Elements of Drama

Elements of Drama

Drama originated from the Greek word, Dram, that means to do or to act. It is an imitation of action. It evolves with action and dialogue. And drama is meant to be performed on stage. When it is meant to be read, it is called a play. Drama is the oldest genre of literature. Its origin of drama  can be traced to religious festivals and rituals in ancient Greek.  The two major weapons of drama and action and dialogue. According to Aristotle, drama has six basic elements, which are; character, plot, diction, spectacle, thought, and melody. 

  • Plot 

It is an arrangement of events in a drama. It is the way the dramatist organizes the sequence in a play. The plot has a lot of incidents, actions, dialogues which give the story a completion.


A character is a human person in a literary work. In a wider sense, a character is any person, object, animal or abstract that performs any role in a work of art. The characters communicate ideas, thoughts and opinions to the audience or readers through actions, dialogues, attitudes, facial expressions, body movements, etc. All ideas in a story are communicated through the characters. 


This is a writer or person who writes a play. Examples: Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka, William Shakespeare,Tennessee Williams, etc. A playwright can also be called a dramatist. 

  • Cast 

It is a list of people who have acting roles to take in a drama. In other words, it is a group of all actors and actresses in a play. 

  • Dramatis Personae 

The dramatis personae is the list of all the people ____ dramatist, actors, actresses, director, producer, camera man, video editor, etc. ____ who participate in the production of a play or drama. It encompasses the whole crew of a play production.

  •  Protagonist 

A protagonist is the central (leading) character in a story. S/he is the most prominent among all characters in a play. All events, actions and dialogues in a story revolve around the protagonist. The protagonist propels the story; s/he is the driving force of the plot to the assurance of possibility. A male protagonist is called Hero, while a female one is Heroine 

  •  Antagonist

The antagonist is a character who opposes the protagonist. The antagonist can be a person, animal, object, nature or life, depending on the plot of the story. The antagonist is on the go to ensure that the goals of the protagonist, or the central goals of the story meet a dead end. The antagonist can also be called Villain, or Foil.

  •  AntiHero/Antiheroine

This is a central character of a story who lacks the qualities or attributes, such as; courage, intelligence, creativity, determination, morality, etc., of being a hero or heroine. 

  •  Tragic Flaw/Hamartia 

Hamartia is derived from the Greek work hamartánein, which means to miss the mark or to err. It is a tragic mistake or error of a character, particularly the protagonist, which leads to his/her downfall. The word tragic means causing great sadness or suffering

  • Tragic Hero 

A tragic hero is a protagonist of a play whose error or mistake leads to his or her downfall. The tragic hero has heroic traits and has the sympathetic feeling of the audience due to his/her actions. However, the tragic hero always experieriences a disastrous end. Example: Othello by Shakespeare, Agamemnon by Aeschylus

  •  Hubris 

Hubris is a quality or personality of a character of excessive pride, over confidence and self-assurance. 

  • Flashback 

It is a literary device that is employed to bring past events that occur before the beginning of the story into the audience’s minds. It is also a recollection of past events and actions that have happened before the current point in the story. 

  •  Projection 

Unlike flashback, which sheds light to the past occurrence which the audience may not know, projection is a literary device used by the playwright to look into the consequences of current action. Through projection, the consequent eventuality of the now actions will be made known.

  •  Foreshadowing 

Foreshadowing is a hint or clue of the future events in a story. It is used to let the audience aware of future actions and events. It gives the audience suspense; they will be keen to see how everything pans out in the story. The title of the story may be used as foreshadowing. For instance, the title of a story is Revenge. In the first scene, a gang of thieves assassinate a man and his wife. Their young daughter witnesses the cruelty against her parents. With the title and what transpired in the first scene, the audience will be in anticipation to know how the girl will carry out the revenge. Apart from the title, foreshadowing can be revealed through dialogue, setting and plot events. In modern dramas, at times, it is revealed by showing a scene at the beginning which is supposed to be at the later stage of the play. It is used in literary work to lessen the magnitude of tragic scenes by bringing in a humorous incident, just to reduce the effects of the tragic scenes. It is found in tragedy, in order to reduce tension and make the story less intense. 

  • Suspense 

This is the deliberate delay of information by the playwright in order to arouse the curiosity and anticipation of the audience. It is a state of anxiety of the audience to long for how the subsequent events in the story will unfold or pan out. Suspense stimulates excitement as well as nervousness. It also reels out the audience’s prediction of what is to happen. 

  • Dramatic Irony 

Dramatic irony refers to a situation in the course of the story in which the audience know what a character does not know. It is a time of ignorance of an event with its consequence by a character which the audience are fully aware of. The understanding and knowledge of the audience in a work of art supersede that of the characters in the story.

  • Pathos

Pathos is the experience or suffering of a character in a work of art which appeals to the emotion of the audience. It evokes the feeling of the audience concerning a character who may be passing through a tragic situation in a story. 

