Dramatic genre characteristics and genres in detail

Dramatic genre

The dramatic genre comprises the set of literary compositions in verse or prose that attempt to recreate passages from life, portray a character or tell a story. These actions generally involve conflict and emotions. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

The drama was explained for the first time in ” La Poetica “, an essay by Aristotle that theorizes about the literary genres that existed at the time: the lyric, the epic, and the drama. However, its origin takes place before the birth of this philosopher. Likewise, it was in Ancient Greece where the subgenres of drama emerged: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, among others.

The term “drama” comes from the Greek δρᾶμα, which can be translated as “action”, “to act”, “to do”. In turn, the term derives from the Greek δράω, which means “I do.”


The origin of this genre goes back to the ancient city of Athens, where ritual hymns were sung in honor of the god Dionysus.

In ancient times these hymns were known as dithyrambs and were initially part of the rituals for this god and were made up exclusively of choral songs. Then, in a later development, they mutated into choral processions in which the participants dressed in costumes and masks

Later, these choirs evolved to have members with special roles within the procession. At this point these members had special roles although they were not yet considered actors. This development towards the dramatic genre came in the 6th century BC at the hands of a wandering bard known as Thespis.

Around that time, the ruler of the city of Athens, Pisistratus (- 528/7 BC), established a festival of music, song, dance and poetry competitions. These contests were known as “Las Dionisias”. In the year 534 or 535 a. C. Thespis won the contest by introducing a revolutionary modification.

In the course of the competition and perhaps moved by emotion, Thespis jumped onto the back of a wooden cart. From there he recited poetry as if he were the character whose lines he was reading. In doing so, he became the world’s leading actor. For this action he is considered the inventor of the dramatic genre.

Now, in general, this type of genre fulfills its function through actions, songs and dialogues specially designed for theatrical representation. Currently, the drama is also the subject of representations in the film and television world. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

Aristotle’s “Poetics”

” The poetics ” was written in the 4th century BC. C. by the stagirite philosopher Aristotle. It should be noted that when Aristotle says “poetic” he means ” literature “.

In this text, the philosopher points out that there are three major literary genres: epic, lyrical and drama. These three genres are similar in the fact that they represent reality in one way or another. However, they differ in the elements they use to represent reality.

For example, the epic and the tragic drama are essentially the same: a written text that represents the nobility and virtues of human beings. However, the drama is made to be represented by one or more actors, accompanied by a series of elements that complete the dramatic presentation (singing, music, stage, costumes, among others), while the epic is not intended to dramatize .

In turn, Aristotle established that there are two types of drama: tragedy and comedy. They are similar in the fact that they both represent human beings.

However, they differ in the approach used to represent them: while tragedy seeks to exalt individuals and present them as nobles and heroes, comedy seeks to represent the vices, defects and the most laughable characteristics of human beings.

According to Aristotle, noble poets are the only ones capable of writing tragedies, while vulgar poets are those who write comedies, satires and parodies.

The smiling mask accompanied by the sad mask is one of the symbols associated with drama. Each of the masks represents one of the muses of the drama: the smiling mask is Thalia, the muse of comedy, and the sad mask is Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy.


Roman drama

With the expansion of the Roman Empire during the years 509 a. C. and 27 a. C., the Romans came into contact with the Greek civilization and, in turn, with the drama. Between the year 27 a. C. and the year 476 d. C. (fall of the Empire), the drama spread throughout western Europe.

Roman drama was characterized by being more sophisticated than that of previous cultures. Among the most relevant playwrights are Livio Andrónico and Gneo Nevio. At present, the works of any of these authors are not preserved.


During the Middle Ages , churches performed dramatizations of biblical passages, which were known as liturgical dramas. By the 11th century, these representations had spread throughout most of Europe (the exception was Spain, occupied by the Moors).

One of the best known works of this time is “Robin and Marion”, written in French in the 13th century, by Adam de la Halle. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

Elizabethan era

During the Elizabethan era (1558-1603), drama flourished in England. The works of this period were characterized by being written in verse. The most relevant authors of this period were:

William Shakespeare; some of his works are “Hamlet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet”

Christopher Marlow; his most relevant works are “The Jew from Malta” and “Hero and Leandro”.

Modern and postmodern drama

Starting in the 19th century, the dramatic genre underwent various changes, as did the other literary genres. The works began to be used as a means of social criticism, as a means of disseminating political ideas, among others.

Among the main playwrights of this time, are:

  • Luigi Pirandello; His works include “Six characters in search of an author”, “That’s right (if you think so)” and “The life that I gave you.”
  • George Bernard Shaw; his most outstanding works are “Candida”, “Caesar and Cleopatra” and “The man of destiny”.
  • Federico García Lorca; the most outstanding works of this author are “Love of Don Perlimplín with Belisa in his garden”, “The house of Bernarda Alba” and “The hex of the butterfly”.
  • Tennessee Williams; His works include “Suddenly, Last Summer”, “27 cotton wagons”, “The cat on the tin roof”, “The glass zoo” and “A streetcar called Desire”.

Characteristics of the dramatic genre

Literary genre

The dramatic genre belongs to literature. In general, it is a text created to be represented in front of an audience. Their authors, called playwrights, write these dramatic works with the aim of achieving aesthetic beauty. These can be written in verse or prose, or in a combination of both styles.

Direct action

The action in the dramatic genre is direct; that is, it does not have third-person narrators. The characters are in charge of developing the entire work through their dialogues and their actions.

On the other hand, the texts are elaborated with annotations. These annotations are indications addressed to the actors and the director to delimit particularities about the way the play should unfold. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

Characters related through conflicts

In the dramatic genre, the characters establish their relationships through conflict. Each main character, whether protagonist or antagonist, represents an opposite aspect of the plot.

