Drama refers to a literary piece that contains written dialogues, and can be performed as plays on the stage or screen. Dramas are also referred to as ‘plays’ and the authors of dramas are considered as ‘dramatists’ or ‘playwrights’. Dramas have been performed since the age of Aristotle till the modern age. Dramas are audience based, as they are performed on stage by people dressed up as the characters. Dramas are preformed not only on the stage but also in radio, Television etc. Great dramatists of the past include William Shakespeare, Sophocles, Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw etc.
To make their plays more dramatic, the playwrights include dialogues that create feelings and emotions amidst the audience. The main component of dramas are its dialogues. Dramas originated in ancient Greece. Major Greek dramatists like Sophocles are widely regarded till date. His plays- Oedipus Rex, Antigone etc are still popular today. In the medieval period, dramas were popularized by the churches. In these ages, plays were often religious in its content, as they were a means to spread religious codes. The most important period for drama can be considered as the Elizabethan period, during the reign of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson etc. Another period popular was the Restoration era, when Restoration comedies began to gain popularity among the audiences. Such plays satirized the seventh century society and its ills through the use of humour. Popular dramatists of this period are William Congreve, Aphra Behn etc.
Then comes the modern age of drama. Playwrights like Henrik Ibsen, Bertolt Brecht popularized drama in the 19th-20th centuries. After Victorian age, there was a great decline in drama. However, this great decline was revived by the 20th century Modern Dramatists. Modern Drama is divided into several types-
- Realism or Realist Drama
Realism movement began in the 19th century. It is the most significant type of Modern Drama. It was the movement which replaced the artificiality of the earlier ages. Characters speak naturalistic dialogues, without the use of verse, poetic style, and the acting is meant to represent the movements of ordinary life in a realistic way. Narratives contain ordinary instances and ordinary characters, without the involvement of supernatural beings like God, ghosts etc. Technological advancements were witnessed in the 19th century due to rapid industrialization, and people were starting to believe that science could save them from their existing sorrows, instead of supernatural elements. The common people however, were struggling to gain their identity. They rejected Romantic idealism, and accepted Realism, where their ordinary lives were portrayed in the most naturalistic way, without coloring with imagination. Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen popularized realism in Modern Drama. He portrayed problems of real life in a realistic way.
- Epic theatre
Epic theatre is a theatrical movement which was founded by Bertolt Brecht. It began in the early twentieth century. Epic theatre highlights the audiences’ perspective and reaction to the play through various techniques which allow them to engage in the play from different perspectives. The dramatist wants to make the audiences see the world as it is. They do not make the audience travel to some distinct land of imagination. Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright who is well regarded for his contributions to Epic Theatre. He often criticized the social norms and cultural happenings through his works. Brecht was known for separating his elements from each other. He used comedy to separate the audience from the events of the play. Epic Theatres require the actors to perform the characters in such a way that audiences might not doubt that the actors have actually turned into the characters, and on the same time, realistically portraying the story.
- Absurd Drama
It is a movement which was made up of plays written between 1940-1960. These plays were different than the plays performed earlier. These plays reflected the absurdities of common life. They focused on ideas of existentialism and portrayed what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose. The plays revolved in circular motions, they ended where they started. Such plays considered human existence as ‘absurd’ or illogical and meaningless, and portrayed plays in similar way. They reflected the collapse of humanity, society, and cultural values after the World Wars I & II. This style of writing was first popularized by Eugene Ionesco. There was a decline in faith and religion after the Wars, and people viewed life as a meaningless aspect. Such conditions were focused in Absurd Dramas. The playwrights considered themselves as isolated individuals. Their works thus reflected man’s inability to communicate with others and isolation in general.
- Avant-Garde Drama
Avant-Garde Drama is also called Experimental Drama because it experiments and innovents new techniques and methods in drama. Avant-Garde expresses its refusal of the existing traditional methods in Drama. This form of Drama is regarded as an important component of the Modernist movement. The playwrights cross the existing boundaries, and create bold, innovative techniques in their works. The word ‘Avant-Garde’ refers to new, and experimental. Thus, we can estimate that such dramas reject the establishes conventions and innovate new ideas in Drama writing. They were dramatists who were ahead of their times, and were also criticized for their bold, creative ideas that broke the conventional norms.