The Elements of Drama

by Dee Shneiderman Google
Whether tragedy or comedy, all drama has important elements.

Whether tragedy or comedy, all drama has important elements.

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Drama, the process of acting out events, concepts and characters, may be the oldest art practiced by humanity. Archaeological findings reveal that drama in the formal sense began in the 500s B.C. in the form of dancing and singing celebrations in honor of the gods. As ancient as the genre is, there is still no agreement on the number of significant elements that make up drama or their order of importance; however, some common elements appear in most examinations of the art.


Theme is simply what the play is about, i.e., the intangible concerns that arise from the dramatic action or the concepts that will be elucidated within the play. The playwright will offer a focus or attitude for the action and characters within the context of the play's setting. The theme will be expressed through the combination of the acting, dialogue and other elements.

Plot or Action

The events that take place in the play constitute the plot or action. The plot is what happens during the course of the play. It may follow a linear timeline format or take place in flashbacks. It may be shown through physical movement or may take place within a character's thought. Typically, there is a succession of acts or sections of the drama that move the plot along through a series of events within a recognizable structure.


The people whose actions, personalities and story are shown during the play are the characters. A play may have one character or, literally, a cast of thousands within the limitations of the size of the stage. Characters move or advance the plot through their actions and dialogue. Each character will have a distinct and observable age, appearance, and language. Their beliefs, background, personality and relationship to each other are illuminated through their actions. There is usually a protagonist, whom the audience is meant to sympathize or identify with; the protagonist is often the good guy of the play. An antagonist, who opposes the protagonist on some level, is usually the bad guy.


The story of the play is told almost entirely through dialogue, or what the characters say to each other, to themselves, and occasionally, directly to the audience. In classical Greek drama, a group or chorus of players described events, characters' thoughts and other information that the characters could not act out. A narrator rarely appears in modern stage drama but is a common feature of film and television drama. The dialogue is inseparable from a character's personality; in other words, the playwright must create dialogue that is in keeping with the person's background, social class, supposed intelligence and moral attitudes.


The play's setting is the time and place in which the play's action occurs. It is the local backdrop and the era of the play. The audience experiences the setting constantly although they may not be constantly aware of it. The setting may be revealed through the use of staging with elaborate scenery, lighting and props, or it may be revealed only through the behavior of the characters using minimal props.


Costume places the characters within the setting. The use of clothing worn during a certain time period places the character and usually the whole play within a particular era of history. Costume can set the characters in a particular socio-economic group or occupational group. Characters can be shown as younger or older depending upon the costuming. As with set design, costuming can be as elaborate as historically authentic dresses and suits precisely replicated from paintings of historical figures or as simple as a few pieces of jewelry or hats.

About the Author

Dee Shneiderman, former librarian and paralegal, has been writing for 40+ years. Published in Compute! Magazine, she helped found The Crescent Review literary magazine. Owner of Frugal-Foto Photography, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Library Science and a North Carolina Truck Driver Training certificate.

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