4 types of drama in literature with examples and explained

4 types of drama in literature with examples and explained

There are four major types of drama: comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, and melodrama. These types originated at different times, but each of them has its characteristics. However, all of them have their place in modern culture and should be appreciated.

4 types of drama in literature
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What is drama in English literature? Drama is the portrayal of fictional or non-fictional events through the performance of written dialogue.

To define drama in simple terms, it simply means stories being brought to life by actors and events on a stage.

The definition of drama, according to Aristotle, is a poetic composition acted in front of audiences in a theatron. 

Through the combination of performance, music, dance, props, etc, the audience is able to feel like a part of the action. This is what makes the drama genre a unique genre of literature.

Of course, you can also read drama in form of a written play. However, you will only get the full impression of what the author intended to show when it is performed. Drama can also be performed in films or on the radio.

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Types of drama in literature

To understand what is drama in literature, the understanding of its different types is necessary. There are various types of drama, but only the four main types of drama will be examined below.

They are comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, and melodrama. These contain different characteristics of drama, which include, plot, characters, music, dialogue, etc.

Also, most plays contain elements of some or all of these different genres.

1. Comedy

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Comedy is a type of drama that aims to make the audience laugh. Its tone is light and it mostly has a happy ending. The classic conception of comedy came from the Ancient Greek theatre, where comedy first emerged as a form of drama.

Comedy can be further divided into subcategories, for example, lampoon, farce, satire, black comedy, etc.

Each type of comedy has its audience. Interestingly, such preferences may also depend on the cultural background of people.

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2. Tragedy

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Tragedy is a type of drama in which the protagonist or hero is brought down by his/her flaws.

Murders, deaths, insanity, and pain are among the most common ideas in tragedies. Main characters usually have some kind of weakness or defect that causes their downfall.

Tragedy first appeared in the theatre of Ancient Greece. Like comedy, it lived through the Roman Empire, Medieval times, Renaissance, and other eras.

The aim of tragedy, as stated by Aristotle, is to create a release of certain emotions from the audience, to arouse in them sensations of pity and fear, so that they leave the theatre with an understanding of the ways of gods and men.

The audience catharsis is brought about by witnessing some disastrous and moving change in the fortunes of the protagonist.

3. Tragicomedy

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Tragicomedy is a special kind of drama that combines the features of tragedy and comedy. This means that such play may be sad but will have a happy ending, or it may be serious with some elements of humour emerging throughout the whole play.

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Unlike comedy and tragedy, tragicomedy emerged a bit later, in the times of the Roman Empire. Roman dramatist Plautus was the first to write a tragicomedy and to use the term.

In his play Amphitryon, he used the lightheartedness of comedy but chose gods and kings as the main characters. This was quite revolutionary of him.

Before Plautus, there were strict rules about writing drama, it was either comedy or tragedy. These genres were never mixed.

Plautus was the first to note that in our daily lives, we have features of both tragedy and comedy.

4. Melodrama

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Melodrama is the last one of the four types of drama. It is a kind of drama in which everything is hyperbolized. Usually, themes depicted in melodramas are simple and without any unpredictable plot twists. There are quite a lot of stereotypes in such dramas.

However, the main point of a melodrama is not to tell a story but to awaken feelings in the audience. Melodramas are mostly love stories with beautiful heroines, charming heroes, and scary villains.

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Melodrama originated much later than comedy, tragedy, and tragicomedy. It first appeared in France at the end of the 18th century.

Later, it reached Britain and became one of the most popular types of drama in the 19th century.

Particularly, the 19th century was the period when melodrama was the most popular kind of theatre entertainment and was visited by a vast number of people.

This is because, in those times, theatres became available for common people. As melodrama was aimed at this layer of society, in particular, it became immensely popular among artisans and the working-class population.

The influence of melodrama on society was so great that it lived to our days and even penetrated other areas of literature and entertainment.

What are the elements of drama?

Having learned that there are different types of drama, there are certain elements that a play that is meant to be performed must have for it to qualify as a drama.

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The major elements of drama include the theme, plot, character, dialogue, settings, performance, music, and visual effects.

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Here are the major elements of drama and their functions in a play.

1. Theme

The theme of a play refers to its central idea. It can either be clearly stated through dialogue or action or can be inferred after watching the entire performance.

The theme is the philosophy that forms the base of the story or a moral lesson that the characters learn. A theme, in simple terms, is what the play is about.

It is the message or lesson that the writers of the play want the audience to learn.

For example, the theme of a play could be about how unforgiveness destroys relationships or how love can bring people together regardless of their race or background.

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2. Plot

In simple terms, a plot is the chain of events in a play. Essentially, the plot is the story that the play narrates. It is the sequence of events in the story.

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The plot usually begins with exposing the past or background of the main and other characters, and the point of conflict then proceeds to give the central theme or climax.

Generally, a story begins with exposing the past or background of the main and other characters, and the point of conflict, then it proceeds to give the central theme or climax.

Then comes the climax and the play ends with a conclusion.

3. Characters

The characters are the roles that actors play in a play. The main characters of any play are the protagonist and the antagonist. Characters include people, animals, or figures represented in a literary work.

Depending on character development, a character can be either dynamic, static, round, or flat.

4. Dialogue

Dialogues, in simple terms, are the lines that actors perform in a play. The story is narrated to the audience through the interaction between the characters.

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The contents of the dialogues and the quality of their delivery have a major role to play in the impact that the play has on the audience. It is through the dialogues between characters that the story can be understood.

Dialogues also help to reveal the personalities of the characters and help the audience understand characters more.

Monologues and soliloquies are also as important as dialogues are in a play. They are speeches that actors give to themselves or that are directed to the audience in a play.

5. Setting

The time and place where a story is set in one of its important parts. The era of time in which the incidents in the play take place. Stage design and costumes are some of the ways the place and time settings of a play are portrayed.

6. Performance

This is about how actors give life to the characters that are written on paper. How well actors portray their characters' personalities determines how well the play will be taken by the audiences.

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7. Music

This element includes the use of sounds and rhythm in dialogues. It also includes music compositions that are used in plays.

The background score, songs, and sound effects are used to complement the scenes and the characters in it. Music also helps to portray the emotions in a scene to the audience.

8. Visual element

The visual element of drama, also known as the spectacle, gives a visual appeal to the stage setup. The costumes and makeup of characters are also parts of visual elements.

Visual elements help scenes to be dramatic enough to hold an audience's attention.

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Apart from the major elements listed above, the structure of a story, the use of symbolism and contrast, and overall stagecraft are some of the other important elements necessary for any good drama.

Though there are different types of drama, a combination of these different types is often seen in most plays.

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