Drama is an art form that tells a story through the speech and actions of the characters in the story. Most drama is performed by actors who impersonate the characters before an audience in a theater.

Although drama is a form of literature, it differs from other literary forms in the way it is presented. For example, a novel also tells a story involving characters. But a novel tells its story through a combination of dialogue and narrative, and is complete on the printed page. Most drama achieves its greatest effect when it is performed. Some critics believe that a written script is not really a play until it has been acted before an audience.

Drama probably gets most of its effectiveness from its ability to give order and clarity to human experience. The basic elements of drama–feelings, desires, conflicts, and reconciliations–are the major ingredients of human experience. In real life, these emotional experiences often seem to be a jumble of unrelated impressions. In drama, however, the playwright can organize these experiences into understandable patterns. The audience sees the material of real life presented in meaningful form–with the unimportant omitted and the significant emphasized.

No one knows exactly how or when drama began, but nearly every civilization has had some form of it. Drama may have developed from ancient religious ceremonies that were performed to win favor from the gods. In these ceremonies, priests often impersonated supernatural beings or animals, and sometimes imitated such actions as hunting. Stories grew up around some rites and lasted after the rites themselves had died out. These myths may have formed the basis of drama.

Another theory suggests that drama originated in choral hymns of praise sung at the tomb of a dead hero. At some point, a speaker separated from the chorus and began to act out deeds in the hero’s life. This acted part gradually became more elaborate, and the role of the chorus diminished. Eventually, the stories were performed as plays, their origins forgotten.

According to a 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 developed into dramatic retellings of the events.


DRAMA/Forms of drama


Among the many forms of Western drama are (1) tragedy, (2) serious drama, (3) melodrama, and (4) comedy. Many plays combine forms. Modern dramatists often disregard these categories and create new forms.