  • Catharsis 

Catharsis simply refers to the purgation of the audience’s emotion. It  is a Greek word that means cleansing. Catharsis can only be found in tragedy, which often attracts pity, fear and sadness. It involves an emotional release in which the audience will experience renewal in certain aspects of their lives. 

For instance, in Othello, Othello trusts Iago that he believes everything that  Iago says. This makes him kill his wife, and later kill himself. At first, you will PITY Othello. At a point, you have FEAR that he will do the unthinkable. He later kills his wife. Then, you will be sad about the tragic end of the play. However, the catharsis is that the play has cleansed you from acting on someone’s words without having any concrete evidence. 

So after watching a tragedy, its application to your life is catharsis. It brings the necessary renewal. It gives a state of liberation from stress, anxiety, loss, fear etc. 

  • Climax 

This is the point in a story in which the conflict, struggle or fight between the protagonist and the antagonist reaches the highest, toughest and fiercest point. It is the most intense part of the story. 

  • Resolution 

It can also be called denou(e)ment, unknotting of events, falling action, finale, untie, and at times, conclusion. It is a point in drama in which all conflicts are resolved. It shows the outcome of the conflict as the story comes to an end. And the mysteries behind the struggles in the story are unraveled. 

  • Anti-climax

Anti-climax is a point in a play where the audience releases a sign of emotion as a result of the calmness after a conflict. 

For instance, the ritualists kidnap a boy.  They want to cut the body of the boy into pieces and use him for ritual. The executioner takes the double edged machete, a bowl to take his blood and the bucket to put the pieces of the boy’s body. He takes the boy to the altar to carry out the execution, makes him lie down and raises his machete to behead the boy. Suddenly, a voice echoes in; it’s the voice of the police telling him to stop. The boy is rescued and the executioner and his accomplices are arrested.

 What happens when you see that the boy is rescued? You have a relief of emotion because the tension drops or evaporates. That is an anti-Climax. 

  • Monologue 

Monologue is a speech made by a character in a play. It allows the character to address other characters or the audience. 

  • Dialogue 

Dialogue is the conversation between two or more characters in a play. It is one of the major elements of drama because it serves the communication of the playwright’s ideas to the audience. 

  • Prologue 

Prologue is an introduction or a preface of a play. It is the introductory speech in a work of art. 

  • Epilogue 

This is the final speech in a play. It is supplemented to give more information about the characters, actions and events in a literary work. It is written in a separate part of the book.  

  • Aside 

Aside is a speech made by a character to the audience to express his feeling, concern, reaction, secret, idea, message etc. However, it is also a speech made by a character which is not heard by other characters, but by the audience.  

  • Soliloquy

This is the expression of the inner thought or feeling of a character aloud. It is not meant to be heard by other characters, nor the audience. 

  •  Peripeteia 

Simply put, peripeteia means reversal of fortune. It is often found in tragedy in which the fortune of the tragic hero will change from good to evil. It occurs in the falling action (denouement) of the play. 

  •  Costume 

Costumes are the dresses and cosmetics worn by the characters in the play. It reflects the representation of whom the character is in relation to in the real sense.

  •  Prompter 

A prompter is a person, though not part of the cast, who prompts or gives the actors cues about their next lines. S/he serves as a reminder of the actors should they forget their lines.  

  •  Theatre 

It is a place where dramas and similar performances are carried out. It is also a work of art (drama) that entails live performance before the audience.

  •  Deu ex machina 

This means god out of the machine. It is a literary device that is used to redeem or solve an irredeemable situation or the problem that seems unsolvable. It is used to give the story a happy ending and ends with  comics. 

  • Chorus

Chorus is a group of actors and actresses who make comments, give opinions, express feelings, foretell events, not by acting, but through songs in a play. It is common in Classical drama, also known as Greek drama. It is also used in Women of Owu by Demi Oshofisan.

  •  Orchestra 

Orchestra is a place or space on the stage used by the chorus in a theatre. In Greek drama, the orchestra is situated at the proscenium. 

  • Proscenium Arch 

Proscenium arch is a space that separates the stage from the place made for the audience. 

  •  Audition 

Audition is the sample display of talents of the (upcoming) actors and actresses in which the talented ones will be selected and given roles for a dramatic performance. 

  • Rehearsal 

A rehearsal is an act that occurs as a means of preparation for the dramatic performance.   

  • The Three Unities/Dramatic Unities 

As written by Aristotle in his book, Poetics, there are three unities in a tragedy, which are; unity of time, unity of place and unity of action. 

Unity of time means that a drama should take place within 24 hours. 

Unity of place means that the play should have a single setting: church, mosque, shrine, courtyard, palace, home etc. 

Unity of action means that the drama should have a single event with a sense of completeness. 

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