Five Elements Of Drama

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The elements of drama were first defined by Aristotle in his Poetics. Aristotle named six elements of drama, not five, but the fifth and sixth are amenable to combination. The first element of drama, according to Aristotle, is thematic idea. This is the thought behind the drama, the thing that drives its structure and delivery. Theme may be revealed through dialogue, through circumstances of the drama, or through the action of the drama. And ... action is the second element of drama.

The second element of drama is also called plot. Plot is the action that drives the drama forward to the conflict and, eventually, to the resolution. It is the crisis and conflict and both rising and falling action that the characters face and experience in the drama. And ... characters are the third element of drama.

The third element of drama is the characters, or people, who experience the plot. Characters represent distinct and identifiable individuals, like Puck, with personal characteristics, like age and appearance (costume department!); with social characteristics, like beliefs and socio-economic background; and with national or ethnic characteristics, like culture and language. And ... language is the fourth element of drama.

The fourth element of drama, language, is critical to dialogue, which is what renders the drama understandable to the audience as well as gives exposition, like in Our Town, or defines the characters, like in The Glass Menagerie, or defines and drives the action, like in A Streetcar Named Desire. Additionally, drama now recognizes the various sign languages, like American Sign Language, as language tools for dialogue.

The fifth element of drama incorporates music with the Aristotelian idea of "spectacle" of drama. Not every play includes music, but many do, even if it is only thematic music that introduces the play and concludes it. Shakespeare was a proponent of music in drama as in Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. Music contributes to the spectacle of drama, which also comprises costumes and settings and effects--anything that makes drama a visual and auditory spectacle. [See Terrin Adair-Lynch's discussion for further detail.]

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gcarden498 | Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The traditional parts of a play are usuallly identified as follows:

Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and and Resolution.

In terms of classical drama, the Introduction is essential in order to identify the characters and their relationship to each other.  In rising action, we learn of the two opposing issues and the play's conflict. The conflict grows to the climax or turning point.  Then, comes the falling action which is the aftermath of the consequence of the climax.  If the play is a comedy, the final section will be happy denouement and if the play is a tragedy, the final part of the dramatic structure will be the conclusion.  Of course, modern drama makes radical changes to the old structure and may begin in the middle of the story (in media res).

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boomer-sooner | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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     Drama is a broad category and includes plays as a macro category or can be a portion of a work in a sub heading.  Whether discussed in the macro or micro realms, drama has some definite characteristics.

     Drama, as a work, is characterized due to the focus of the work which is generally a serious subject matter with little comedy.  It could be argued a work is either dramatic or comedic and all other works fall within those two divisions.  For this discussion it will be classified as a work where the majority of the plot focuses on issues outside comedy.  Science fiction and horror are often given their own groupings, but they are in essence just an intense drama centered around a particular genre.

     Within a work drama is often played out along the plot of the work.  Body language can give clues to the intensity of the action.  A person slowly walking down the hallway, heels clicking along a floor and displays of strong emotions provide the basis for the assumption of drama.  This works because of similar experiences in real life.

     Vocal ranges are another clue of dramatic overtures.  The tone can be angry, conspiratorial, or even boring giving rise to the intended drama.  Often the vocal tone and setting go hand-in-hand in determining the actual events as dramatic rather than comedy.  A car chase for example could be either dramatic or comedic depending on the dialogue which often sets the mood.  If dialogue is not present, the soundtrack can substitute with intense music giving a clue to the nature of the work. 

     Typically the intention of drama is to bring the viewer on an emotional ride through the scene where comedy had a more narrow intention of drawing a light hearted response.  Drama uses the focus of the work, dialogue, soundtrack and staging to provide the necessary context for the dramatic work.

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