Dramatic Genre – Concept, elements and characteristics

We explain what the dramatic genre is, its elements, subgenres and characteristics. Also, how is the structure of the dramatic work.

In the dramatic genre the texts are intended to be staged.

What is the dramatic genre?

In art and literature, when we speak of the dramatic genre we refer to the theatrical genre, also called drama (from the Greek drama, “Action” or “performance”). This is a genre characterized by act out situations through dialogue and the actions of the characters, either in the written text (the theatrical “script”) or in a stage performance (the theatrical “staging”).

However, unlike other literary and narrative genres, the events of the dramatic genre occur in a continuous present, in front of the viewer’s eyes, and without the intermediation of a narrator of any kind.

Although it is common to handle the terms drama and theater as synonyms, many specialists point out certain differences:

  • Drama: It refers specifically to the written part of this art, that is, to a literary genre, therefore, it is the fruit of a playwright.
  • Theater: It involves the acted part, that is, a scenic art in itself. In other words, it is the work of a theater director.

However, both aspects are united and are inseparable when it comes to thinking about this type of artistic representation.

The dramatic genre had its origins in Greek antiquity, specifically in the cult of Dionysus, god of wine and joy, whose celebrations consisted of the singing of hymns and, later, the representation of mythological scenes.

The theater became a fundamental part of Greek civic education, and its great playwrights such as Thespis (c. 550-500 BC), Aeschylus (c. 526-c. 455 BC), Sophocles (496- 406 BC) and Euripides (c. 484-406 BC) were inspired by the characters and anecdotes of their religious tradition, to build a vast and deep work that largely survives today.

Later, the drama was inherited to Rome, whose great cultists of the genre were Plautus (254-184 BC), Terence (185-159 BC) and Seneca (4 BC-65 AD). ). After an important hiatus during the Christian Middle Ages, the theatrical tradition was resumed in Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries, in which the comedy written in Latin and the staging of passages from the Christian Gospel re-emerged.

The first play written entirely in Spanish was the “Auto de los Reyes Magos”, an anonymous piece written in the 13th century, of which approximately 147 verses are preserved.

Characteristics of the dramatic genre

The dramatic genre is characterized by the following:

  • The ancient Greeks called “drama” any form of action, regardless of its content. Its current equivalent would be “theater.” We should not confuse this use of the term with what we understand today by “dramatic”, that is, linked to tragedy and emotional suffering.
  • Although it has a basic literary text, is primarily intended for staging, that is, to be acted on a stage. For this reason, the dramaturgical text has indications and marks to guide the representation, although the latter is left to be interpreted by the director of the play.
  • It represents a set of actions that are part of a story, but unlike the narrative, it does so in an immediate present, that is, makes things happen in front of the viewer, and usually lacks all kinds of storytellers.
  • The dramatic genre combines literary art and performing art, and is considered one of the most powerful artistic genres of the western tradition.

Dramatic subgenres

dramatic genre subgenres
Comedy can resort to ridicule or exaggeration.

There have been, throughout history, many ways to classify and subdivide the dramatic genre, some typical of its time of origin, such as those proposed by Aristotle (384-322 BC) in his Poetics, and others much later that show the evolution of the theater as the centuries pass.

Currently, it is considered that there are seven major dramatic genres, differentiated between realistic (attached to the plausible) and non-realistic (that take licenses from reality), and they are:

