Drama – Concept, origin, types and examples of the genre

We explain what drama is, the different ways it can be classified and some examples of this literary genre.

The drama has its origins in classical Greek culture.

What is Drama?

The drama or the dramatic is one of the literary genres of antiquity, as described by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the forerunner of what we know today as dramaturgy or theater.

The term actually comes from the Greek drama which translates to “act”, which makes a lot of sense since in drama the literary and fictional action is staged through dialogues and actions in an indefinite present time.

Traditionally a distinction is made between drama and theater, however. The first would be the set of linguistic elements, written or not, which make up the characters, the dialogues (or monologues, soliloquies), the dimensions of the action and the descriptions of the fictional world in which the action takes place, and is a literary genre.

The second, on the other hand, would be the materialization of this genre, its spectacular appearance, involving the actors, the stage, the direction, etc.

The drama has its origin in classical Greek culture, in which he played a key political and religious role, as he staged stories or scenes of stories from the Greek mythological and religious tradition, in which the civic and political values ​​considered necessary to preserve were also expressed.

Representations were made in the agora, public space and the market, accompanied by musical instruments. They were commonly represented in honor of the god Dionysus, but there was a whole calendar of representations, and in them they always sought to achieve the catharsis: the purging of emotions through suffering on stage, which left the public “clean” of their passions and allowed them to be better citizens.

Many of these texts, written by the great composers of the time (mainly Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, in tragedy; and Aristophanes in comedy) survive to this day and they are part of the most important literary heritage in the West.

Types of drama

According to Aristotle’s traditional classification, the drama comprises two major genres, which are:

  • The tragedy. The highest genre, according to Aristotle, and with the greatest poetic effect, consisted in the representation of men who are better than they are, so that their fall from grace has a much greater cathartic effect on the public.
  • The comedy. Contrary to tragedy, it represents men much worse than they really are, to mock them. Thus, it serves as a satirical genre against power, since it allows citizens to laugh at their kings for a while.

However, today the dramatic genre is understood in very different ways and the following genres have been added to this list:

  • Part. The realist dramatic work par excellence, endowed with complex and common characters faced with extreme situations in their lives.
  • Melodrama. Its name means “musical drama” and it pursues an emotional reaction from the public through situations of conflict of values, often of a pathetic type or of very intense drama. Soap operas, for example, are a form of contemporary melodrama.
  • Tragicomedy. A combination of tragic and comic aspects in a non-realistic genre, with usually complex anecdotes and simple, archetypal characters.
  • Didactic work. A form of dramatic work that invites the viewer to reflect, through simple characters and complex anecdotes, full of reflections and philosophical or existential propositions.
  • Farce. It is an impure genre that takes elements from any other dramatic genre to build a symbolic anecdote, often difficult to interpret.

There are also avant-garde or contemporary theatrical proposals such as the theater of the absurd or the theater of cruelty, which use drama and theatrical space as mechanisms of political, social or experimental action, and which generally have great and unique theorists.

Examples of the dramatic genre

Some examples of well-known dramatic works are:

  • The Trojans (415 BC) by Euripides
  • King Oedipus (c. 430 BC) by Sophocles
  • Agamemnon (458 BC) by Aeschylus
  • The Frogs (405 BC) by Aristophanes
  • About the harm that tobacco causes (1886) by Anton Chekhov
  • Ubu King (1896) by Alfred Jarry
  • Arturo’s irresistible ascent Ui (1941) by Bertoldt Brecht
  • The bald singer (1950) by Eugene Ionesco
  • Waiting for Godot (1952) by Samuel Beckett