What is drama?
Drama is a mode of narrative, which is typically fictional is represented by performance on a stage by actors who play the role of different characters in the story (Dancing, singing, acting etc.). Drama can be broadly divided into two genres, ‘comedy’ and the other is ‘tragedy.’
Though drama in itself is a narrow way of designating a specific type of play that is neither tragedy nor comedy. In this article we shall be referring to drama in a much broader aspect.
The Two masks of Drama
Often, whether it be actual drama or films. We often see two masks, denoting a laughing and a weeping face. These two masks represent the two major genre of drama as stated above, comedy and tragedy. These masks are often confused with ‘Janus’ the ‘two faced’ god of Greek Mythology .
In reality, the masks are a symbol of the ancient Greek muses Thalia and Melpomene who represent comedy and tragedy respectively.
Western drama has evolved, has and has been influenced by various factors over the years. Therefore western drama has been divided into various periods by historians.
Classical Greek Drama
“Death is not the greatest of evils; it is worse to want to die, and not be able to.” -Sophocles
Western Drama’s origins can be traced back to Greece, mainly the city state of Athens which was a center of art and culture in its time. From here emerged the three genres of drama, tragedy, comedy and satyr play.
Dramatists of this period consist of Sophocles(Quoted above), Euripides, Aeschylus, the most renowned Greek Tragedy dramatist. Aristophanes and Menander are dramatists of Greek comedy. Unfortunately the works of only five of these dramatists have survived the test of time.
Drama in ancient Greece was mostly prevalent and carried out during festivals, especially when they would celebrate in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, grape harvesting, theater and religious ecstasy.
Aeschylus, was a Greek tragedy dramatist, his works are the first to be found and have survived to see the light of day of the modern world. He is described as the father of tragedy.
The dramas which fall into the category of tragedy, made during his period and the periods succeeding him are based on studies of his surviving tragedies. His style of writing was mainly based on recent historical events and his own personal life experiences.
Classical Roman Drama
“No guest is so welcome in a friend’s house that he will not become a nuisance after three days.” -Platus
Due to the annexation of Greek territories by the ever expanding Roman empire, the Romans encountered Greek Drama and from thereon, due to the vastness of the empire across different cultures and countries, Greek drama spread across Europe and eventually reached England. Roman theater was more varied and diverse simply because of the diversity of the population that came under the empire. (See my article on Roman Empire)
Rome is the origin of ‘Short Dramas’ as interest in full length dramas had decreased due to the availability of other means of entertainment.
Titus Maccius Plautus (Quoted above) & Publius Terentius Afer were the comedy dramatist of the time and Stoic Philosopher Seneca is the tragedy dramatist of the period.
Publius Terentius Afer (Terence)
Publius Terentius Afer is better knows as Terence in English. He was brought to Rome as a slave from North Africa by a Roman senator, who later educated him and freed him as he was impressed by his abilities.
Terence wrote in simple conversational Latin, which is very simple and easy to understand. It is speculated that he wrote in such a way so that his dramas could be spread among the lower classes of the society which consisted of the majority of the people.
All six comedies of Terence have survived.
Elizabethan & Jacobean
“The object of art is to give life a shape.” – William Shakespeare
The most greatest flowerings of drama occurred in England in the 16th century and 17th century. This period is considered to be the best and most rich in history of Western Drama.
This period was fortunate enough to experience the works of many of the greatest authors such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, Ben Jonson and of course the one and only William Shakespeare(Quoted Above).
Dramas in this period were mostly based on historical and celebrated lives of pas kings and highlighted famous events from Greek and Roman mythology.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, dramatist and an actor. He is regarded as the greatest writer of the English language. He wrote 38 plays, but his plays were one of a kind, they were neither tragedy or comedy but were a mix of both. They would consist of suspense, sadness and humor at the same time.
Not only a writer, he was an actor too and was considered to be a good one. He would often participate in his own plays as an actor but not as the protagonist, as a side character and give other actors a chance to be in the spotlight.
He is considered by the modern internet community as the ‘Chuck Norris’ or Rajnikanth of English literature.
Modern and Postmodern
“Do not use that foreign word ‘ideals.’ We have that excellent native word ‘lies.'” -Henrik Ibsen
The most innovative contribution of this period was done by Henrik Ibsen (Quoted above) in 19th Century and Bertolt Brecht in 20th Century, it is because of them that an entire generation of playwrights came up.
The works of these playwrights is considered to be ‘differently similar’ both modernist and realist at the same time.
Henrik Ibsen’s works were described as culmination of ‘liberal tragedy’ and those of Bertolt Brecht were considered to be of ‘Historicised comedy.’
Playwrights that were inspired from Brecht and Ibsen are vast in numbers, Frank Wedekind, Anton Chekov are just a few of the entire generation of playwrights that had come up due to the contribution of these writers.
Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht
Popularly known as Bertolt Brecht, he was a German playwright and a theater director. He ran a theater company that used to travel around the country and sometimes around Europe before the war.
His works consist of events and references from history of Germany and sometimes that of Europe. Some of his famous works are ‘The Beggar’, ‘Drums in the Night’ etc.
Though film making has taken over as the leading form of story telling, drama has continued to be a very expressive form of story telling. It continues to be widely celebrated form of literature. Various cultures with distinct identities borrow from each other and therefore, it is constantly evolving.
The article provides a gist of the history and evolving of Western Drama, as such this topic is just too vast to be covered in just one article and shouldn’t be in anyway be taken as a source of conclusions, I am in no way qualified to analyze this topic, but I have done my best in doing so. It is purely to spread information on one of the most beautiful forms of story telling.