  • The tragedy. Realistic genre, of great tradition in the West, which is dedicated to narrating the fall of illustrious characters, to move the public through their suffering. A clear example of this are the classical Greek tragedies, such as King Oedipus of Sophocles.
  • The comedy. Realistic genre, counterpart of tragedy, since it deals with vulgar, common and ordinary characters, represented by ridiculing or exaggerating their features, moving viewers to laughter or sympathy. This occurs from an identification with the character that, in many cases, can point to a moralistic background, as it seeks to leave some kind of teaching. A perfect example of comedy are the pieces by the Frenchman Molière (1622-1673), such as The truffle or The miser.
  • The piece. Realistic genre, characterized by subjecting ordinary characters to complex situations and extreme experiences, which, however, do not necessarily cause a transformation in the character’s internal forum. An example of this is Doll’s House by the Scandinavian Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906).
  • The tragicomedy. Realistic genre, of archetypal or even stereotypical protagonists, who throughout the work pursue some kind of ideal: success, love, etc. As its name implies, it brings together tragic and comic elements in a complex anecdote, which also opens up sarcasm and parody. An example of this is The tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea by Fernando de Rojas (c. 1470-1541).
  • Melodrama. A non-realistic genre, which tells complex anecdotes starring characters endowed with exaggerated emotional reactions, and who, accompanied by music and other theatrical “effects”, seek a superficial emotional response in the viewer. Since the seventeenth century it has existed mainly as an opera genre, and later on radio, film and television. A good example of this is the Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) or Madame butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).
  • The didactic work. A non-realistic genre, presented to the public in the form of a reflection or a syllogism, and which pursues a teaching or learning, through simple characters and a complex anecdote. A perfect example of this is The Caucasian Chalk Circle by the German Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956).
  • The farce. Non-realistic genre, which uses elements of any other of the dramatic genres, to lead its characters towards cartoonish or symbolic situations, often functioning as a parody. From a certain point of view, it is not a question of a gender in itself, but of a process of reappropriation of others. An example of a sham is Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

In addition to these seven, there are a variable number of minor subgenres, considered transitory or specific trends in the history of the genre, such as the theater of the absurd, the theater of cruelty, the existentialist theater, etc.

Elements of the dramatic genre

drama genre elements
The fictional place can be represented with scenic or imaginary elements.

The dramatic genre consists of different elements, both for its writing and for its stage representation:

  • The action. The set of actions and exchanges that take place on stage during the performance of the play, and not all of which are necessarily contemplated in the written text. In general, the action makes up the plot of the play, that is, the story that unfolds in front of our eyes.
  • Spatiality. The stage or fictional place where the play takes place, represented through real scenic elements (sets, instruments, etc.) or imaginary ones (those that make themselves “appear” through performance).
  • Temporality. In the work, two very different forms of time coincide, which are the time of the work, that is, the time that the action unfolds and which can be minutes, weeks, months or years, depending on the anecdote told; and the performance time, which is the real time it takes to tell the anecdote, that is, the duration of the show, usually between one and three hours.
  • Characters. Each actor on stage embodies a character from the anecdote, according to what is contemplated in the script. The characters can be protagonists or secondary, and can be presented to the public accompanied by costumes, or not. In Greek antiquity, actors used masks that made it clear which character they were incarnating.
  • The conflict. In every dramatic work there is a conflict that is the source of tension in the story, that is, it generates suspense and the desire to continue contemplating the play (or continue reading it). This conflict arises from the wishes of the protagonist and his encounter with the reality of the rest of the characters, that is, when two or more worldviews confront each other in the plot.

Structure of the play

Dramatic works can vary in structure, but are generally structured:

  • Acts: They are large units in which the work is segmented, separated from each other by a break (intermission) represented by a lowering of the curtain, dark or similar mechanism.
  • Scenes: They are the units into which each act is divided, and which correspond to the presence on stage of certain characters or elements, that is, they are determined by the entry or exit of the actors on stage.

A play can have 2, 3, 5, or up to 7 or more acts, each with a diverse number of scenes.

On the other hand, speaking in narrative terms, a theatrical work is divided, according to the classical Aristotelian vision, into three clearly differentiated segments: beginning, development and ending.

  • To the beginning it corresponds to the presentation of the characters and the conflict, generally from opposite positions that are offered to the public.
  • To the developing The complication of the plot corresponds to him, leading the characters to the decisive confrontation or to the extreme situation, which is where the story reaches its maximum point of tension.
  • To the outcome it corresponds to the resolution of the conflict and the presentation of a new order of things, which resolves the tensions and provides the end of the work.