What are the elements of Drama?

Literature springs from our inborn love of telling a story, of arranging words in pleasing patterns, of expressing in words some special aspect of our human experience. There are a number of different branches such as drama, poetry, the novel, the short story; all these are works of the imagination arising from man’s capacity for invention. The primary aim of literature is to give pleasure, to entertain those who voluntarily attend to it.

The word drama comes from the Greek meaning “to act, do or perform”, and it is in the several subtle and diverse meanings of “to perform” that drama can be said to have begun. Drama is one of the major forms of literature. As a literary form, it is designed for the theatre because characters are assigned role and they act out their roles as the action is enacted on stage. It is difficult to separate drama from performance because during the stage performance of a play, drama brings life experiences realistically to audience. Drama is therefore presented in dialogue.

Drama is an imitation of life. Drama is different from other forms of literature because of its unique characteristics. It is read, but basically, it is composed to be performed, so the ultimate aim of dramatic composition is for it to be presented on stage before an audience. This implies that it is a medium of communication. It has a message to communicate to the audience. It uses actors to convey this message.

Drama has been defined differently. Let’s understand some of them.

“A play is a just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours and the changes of fortune to which it is subject for the delight and instruction of mankind”. – John Dryden

“Drama is a composition in verse or prose intended to portray life or character or tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue and typically designed for theatrical performance”.– Webster’s English 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 dialogue”.- A Glossary of Literary Terms by M. H. Abrams

The elements of drama include plot, character, dialogue, conflict, staging, and theme. The discussions of each of these elements individually allow us to highlight the characteristic features of drama in a convenient way.

1. Plot

Plot means the arrangement of the events in a story, including the sequence in which they are told, the relative emphasis they are given, and the causal connections between events. Plot is the series of events that take place in a play.

For the dramatic purpose plot means plan, scheme or pattern. It may be defined as a pattern of events- the way in which events are organized. It has to do with internal relation of events or the way incidents are combined or unified to produce an ‘organic whole’. The events have to be formed into a plot. It is also narrative of events, the emphases on causality. Plots could be infinite or limitless, but their significance have no limits and that’s why Aristotle said that plot is the soul of tragedy. According to Aristotle action in drama is complete in itself. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. At some points action begins, then complications enter, which gradually reaches a peak point, technically called the climax, followed by a crisis or the terming point what Aristotle termed as peripety, this leads to the failure of the central character; the catastrophe depends on discovery or anagnorisis.

2. Character

Character is the next important element of the drama. One can’t imagine the drama without characters. Characters are persons like the men and women we see around us but sometimes unreal and supernatural types of characters are also present. Plot and characters are inseparable part because when we read plays for their plots to find out what happens- we also read them of discover the fates of their characters. We become interested in dramatic characters for varying, even contradictory, reasons.

Characters in drama can be classified as a major, minor, static and dynamic, flat and round. A major character is an important figure at the center of the play’s action and meaning. Supporting the major character are one or more secondary or minor characters, whose function is partly to illuminate the major characters. Minor characters are often static or unchanging; they remain essentially the same throughout the play. Dynamic characters, on the other hand, exhibit some kind of change-of attitude, of purpose, of behavior. Flat characters reveal only a single dimension, and their behavior and speech are predictable; round characters are more individualized, reveal more than one aspect of their human nature, and are not predictable in behavior or speech.

Dynamic/ Round Character is a character that changes according to the course of events in the story. He may or may not be the protagonist or the hero. In most cases, he grows from innocence to maturity or from ignorance to knowledge, so he is consistently alert to his environment with its attendant problem and reacts accordingly.

Static / Flat / Stock Character is complex and does not change in any basic way in the course of the story. He is presented in outline and without much individualization. He is usually stable and is said to be static because he retains essentially the same outlook, attitudes, values and dispositions from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. He is the opposite of the round character but lakes complexity in term of presentation.

3. Dialogue

In its widest sense, dialogue is simply conversation between people in literary work; in its most restricted sense, it refers specifically to the speech of characters in a drama. As a specific literary genre, a ‘dialogue’ is a composition in which characters debate and issue or idea. The dictionary tells us that; “dialogue is a conversation between two or more persons real or imaginary”. According to the critics of drama reading drama means essentially reading dialogue.

Our discussion of character and conflict brings us to a critical aspect of dramatic characters-their speech, or dialogue. Dialogue involves two speakers and monologue to the speech of one. An important dramatic convention of dialogue is the use of a soliloquy to express a character’s state of mind.

A soliloquy represents a character’s thoughts so the audience can know what he or she is thinking at a given moment. Soliloquies should be distinguished from asides, which are comments made directly to the audience in the presence of other characters, but without those characters hearing what is said. Unlike a soliloquy, an aside is usually a brief remark.

Dialogue is a very significant element. Dialogue reveals the nature of character and also gives us information about his relations with the person spoken or of the person not present when the conversation takes place. J. L. Styan rightly describes ‘dialogue as dramatic speech’.

4. Conflict

The conflict can be the protagonist’s struggle against fate, nature, society, or another person. Conflict brings interest in the story. Conflict means some kind of struggle of competition. It is the conflict that makes the drama appealing. Conflicts are of two types i.e. internal conflict and external conflict. Internal conflict deals with man verses self it is also called as a psychological conflict. External conflict deals with man vs outside forces.

5. Staging / Stage Directions

Drama is distinct from other literature because it is performed in front of an audience by actors to tell a story, along with the use of a set, lighting, music, and costumes. Stage Directions are guidelines, suggestions, given by the dramatist in the script of the play. They are the guidelines for the producer and the author wishes to be. Stage directions in earlier drama were pure and simple. They gave the outline of the scenery of the play and broad directions to the actors. Stage directions establish a link between the reader and the dramatist. In the dramatic literature of the past the chorus took care of these functions. In modern drama through the medium of the stage directions the dramatist attempts to exercise his control on the production. Theater artists bring the playwright’s vision to life on the stage. The audience responds to the play and shares the experience.

6. Theme

We use the word theme to designate the main idea or point of a play stated as a generalization. Because formulating the theme of a play involves abstracting from it a generalizable idea, the notion of the theme inevitably moves away from the very details of character and action that give the play its life. This is not to suggest that it is not rewarding or useful to attempt to identify a central idea or set of ideas from plays, but only that we should be aware of the limitations of our doing so.

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