain the audience, it deals with misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and other comedic situations. Notable examples include Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
This type of drama blends elements of tragedy and comedy. Characters might undergo serious challenges and ordeals, but the play might end on a hopeful or cheerful note. Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a good example.
Melodrama has exaggerated emotions and plotlines. It usually features dramatic situations that are meant to evoke strong emotions in the audience. Examples include:
- The Bold and the Beautiful – A US CBS tv soap opera from William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell, first aired in 1987, and
- Days of Our Lives – A US tv soap that streams on Peacock, aired on NBC from 1965 to 2022. It is a long-running tv program which has been shown every week since 1965.
A sub-genre of comedy, farce exaggerates situations, and includes physical humour, and slapstick. The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare is considered to be farcical.
A mystery play, also known as a miracle play, is a form of medieval European drama that focused on the depiction of stories from the Bible. They were particularly prevalent from the 10th to the 16th century and were performed outdoors on feast days, especially during the Corpus Christi festival.
They were called mystery plays because they were associated with mysteries or crafts. And many were traditionally sponsored by craft guilds.
Mystery plays were divided into a series of episodes or scenes. Each one presented a specific event from the Bible. It may have been the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the life of Christ, or the Last Judgment. They were often performed in cycles, where several plays would be performed in succession over the course of a day. And they told the entire Biblical history from the Creation to the Last Judgment.
The structure and content of the plays varied depending on the region and period. Some mystery plays were quite elaborate, with sophisticated staging. It may have included moving pageant wagons, special effects, such as the depiction of heaven and hell, and a large cast of characters.
Over time, as the Renaissance era approached and the medieval period waned, religious plays declined in popularity. Though they were replaced by other forms of drama, they left a significant mark on the history of theatre. And their influence can still be felt in some aspects of modern dramatic arts.
Fast-paced plot and intense physical action typifies action drama. It features characters who are involved in dangerous or exciting situations that require them to use their physical abilities to overcome obstacles. Examples of action drama include films such as:
- Die Hard – A 1988 US movie starring Bruce Willis and written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. Directed by John McTiernan it is based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp.
- Mission Impossible – A series of spy films, based on the 1966 TV series by Bruce Geller, Mission Impossible is produced by and stars Tom Cruise.
Also from the Middle Ages, morality plays are allegorical dramas where characters personify moral qualities or abstractions, such as virtues and vices. Everyman is a well-known example.
Beginning in the 19th century, realistic plays portray life as it is, without overt symbolism or exaggeration. Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, and August Strindberg wrote plays in the genre.
Emerging in the 20th century, absurdism reflects the belief that human existence has no inherent meaning or value. Logical communication is often impossible, as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot exemplifies.
Introduced by Bertolt Brecht, it used the theatre as a medium to provoke thought rather than merely to entertain. Brecht’s plays, such as Mother Courage and Her Children, are central to this form.
Plays based on actual events and people, aiming to offer a dramatic interpretation of historical or current events are called Docudrama.
Monologue or Solo Play
A drama piece performed by a single actor, portraying one or more characters. The Belle of Amherst, about Emily Dickinson, is a good example of the type.
Incorporates songs and dance routines into the narrative. Famous examples of the type are West Side Story and Les Misérables.
Drama is a diverse and complex genre that encompasses several different types of drama, each with its unique characteristics. Whether it is comedy, tragedy, or melodrama, drama has the power to entertain, enlighten, and inspire audiences.
The dramatic mode has contrasted with epic and lyrical modes ever since Poetics – Aristotle’s earliest work on dramatic theory. Drama from the ancient Greek word dran means action, and it is the emphasis on action that distinguishes drama from other forms of literature.
The terms dramatic, epic, and lyrical refer to different modes or genres of literature, each with distinct characteristics. Here’s an overview of the modes:
Relates to drama, meant to be performed by actors for an audience.
- Key Features: Dialogue and action, minimal narration, representation of characters’ conflicts, and direct presentation of events.
- Purpose: To invoke catharsis in the audience by allowing them to experience the emotions of the characters and the unfolding of events.
- Shakespeare’s – Hamlet and Othello,
- Sophocles’ – Oedipus Rex, and
- Arthur Miller’s – Death of a Salesman.
Long narrative poems that often depict the adventures and achievements of heroic figures or the history of a nation.
- Key Features: Large scope, often involving supernatural elements, detailed battle scenes, long formal speeches, divine interventions, and a formal and elevated style.
- Purpose: To celebrate national, cultural, or personal heroes, instilling moral values or showcasing cultural values.
- Homer’s – Iliad and Odyssey,
- Virgil’s – Aeneid, and
- Milton’s – Paradise Lost.
Shorter poems or pieces of literature where the author expresses personal feelings or thoughts, often in the first person.
