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Dráma (dräˈmä), city, capital of Dráma prefecture, NE Greece, in Macedonia. It is the trade center for a tobacco-producing region.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) One of the three types of literature. (The epic and the lyric are the other two types.) Drama belongs simultaneously to the categories of theater and literature: it is the primary element in a theatrical performance, but it may also be appreciated by reading alone.

Drama developed as a result of the evolution of theater as an art. The emergence of actors at the forefront, who combine pantomime with the spoken word, heralded the rise of drama as a type of literature. A number of elements contribute to the specific nature of drama. It has a plot—that is, it reproduces a course of events—its action has dramatic tension and is broken down into scenes and episodes, the utterances of its characters have continuity, and the narrative principle is lacking or subordinate. Intended for group perception, drama has always dealt with the most topical issues, and its most brilliant models have become popular. In A. S. Pushkin’s opinion, the purpose of drama is to “have an effect on the crowd, the many, and to attract their curiosity” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 7, 1958, p. 214).

Drama is characterized by deep conflict. The fundamental principle is the tense and active experience by people of sociohistorical or “eternal” contradictions common to mankind. A dramatic quality, which is found in all forms of art, prevails inherently in drama. According to V. G. Belinskii, the dramatic is an important quality of the human spirit, evoked by situations in which something that is dearly cherished or greatly desired and demands fulfillment is threatened.

Conflicts permeated with a dramatic quality are embodied in the action, in the behavior of the protagonists, and in their deeds and accomplishments. The structure of most drama is based on a single external action. (This corresponds to Aristotle’s principle of “unity of action.”) The external action is based, as a rule, on a direct struggle between the main characters. The action proceeds from the beginning, or exposition, to the denouement. It may cover a long period of time (in medieval and Oriental drama, such as Kalidasa’s Sakuntala), or it may begin only at its culminating moment, near the denouement (ancient tragedy, such as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and many modern drarnas, including A. N. Ostrovskii’s The Dowerless Girl).

Classical 19th-century aesthetics tended to make these principles of dramatic structure into absolute rules. Following Hegel, Belinskii viewed drama as the re-creation of willful acts in collision with one another (“actions” and “reactions”). Belinskii wrote: “The action of a drama should be concentrated upon a single interest, and all side interests should be excluded. .. . In drama there should not be a single character that is not necessary to the mechanism of its development and flow” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 5, 1954, p. 53). Moreover “the decision of which path to choose depends on the hero of the drama and not on the events” (ibid., p. 20).

However, in Shakespeare’s historical plays and Pushkin’s Boris Godunov the unity of external action is attenuated, and in A. P. Chekhov’s works it is entirely absent, and several different plot lines are developed simultaneously. A decisive role is often played by inner action, in which the protagonists do not accomplish much but experience situations of persistent conflict, clarify their own point of view, and think with intense concentration. Inner action, which is present even in ancient tragedies and is typified by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, prevailed in late 19th- and mid-20th-century drama, including works by H. Ibsen, M. Maeterlinck, Chekhov, Gorky, Shaw, and Brecht, as well as contemporary “intellectual” drama. The principle of inner action is presented polemically in Shaw’s The Quintessence oflbsenism.

The most important formal features of drama are a continuing series of utterances, which function as the behavioral acts fractions of the characters, and as a consequence of this, the depiction of the subject matter within a limited space and time. The universal basis of a dramatic composition is the episode; the time taken to depict the episode—so-called real time—must appear to correspond to the time perceived by the audience—so-called artistic time. In folk drama, medieval drama, and Oriental drama, as well as in Shakespeare, Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, and Brecht, the time and place of the action change quite frequently. European drama of the 17th through the 19th century was, as a rule, based on a few rather extended scenic episodes, corresponding to the acts in a theatrical performance. The extreme expression of compactness in the use of space and time are the famous “unities” based on Boileau’ Art of Poetry. These continued to be observed until the 19th century (for example, A. S. Griboedov’s Woe From Wit).

Intended to be “played” on the stage and focusing its action within narrow limits of space and time, drama generally tends toward conventional treatment of characters, as Pushkin observed when he said that “of all the kinds of literary work the most untrue to life … are works of drama” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 7, 1958, p. 37). E. Zola and L. N. Tolstoy also spoke of this quality of works of drama. A readiness to rush headlong into passions and a tendency to make sudden decisions and sharp intellectual reactions and to express thoughts and feelings vividly and exquisitely are more typical of the protagonists in drama than of people in real life or figures in a narrative work. In the opinion of the French actor Talma, the playwright and the actors bring together “in a narrow space, for the course of some two hours, all the actions, all the emotions that even a passionate person might experience only in the course of a rather lengthy period of his life” (Tal’ma o stsenicheskom iskusstve, Moscow, 1888, p. 33).

The playwright strives primarily to capture significant and vivid spiritual currents that completely fill the consciousness and consist chiefly of reactions by the characters to the situation at a given moment—to spoken words, to someone’s action, and so forth. Indistinct or vague thoughts, feelings, and intentions not connected with the situation of a given moment are represented less concretely and less successfully in drama than in the narrative form.

