Elements of Drama in English Literature


Drama is the act of portraying a story in front of an audience. It involves the characters and events of the story being brought to life on a stage by actors and their interactions (verbal and non-verbal) through its events.

Of various forms of drama, plays are the most popular. Some other formats are dance performances, radio shows, puppet shows, etc. The history of drama goes back to Aristotle and his treatise ‘Poetics’ which gives a critical analysis of Sophocles’ Greek play, ‘Oedipus Rex’.

Plays aim to show through action and dialogues what the written text of the story delineates. It has a written blueprint called the script which has all the information regarding the characters, their dialogues, and the stage setting like mise-en-scene, etc.

The various characteristics of drama are:

Themes in Drama

It represents the basic idea of the text. It can be as direct as the title of the drama to very obscure and needs careful thought and analysis. The action and its plot makes the audiences immerse in the drama and try to extract the theme behind it.

Plot in Drama

The sequence of events or actions in a play is called its plot. It represents what happens in the drama. The clarity and coherence of the plot are essential to give the drama a logical and undisturbed flow.

The various characters follow a pattern of interactions and movements through various stages of the plot. These stages are initial disturbance or conflict, rising action, climax, falling action and finally the resolution of the conflict.

Characterization in Drama

The way in which the characters are portrayed and developed is known as characterization. The characters act out the story in front of the audience. They are the agents of movement and progression in a drama.

They are responsible for perusing and traversing the plotlines. A character has its distinctive appearance, beliefs, thoughts, flaws, personality, age, and dialogues. Actors in the play have the responsibility of bringing the characters to life.

The various characters in any drama are the protagonist (represents the theme), the antagonist (the villain of the drama), anti-hero (the object of sympathy), etc.

Characters may include the narrator who introduces other characters and informs about the various interactions and happenings in the drama.

Setting, Spectacle, and Descriptions

The setting represents when and where the drama unfolds. It can have multiple places or confined to a single space. The historical and social context, time period and the location of the story is set are all included in the design of the setting of any drama.

Example: Merchant of Venice is set in the 16th century Venice. Spectacle involves the complete range of aspects of dramatic production from the setting, make-up, costumes to special effects.

The visual elements add more information for the audience to register and help create a unique world or atmosphere and bring to life the playwright’s ideas. The direction is an essential constituent of effective stagecraft.

Stage directions are provided to the actors to follow and ensure unity of movement on stage. The organization of props and lighting is also crucial in any performance.

Descriptions provide a wealth of information about various things from the setting and its elements, characters, and their thoughts, plot and its web of action, etc. The coherence of details is important to keep the audience engaged and richness is important to keep them entertained.

Language in Drama

The word choices made by the playwright and the enunciation of the actors of the language. The dialogues are the lines that the characters speak and often represent their feelings and emotions.

Language and dialogues delivered by the characters move the plot and action along, provides exposition, and defines the distinct characters. Each playwright can create their own specific style in relationship to language choices they use in establishing character and dialogue.

Monologues and soliloquies help are speeches that incorporate information difficult to be extracted through dialogues. Example: “To be, or not to be“, a soliloquy from Hamlet.

Music in Drama

It provides the cadence to the dialogues and adds an element of the theatrical presentation. Though not indispensable in a drama, music provides sounds to the action in the drama.

It creates patterns and rhythm of those patterns. It is used to enhance the experience of the audience and provide heightened sensorial stimulation for the audience.

It also adds more power to the ideas presented in the play like a tragedy, heroism, optimism, loss, etc. Even the thoughts and desires of the characters are depicted through various musical elements and compositions.

The right kind of sound effects or music greatly supplements the ebb and flow of emotions in the play. Read more about Drama.