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The word drama comes from the Greek verb “dran” which means ‘to act’ or to perform. Many scholars trace the origin of drama to wordless actions like ritual dances and mimes performed by dancers, masked players or priests during traditional festivals or ceremonies. One account traces the origin to ritual. In the traditional society or in the primordial times, sometimes, the seasons did not come as expected.

When this happened, men felt that they had offended the gods, so they devised means of appeasing these gods. That act of appeasing the gods is what we refer to as ritual. This ritual, as expected, involved a ceremony in which the priest played an important role at a designated location, mostly shrines. The priest would normally wear a special dress for the occasion. That role, the dress (costume), and the utterance or incantations are regarded as dramatic elements. Drama could therefore emerge from this.

So, if it is presented for entertainment and there is an element of impersonation, imitation of an action, and re-enactment of an action, it is drama. Another account traces the origin to man’s desire for entertainment. Here, during festivals or other ceremonies, they recreate the feats of some legendary or mythical heroes to entertain the people.

Scholars are divided on the origin of drama. Some trace the origin to Greece but others insist that drama in its definitive form or pattern evolved from Egypt which is regarded as one of the cradles of

civilization in the world. The latter group argues that it was borrowed by western merchants who developed and documented it, and who now trace the origin to Greece. However, the account of tracing the origin of drama to Greece is more plausible. The evolution is clearer and  welldocumented.

Apparently, Greek drama evolved from religious festivals (ritual) that were celebrated to ensure the fertility of the land and the well being of its people. These festivals were connected with the worship of the god Dionysius, a native god who like the vegetation dies and was reborn each year. The festival involved singing and dancing by a chorus of fifty men. The choral song, known as Dithyramb, was sang in honour of the god.

The men danced around the altar of Dionysius in a circular dancing place called orchestra. Sometimes a story about the god was improvised by the leader of the chorus, though remaining part of the chorus. Sometimes he dresses like a character from mythology. At this stage, individual actors were not involved in the performances.

The dramatist, Thepsis, is believed to have been the first person to introduce the individual actor and the element of impersonation in the 6th century B.C. During a particular performance, he stood out from the chorus and instead of singing in the honour of the god, he sang as the god. He performed between the dances of the chorus and he conversed at times with the leader of the chorus. Thus drama was literally born.

Thepsis, therefore appeared as the first actor, and when he broke away from the chorus, he added the dramatic potential of impersonation. It is impersonation, because, instead of describing the god, Dionysius, or  his actions, he pretended to be the god. Thus the performance changed from poetry performance to drama.

Aeschylus added the second actor and this gave drama a new thrust forward because the additional actor enabled the dramatist to show in action a dramatic conflict rather than talk about it. Sophocles’ addition of the third actor further enlarged the scope of the dramatist and provided him with the means of complicating his plot and devising more complex structural arrangement of his action.

It is important to note here that speech is not of essence in drama because it could be presented without words or without the accompaniment of music/dance. The important feature of drama is communication. It induces a personal communication and an immediate experience between the actor and the audience. This makes drama a concrete art and the message is immediate and direct. It is concrete because you can see the actors performing and presenting a life-like story which affects you positively or negatively and you re-act immediately. Accordingly, drama exists in both oral and literary traditions.


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