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The Elements of Drama: Theme, Plot, Characters, Dialog, and More

Elements of Drama
Drama is a composition of prose or poetry that is transformed into a performance on stage. The story progresses through interactions between its characters and ends with a message for the audience. What are the different elements of drama? How are they related to each other? How do they affect the quality and thereby the popularity of a play? Read on to find out.
Manali Oak
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The six Aristotelian elements of drama are, plot, character, thought, diction, spectacle, and song. Out of these, the first two are the most important ones according to Aristotle.
Drama can be defined as a dramatic work that actors present on stage. A story is dramatized, which means the characters and events in the story are brought to life through a stage performance by actors who play roles of the characters in the story and act through its events, taking the story forward. In enacting the roles, actors portray the character's emotions and personalities. The story progresses through verbal and non-verbal interactions between the characters, and the presentation is suitably supplemented by audio and visual effects.
Through the characters involved, the story has a message to give. It forms the central theme of the play around which the plot is built. While some consider music and visuals as separate elements, others prefer to club them under staging which can be regarded as an independent element of drama. Lighting, sound effects, costumes, makeup, gestures or body language given to characters, the stage setup, and the props used can together be considered as symbols that are elements of drama. What dictates most other dramatic elements is the setting; that is the time period and location in which the story takes place. This Buzzle article introduces you to the elements of drama and their importance.
The theme of a play refers to its central idea. It can either be clearly stated through dialog or action, or can be inferred after watching the entire performance. The theme is the philosophy that forms the base of the story or a moral lesson that the characters learn. It is the message that the play gives to the audience. For example, the theme of a play could be of how greed leads to one's destroyal, or how the wrong use of authority ultimately results in the end of power. The theme of a play could be blind love or the strength of selfless love and sacrifise, or true friendship. For example, the play Romeo and Juliet, is based on a brutal and overpowering romantic love between Romeo and Juliet that forces them to go to extremes, finally leading them to self-destruction.
The order of events occurring in a play make its plot. Essentially, the plot is the story that the play narrates. The entertainment value of a play depends largely on the sequence of events in the story. The connection between the events and the characters in them form an integral part of the plot. What the characters do, how they interact, the course of their lives as narrated by the story, and what happens to them in the end, constitutes the plot. A struggle between two individuals, the relation between them, a struggle with self, a dilemma, or any form of conflict of one character with himself or another character in the play, goes into forming the story's plot. The story unfolds through a series of incidents that share a cause-and-effect relationship. Generally, a story begins with exposing the past or background of the main and other characters, and the point of conflict, then proceeds to giving the central theme or climax. Then come the consequences of the climax and the play ends with a conclusion.
The characters that form a part of the story are interwoven with the plot of the drama. Each character in a play has a personality of its own and a set of principles and beliefs. Actors in the play have the responsibility of bringing the characters to life. The main character in the play who the audience identifies with, is the protagonist. He/she represents the theme of the play. The character that the protagonist conflicts with, is the antagonist or villain. While some characters play an active role throughout the story, some are only meant to take the story forward and some others appear only in certain parts of the story and may or may not have a significant role in it. Sometimes, these characters are of help in making the audiences focus on the play's theme or main characters. The way in which the characters are portrayed and developed is known as characterization. Here is a list of characters in Romeo and Juliet.
The story of a play is taken forward by means of dialogs. The story is narrated to the audiences through the interaction between the play's characters, which is in the form of dialogs. The contents of the dialogs and the quality of their delivery have a major role to play in the impact that the play has on the audiences. It is through the dialogs between characters that the story can be understood. They are important in revealing the personalities of the characters. The words used, the accent, tone, pattern of speech, and even the pauses in speech, say a lot about the character and help reveal not just his personality, but also his social status, past, and family background as given by the play. Monologues and soliloquies that are speeches given to oneself or to other characters help put forward points that would have been difficult to express through dialogs. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet" from Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet tells Romeo of the insignificance of names or "To be, or not to be", a soliloquy from Hamlet are some of the greatest lines in literature.
The time and place where a story is set is one of its important parts. The era or time in which the incidents in the play take place, influence the characters in their appearance and personalities. The time setting may affect the central theme of the play, the issues raised (if any), the conflict, and the interactions between the characters. The historical and social context of the play is also defined by the time and place where it is set. The time period and the location in which the story is set, affect the play's staging. Costumes and makeup, the backgrounds and the furniture used, the visuals (colors and kind of lighting), and the sound are among the important elements of a play that dictate how the story is translated into a stage performance. The Merchant of Venice has been set in the 16th century Venice. Romeo and Juliet has been set in the era between 1300 and 1600, perhaps the Renaissance period which is the 14th and 15th centuries.
It is another important element of drama, as the impact that a story has on the audiences is largely affected by the performances of the actors. When a written play is transformed into a stage performance, the actors cast for different roles, the way they portray the characters assigned to them, and the way their performances are directed are some important factors that determine the play's impact. Whether an actor's appearance (includes what he wears and how he carries himself on stage) suits the role he is playing, and how well he portrays the character's personality are determinants of how well the play would be taken by the audiences. Different actors may play the same roles in different renditions of a play. A particular actor/actress in a certain role may be more or less accepted and appreciated than another actor in the same role. As different actors are cast for different roles, their roles are more or less appreciated depending on their performances. The stage performances of a play's characters, especially those in lead roles, directly affect the success and popularity of a play.
Although considered as a part of the staging, factors such as music and visuals can be discussed separately as the elements of drama.
This element includes the use of sounds and rhythm in dialogs as well as music compositions that are used in the plays. The background score, the songs, and the sound effects used should complement the situation and the characters in it. The right kind of sound effects or music, if placed at the right points in the story, act as a great supplement to the high and low points in the play. The music and the lyrics should go well with the play's theme. If the scenes are accompanied by pieces of music, they become more effective on the audiences.
Visual Element
While the dialog and music are the audible aspects of drama, the visual element deals with the scenes, costumes, and special effects used in it. The visual element of drama, also known as the spectacle, renders a visual appeal to the stage setup. The costumes and makeup must suit the characters. Besides, it is important for the scenes to be dramatic enough to hold the audiences to their seats. The special effects used in a play should accentuate the portion or character of the story that is being highlighted.
Apart from these elements, the structure of the story, a clever use of symbolism and contrast, and the overall stagecraft are some of the other important elements of drama.
The structure of the story comprises the way in which it is dramatized. How well the actors play their roles and the story's framework constitute the structure of drama. Direction is an essential constituent of a play. A well-directed story is more effective. Stagecraft defines how the play is presented to the audiences. The use and organization of stage properties and the overall setting of a play are a part of stagecraft, which is a key element of drama.

Symbols are often used to give hints of the future events in the story. They complement the other elements of a scene and make it more effective. The use of contrasts adds to the dramatic element of a play. It could be in the form of contrasting colors, contrasting backdrops, an interval of silence followed by that of activity and noise, or a change in the pace of the story.
The dramatization of a story cannot be called successful unless the audiences receive it well. It may improve through constructive criticism or due to improvisations introduced by the actors. And a generous appreciation from the audiences encourages everyone involved in the making of a play, to continue doing good work.