- Key Features: Emphasis on emotion, personal reflection, and individual experience. They are often melodic or song-like in nature, hence the term ‘lyrical’.
- Purpose: To convey personal emotions, perceptions, and reflections, often invoking a strong sense of mood or atmosphere.
- William Wordsworth’s – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,
- Emily Dickinson’s – Because I Could Not Stop for Death, and
- Robert Frost’s – The Road Not Taken.
While each mode has distinct characteristics, it’s worth noting that many literary works can incorporate elements from multiple modes. For example, an epic work can have lyrical passages, and a drama can have epic undertones.
Drama is a literary genre and a form of performing arts characterised by specific elements and features.
The characteristics will vary depending on the type of drama. For example:
- Tragedy often involves a tragic hero who experiences a downfall due to his or her own flaws or external circumstances.
- Comedy may involve mistaken identities, witty banter, and a happy ending.
- Melodrama can involve exaggerated emotions and plot twists.
- Farce could involve physical humour and absurd situations.
Here are some of the key characteristics of drama explained:
Conflict is at the heart of most dramas, whether internal or external. It may be:
- in the character’s mind (internal),
- between two characters, or
- between a character and the environment.
The resolution of this conflict is often the driving force of the plot.
Unlike other forms of literature, drama relies heavily on dialogue. Characters communicate with one another through spoken words, and dialogue is essential for character development and plot progression.
Dialogue is the spoken words of the characters in a drama. In drama, dialogue is used to reveal character, advance the plot, and explore themes and ideas. Dialogue can be used to create tension and conflict between characters, and it can be used to reveal the motivations and desires of the characters. In drama, dialogue is often carefully crafted to create a specific effect, such as humor, irony, or suspense.
Dramas feature a cast of characters who drive the narrative forward. Each has a distinct personality, motivation, and role in the story. They are the individuals in the action of the play portrayed by actors. Characters are often used to explore themes and ideas, and they can be used to represent different aspects of society. They can be complex and multi-dimensional, and they often have conflicting motivations and desires.
The setting of a drama can be a physical location, a specific period, or both. It is essential for creating the world in which the story unfolds and where the action takes place. The setting can be a real or imaginary location, and it can be used to create a specific mood or atmosphere. It can also be used to reflect the social and cultural context of the play, and to explore themes and ideas.
The plot is structured to build tension and drama. It is the sequence of events that make up the story, and includes:
- the introduction,
- rising action,
- falling action, and
This sequence of events makes up the story of the play. Plot is driven by conflict, such as the struggle between two or more opposing forces, such as:
- a fight between the protagonist and antagonist,
- an altercation between one character and society, or
- a battle between the antagonist and nature.
The plot of a drama is usually structured around a series of rising and falling actions that build to a climax, followed by a resolution.
Dramas explore various themes, which can range from love and conflict to morality and societal issues. Themes give depth and authenticity to stories.
Drama often evokes strong emotions in the audience. Characters’ struggles and conflicts, as well as the unfolding of the plot, can trigger a range of emotions, such as empathy, sympathy, joy, or sorrow.
Dramas are often structured to create suspense and anticipation in the audience. This is achieved through the gradual revelation of information and the development of the plot.
In written drama scripts, stage directions provide instructions for actors, directors, and producers regarding how the play should be performed. These directions describe character movements, expressions, and interactions with the setting.
Many dramas explore the resolution of conflicts, whether they are resolved positively or negatively. The resolution often serves as a conclusion to the story.
Aristotle introduced the concept of catharsis, where dramas provide an emotional release and purification for the audience. The audience can experience and process their own emotions through the events and characters on the stage.
Symbolism is often used in drama to convey deeper meanings or themes. Objects, actions, and even characters can carry symbolic significance.
Monologues and Soliloquies
In addition to dialogue between characters, dramas may include monologues and soliloquies, where a character speaks their thoughts or emotions aloud to the audience.
Drama is a versatile genre that can take on various forms, from tragedy to comedy and everything in between. It is meant to be performed, and as such, it often involves collaboration between playwrights, directors, actors, and other production team members to bring the story to life on the stage or screen.
Drama is a genre of literature that is designed to be performed in front of an audience. It is characterised by the presence of characters, a plot that is driven by conflict, a setting that reflects the social and cultural context of the play, dialogue that reveals character and advances the plot, and action that creates a sense of realism and engages the audience.
Each Drama type may be presented in different or multiple mediums. Each medium has unique characteristics and conventions, which can affect the genre of the dramatic presentation.
Drama In film is often presented in a narrative form, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The focus is on telling a story through visual images and dialogue. Film dramas add cinematic quality, making dramatic use of camera angles, lighting, and sound effects to create a gripping atmospheric mood.