Appellate function

The functional interaction between the characters is established based on orality (dialogues, monologues, soliloquies). Although expressive and communicative functions may appear in the development of the work, the language of the dramatic genre is eminently appealing.



The main and original subgenre of the drama genre is tragedy. This was a dramatic form of classical antiquity, the elements of which are plot, character, spectacle, thought, diction, and harmony.

According to Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), tragedy was the imitation of real life raised to an illustrious and perfect level. Although it was written in lofty language that was entertaining, it was not meant to be read but to be acted out. In the tragedy, the protagonists faced situations that put their virtues to the test.

Thus, in this type of dramatic genre, the protagonist heroically struggled against adverse situations. In this fight, he won the sympathy of the audience for his fight against all the factors that opposed him. In the end he prevailed or was defeated, but he never betrayed his moral principles.

The tragedy exhibited the paradox of character nobility versus human fallibility. The most commonly represented human defects were excessive arrogance, pride, or excessive self-confidence.

As for its structure, it usually began with a monologue explaining the background of the story. Then there were the Párodos or initial song of the Choir to continue with the episodes that were the acts separated by songs. Finally there was the Exodus or last episode where the chorus left.


The dramatic genre called comedy derives its name from the Greek Komos (popular village festival) and Ode (song) which translates “people’s song”. The comedy dealt with events that happened to ordinary people. This aided in the rapid identification of the audience with the characters in the play.

On the other hand, the language used was vulgar and even, at times, disrespectful. Its main purpose was mockery, and it was commonly used to criticize public figures. In addition, it highlighted the grotesque and laughable of human beings, showing reprehensible behavior.

Likewise, the comedy represented the festive and joyous side of family customs, the ridiculous and the common. This caused immediate hilarity from the onlookers.

The festive, joyful and unbridled character of this dramatic genre fit perfectly with the festivals known as the Dionysia celebrated in honor of the god of wine (Dionysus).

Now, the development of this dramatic genre led to different types of comedies. Among them, stand out the comedy of entanglements in which the viewer was surprised with the complications of the plot. Similarly, there is the character comedy in which the moral development of the protagonist’s behavior affected the people around him.

Finally, comedy also evolved the comedy of customs or manners. In it the way of behaving of the characters who lived in certain frivolous or ridiculous sectors of society was represented.


Melodrama is a dramatic genre that is characterized mainly because it mixes comic situations with tragic situations. The drama or melodrama is over the top, sensational, and directly appeals to the audience’s senses. Characters can be single-dimensional and simple, multi-dimensional, or they can be stereotyped.

Also, these characters struggled against difficult situations that they refused to accept, unlike what happens in tragedy, and that caused them harm. In this subgenre, the ending can be happy or unhappy. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

Step and hors d’oeuvre

Under this name the pieces of a short duration of humorous theme and in a single act (in prose or in verse) were known. Its origin is located in the popular tradition and was represented between the acts of a comedy.


The sainete was a short piece (generally one-act) with a humorous theme and a popular atmosphere. Formerly it was represented after a serious work or as the end of a function.

Auto sacramental

This a one-act dramatic piece, characteristic of the Middle Ages , was also known simply as a car. Its sole purpose was to illustrate biblical teachings, which is why they were represented in churches on the occasion of religious festivals.

Authors and representative works

The list of ancient and modern authors and works of the dramatic genre is extensive. The list of playwright includes such famous names as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Tirso de Molina (1579-1648), Molière (1622-1673), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and many others. Only four of the most representative will be described below. Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

Aeschylus (525/524 – 456/455 BC)

Aeschylus was the first of the three great tragic poets of Greece. From an early age he showed his talents as a great writer. However, the title of winner in dramatic competitions eluded him until he was 30 years old. After that, he won almost every time he competed, until he reached the age of 50.

This playwright is believed to be the author of about 90 plays, of which about 82 are known by title alone. Only 7 of them have been preserved for current generations. These are The Persians , The Seven Against Thebes , The Supplicants , Prometheus in Chains, and the Orestiada.

Sophocles (496 BC – 406 BC)

Sophocles was a playwright from ancient Greece. He is one of the three Greek tragedians whose works have survived to the present day. He brought many innovations in the style of Greek tragedy.

Among these, the inclusion of a third actor stands out, which gave him the opportunity to create and develop his characters in greater depth.

Now, in their works, Oedipus series are worth remembering Oedipus Rex , Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone .Other of his creations include Ajax , Trachiniae , Electra , Philoctetes , Anfiarao , Epígonos and Ichneutae .

Euripides (484/480 BC – 406 BC)

Euripides was one of the great Athenian playwrights and poets of ancient Greece. He was recognized for his extensive production of written tragedies. It is believed that he wrote about 92 works. Of all of them, only 18 tragedies and the satirical drama El Cíclope have been preserved .

His works were said to reinvent Greek myths and explore the darker side of human nature. Of these, Medea , Bacchantes , Hipólito , Alcestis and Las Troyanas can be mentioned .

Lope de Vega (1562 – 1635)

Lope Félix de Vega Carpio is considered one of the most relevant poets and playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age. Due to the length of his work, he is also considered one of the most prolific authors in world literature.

Of all his extensive work, masterpieces of dramaturgy such as Peribáñez and the Commander of Ocaña and Fuenteovejuna are recognized . Likewise, La dama boba, Amar without knowing who, The best mayor, the king, The Knight of Olmedo, Punishment without revenge and The dog in the manger stand out . Dramatic genre characteristics and genres

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