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Drama as a literary genre is realized in performance, which is why Robert Di Yanni (quoted in Dukore) describes it as “staged art” (867). As a literary form, it is designed for the theatre because characters are assigned roles and they act out their roles as the action is enacted on stage. These characters can be human beings, dead or spiritual eings, animals, or abstract qualities. Drama is an adaptation, recreation and reflection of reality on stage. Generally, the word, dramatist is used for any artist who is involved in any dramatic composition either in writing or in performance.

Drama is different from other genres of literature. It has unique characteristics that have come about in response to its peculiar nature. Really, it is difficult to separate drama from performance because during the stage performance of a play, drama brings life experiences realistically to the audience. It is the most concrete of all genres of literature. When you are reading a novel, you read a story as told by the novelist. The poem’s message in most cases is not direct because it is presented in a compact form or in a condensed language. The playwright does not tell the story instead you get the story as the characters interact and live out their experiences on stage. In drama, the characters/actors talk to themselves and react to issues according to the impulse of the moment. Drama is therefore presented in dialogue.

You can see that as a genre of literature, drama occupies a unique position. It is also the most active of other genres of literature because of the immediate impact it has on the audience. It is used to inform, to educate to entertain and in some cases to mobilize the audience. Most people associate funny action or other forms of entertainment as drama. An action could be dramatic yet it will not be classified as drama.

The dramatic is used for any situation or action which creates a sense ofan abnormality or the unexpected. Sometimes we use it to describe anaction that is demonstrated or exaggerated. For instance, if you are at abus stop, a well-dressed young girl passes and cat-walks across the road, her high-healed shoes breaks and she slips, the immediate reaction will be laughter from almost everybody there. For some people, this is drama. Although she was walking in an abnormal way and unexpectedly her shoe breaks, her action could be called dramatic but it is not dramatic action. Again, the action of a teacher who demonstrates, by injecting life into his teaching as he acts out certain situations, is dramatic but it is not drama.

What then is drama?

Drama is an imitation of life. Drama is different from other forms of literature because of its unique characteristics. It is read, but basically, it is composed to be performed, so the ultimate aim of dramatic composition is for it to be presented on stage before an audience. This implies that it a medium of communication. It has a message to communicate to the audience. It uses actors to convey this message. This brings us to the issue of mimesis or imitation. We say that drama is mimetic which means that it imitates life. You may have heard people say that drama mirrors life. Yes, it is the only branch of literature which tries to imitate life and presents it realistically to the people. It is this mimetic impulse of drama that makes it appeal to people. Drama thrives on action.

The term drama is used at the following three (3) different levels:

  1. Performance
  2. Composition
  3. Branch of Literature.

(1) Performance

Drama is used for plays that are acted on stage or screen. These plays are different from musical performances because they must tell stories which are acted out by actors and actresses. You remember what we said earlier about imitation or re-enactment and impersonation. These actors and actresses must be playing roles by imitating other characters. It means, therefore, that they must assume other people’s personalities by bearing different names, ages, occupation, nationalities, etc. Finally, they must be conscious of themselves as actors by trying hard to pretend that they are the characters they are representing.

(2) Composition

Drama is used to describe a dramatic composition which employs language and pantomime to present a story or series of events intended to be performed. Sometimes, especially with written compositions, they may not be presented on stage but this does not stop it from being drama. In as much as a play is enjoyed more when it is performed, you can still read a play and be entertained by it.

(3) Branch of Literature

Drama is a term used for that branch of literature that covers dramatic composition. You know already that drama is a literary art. The basic difference between drama and other forms of literature (prose and poetry) is that drama is presented in dialogue from the beginning to the end. Any information by the playwright is given in stage- direction. We have dialogue in prose and poetry but they are interjected in the course of the story.

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