History of English Drama

 History of English Drama

What is drama?
‘Drama is a composition in verse or prose to be acted on the stage, in which a 
story is related by means of dialogue and action and is represented with, accompanying 
gesture, costume and scenery as in real life’.
- Shorter Oxford Dictionary
‘Drama is a composition designed for performance in the theatre in which actors 
take the roles of the characters, perform the indicated action and utter the written 
- A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams 

The Elements of Drama:
The elements of drama are- 
1. plot
2. characterization
3. dialogue
4. settings
5. stage directions
6. conflict 
7. theme
The four closely related areas of focus are- 
1. The focus of the scene 
2. The focus of the audience
3. The focus of the character
4. The focus of the actor
After studying this unit you will be able to :
• understand and identify drama as a genre of literature 
• learn the definition of drama
• explain the difference between drama and other forms of literature 
• explain the basic elements of drama
• understand the types of drama

Types of Drama:
• Tragedy       • Comedy •          Tragic Comedy 
(i) Romantic Comedy,
(ii) Sentimental Comedy, 
(iii) Classical Comedy, 
(iv) Comedy of Humour 
(v) Comedy of Manners
A Short History of Drama
(I) Introduction to English Theatre : Drama has its origins in folk theatre. We 
therefore cannot consider drama merely as a part of literature. Words are 
the medium of literature as an art but drama is a multiple art using words, 
scenic effects, music, gestures of the actors and the organising talents of a 
producer. The dramatist must have players, a stage and an audience.
 The beginnings of drama in England are obscure. There is evidence 
to believe that when the Romans were in England they established vast 
amphitheatres for the production of plays but when the Romans departed 
their theatre departed with them. Then there were minstrels. People enjoyed 
their performances. Gradually by the 10th century the ritual of the plays that 
itself had something dramatic in it, got extended into the rudiments of a play. 
Between the 13th and 14th century drama started having themes which were 
separated from religion. The words themselves were spoken in English, a 
longer dramatic script came into use, and they were called as Miracle plays. 
Later, these religious dramas were the Morality plays in which characters 
were abstract vices and virtues. These were allegories. 
(II) Elizabethan and Restoration Theatre : These Secular Morality plays have 
direct links with Elizabethan plays. The Renaissance imposed a learned 
tradition, classical in depth with themes of education, general moral problems 
and secular politics. The plays had nothing to do with religion. There were 
examples of both, comedy and tragedy. Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe 
and William Shakespeare are the prime dramatists of this era. It was Kyd 
who discovered how easily blank verse might be converted into a useful 
theatrical medium which Shakespeare used brilliantly in all his plays. 
Tragedy developed in the hands of Kyd and Marlowe. Comedy had also 
proceeded beyond rustic humour. But by the nineties of the 16th century, the 
theatre in England was fully established but complicated conditions governed 
the activities of the dramatist.
 The public theatre of the 16th century differed in many important ways 
from the modern theatre. It was open to sky, without artificial lighting, 
the stage was a raised platform with the recess at the back supported by 
pillars. There was no curtain and the main platform could be surrounded on 
three sides by the audience. Around the theatre there were galleries. In the 
17th century the enclosed theatre gained importance. There was increasing 
attention to scenic device as theatre became private.
 Shakespeariean era came into existence in the 16th century to the public 
theatre. He wrote for the contemporary theatre, manipulating the Elizabethan 
stage with great resource and invention. But the genius of Shakespeare should 
not allow the rest of the drama of his age to be obscured. Contemporary 
to him was Ben Johnson, a classicist, a moralist and a reformer of drama. 

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