Television dramas are like film dramas in that they also tell the story through visual images and dialogue. However, television dramas are often presented in a serialised format, with multiple episodes that build upon each other to create a larger narrative arc. They tend to have more complex characters and storylines, as they have more time to develop them over the course of a season or series.
Theatre is the oldest medium for drama, and it remains a popular form of entertainment. When drama is presented live on stage, in front of an audience, the immediate impact is relayed from audience to actors. Therefore, theatre is more intimate, as the audience and performers can feed off each other.
Theatre has more emphasis on dialogue and character development. And there are fewer visual effects to distract from the performance than in film and television. And the actors get the buzz of immediate feedback to their performance, unlike with film and television.
Drama is not limited to theatrical performances but can also be found in music, dance, and song.
- Music drama combines the elements of music and drama to create a unique art form.
- Dance drama combines dramatic and formal dance to create a unique form of storytelling through movement.
- Song combines music and lyrics to convey the emotions and thoughts of the characters.
Visual Art in Drama
Visual Art is an indispensable tool in drama, and how it is used will vary according to the type of drama. It may be used to shape the narrative, influence emotions, or provide depth and context to the work. It adds layers of meaning, aesthetics, and engagement to the theatrical experience. So, when the two powerful forms of expression are interwoven well, they elevate and enhance each other.
Here’s how visual art impacts different types of drama:
The backdrop and environment in which a dramatic performance takes place is crucial for setting the mood, time, place, and context. Whether it’s a realistic depiction of a Victorian living room in a play or a surreal, abstract landscape in a movie, the set design, which is a form of visual art, plays a pivotal role in audience immersion.
Costumes convey character personality, societal status, profession, and the period. A lot of skill is required to ensure costumes are not only beautiful but also historically and contextually accurate. Costumes are integral to drama, and they help to bring characters to life. They reflect the personality, status, and social background of the characters and convey important information about them. For example, a character dressed in a police uniform is immediately recognisable as a law enforcement officer, while a character wearing a suit and tie is often associated with a professional job. Costumes also help to create a sense of time and place. For example, a period drama set in the 1920s will feature costumes that are typical of that era, such as flapper dresses and cloche hats. Similarly, a play set in a fantasy world may feature elaborate costumes with intricate details and unique designs.
Lighting is an art form. By manipulating lights, engineers create mood, highlight specific characters or actions, and transition between scenes. The colours, intensity, and direction of lights can greatly influence an audience’s emotions and understanding of a scene.
Makeup & Prosthetics
Whether to age a character, transform someone into a creature, or simply enhance features for the stage, makeup and prosthetics are essential visual art tools in drama. They assist in the process of bringing characters to life and can make fantastical stories believable.
David Lynch’s 1980 moving masterpiece – The Elephant Man – is a prime example of the power of makeup and prosthetics in drama. Listen, as John Hurt recalls the part of John Merrick, the elephant man, he played.
The objects that characters interact with can be symbolic, functional, or simply decorative. They are designed and crafted to fit seamlessly into the play.
Props are objects that are used by actors during a performance to enhance the realism of the scene. They can range from a coffee mug or a book, to more elaborate items like weapons. Props bring a sense of authenticity to the overall atmosphere of the drama.
And they can convey information about the characters and the plot. For example, a character brandishing a gun may suggest they are dangerous. Whereas the symbolism of a wilted flower may represent the death of a relationship.
Modern drama often incorporates video projections, digital art, and other multimedia elements. These visual components provide additional context, and can create breathtaking visual effects, or serve as a narrative device.
Symbolism & Motifs
Visual art in drama can be used symbolically. A specific design element, like a recurring colour or motif, might symbolise a theme or emotion throughout a performance.
Mood & Atmosphere Creation
Visual elements such as colour schemes, shapes, and patterns can evoke emotions in the audience. They may include tension and unease or joy and serenity. This can be crucial for dramas that rely on atmospheric immersion.
Character Development & Narrative Enhancement
Visual cues add layers of information about characters and the story. For instance, a character’s evolution might be shown through changes in their attire or surroundings.
Visual elements, expertly produced, captivate audiences, and invest them in the story. Stunning visuals leave lasting impressions, and ensure the drama remains memorable long after it’s over. Pictures often have more power than words.
Drama refers to the type of story being told and the style in which it is presented. The two main genres of drama are tragedy and comedy. Tragedies typically have a serious tone and end in the downfall of the protagonist, while comedies are lighthearted and end in a happy resolution.
It is essential for performers and audiences to understand the types of drama. Only then will the actors be able to fulfil the audience’s expectations and unveil inevitable surprises cleverly.
By understanding the conventions and expectations of a particular genre, performers can better convey the intended tone and style of the play. Similarly, audiences can appreciate the nuances and subtleties of a drama by understanding its genre and the conventions associated with it.