What elements and qualities make drama unique as a literary form?
Drama is defined in Greek treatises, notably Aristotle’s Poetics, as “imitation of an action by action, without narrator” (as opposed to verse, which has one narrator, and epic, which can have multiple narrators). As literature, the reader is confronted with “speech acts,” by which is meant actions that take place in talking (to promise, to threaten, to confess, etc.) and “stage directions,” which prescribe and describe physical actions when the play is performed (imitation of an action). These stage directions, while often altered, ignored, or expanded upon in a production, are essential to the reader, because the sense of the speech depends on staging the play “in the mind’s eye”; consider, for example, entrances and exits of characters (a dialogue line is interpreted depending on what character does or does not hear it); a “French scene,” in fact is that part of a play between exits and/or entrances of a character. Also, in drama, the reader must build character descriptions, both physical and psychological, usually with no or little parenthetical description, and with no narrator to help (as in epic). Reading play scripts as literature was once a mainstay of the reading public, but in modern times has diminished as a pastime.