From antiquity to the 19th century these qualities of drama fully corresponded to overall tendencies in art and literature. In art transformational, idealizing, or grotesque elements prevailed over representational ones, and the forms of artistic execution diverged from the forms of real life. Thus, drama successfully rivaled epic literature and was even regarded as the “crown of poetry” (Belinskii). In the 19th and 20th centuries drama yielded its primacy to other art forms, above all the novel, in which individual psychology and the opposition between the individual and his environment could be represented more subtly, broadly, and freely. The striving for verisimilitude and naturalism in art, which resulted in a degeneration of the elevated style of drama (especially in the West in the first half of the 19th century), also led to radical changes in the structure of dramatic works. Under the influence of the novel, the traditional conventionality and hyperbole in dramatic execution were reduced to a minimum (for example, the works of Ostrovskii, Chekhov, and Gorky, with their attempt to achieve complete authenticity in depicting psychology and everyday existence). However, even modern drama preserves some elements of “nonverisimilitude”: divergence between the forms of real life and of life created in drama is inevitable. Even in Chekhov’s plays, which seem to be the most true-to-life dramas, the characters often express themselves in a conventionally poetic and declamatory way. V. Nemirovich-Danchenko called Chekhov’s plays “poems in prose.”

The use of narrative fragments and the increased role played by the montage of scenic episodes often gives the work of 20th-century playwrights a documentary tone. At the same time, however, it is precisely in these dramas that the illusion of reality is openly violated and the open demonstration of convention is practiced (for example, when the characters address the audience directly, when a character’s dreams or recollections are performed on the stage, or when fragments of songs or lyrics are interjected into the action).

Among the various artistic means of expression used in drama the specific features of the speech of its characters are invariably the most important. However, the text must be oriented both toward visually perceived forms of expression on the stage (mime, gesture, and movement) and orally delivered monologues and dialogues. It must also correspond to the possibilities of time and space on the stage and to stagecraft (staging mises en scene). Thus, in the eyes of the actor and director, the value of a drama lies invariably in its suitability for the stage, which is determined ultimately by the degree to which it presents conflict or dramatic action.

As a type of literature, drama includes many genres. Two of them—tragedy and comedy—have existed throughout the history of drama. Characteristic of the Middle Ages were the mystery, miracle, and morality plays, and school drama. In the 18th century the drama proper developed, which subsequently became the prevailing genre. Other widespread forms are melodrama, farce, and vaudeville. Tragicomedy has assumed an important role in modern drama outside the Soviet Union.

In the 19th and 20th centuries drama has sometimes included a lyric element (the so-called lyric dramas of Byron, Maeterlinck, and Blok) or a narrative element (the so-called epic dramas of Brecht). In the mid-20th century “documentary” drama became widespread, recapitulating real events, historical documents, and memoirs accurately and in detail (for example, J. Kilty#x2019;s Dear Liar, M. Shatrov’s The Sixth of July, and a stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank). However varied its forms, drama retains its specific features as a type of literature.

History. European drama has its sources in the work of the ancient Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and the writer of comedies Aristophanes. Ancient Roman drama is represented by Terence and Plautus. Entrusted with the role of public educator, ancient drama had a high philosophical potential, flowing, sublime tragic images, and comedy bright with carnival atmosphere and satirical play. The golden age of drama in the Orient dates from a later time. In India dramatic genres flourished and prevailed in the middle of the first millennium A.D. in the work of the world-famous Kalidasa (fourth and fifth centuries) and Sudraka (fifth century). The major dramatists in Japan were Zeami Motokiyo (early 15th century), in whose work the drama first received a polished literary form (the yokyoku genre), and Chikamatsu Monzaemon (late 17th and early 18th centuries). In the 13th and 14th centuries secular drama developed in China as a literary genre.

The golden age of European drama coincided with the English and Spanish Renaissance and the baroque period. The loftiness and tragedy of the Renaissance personality, its titanic and ambivalent qualities, and its freedom from the gods and dependence on passion and the power of money, as well as the wholeness and contradictoriness in the course of history, were embodied in Shakespeare’s works in a genuine folk dramatic form, synthesizing the tragic and the comic and the real and the fantastic, showing great freedom in composition, and offering multilevel plots that combined the subtlest intellectual and poetic qualities with the most vulgar farce. The tragic plays of Calderón de la Barca embodied the ideas of the baroque—the dualism of the world (the antinomy between the worldly and the spiritual), the permanence of suffering on earth, and the stoic self-liberation of man through the spiritual mastering of need, compulsion, and personal de-sires. The drama of French classicism, including tragedies by Corneille and Racine, developed the conflict between personal feelings and duty to the nation and state with a profound sense of psychology. The “high comedy” of Moliere, bordering on tragedy in the heat of its passions, combined the traditions of folk performances with the classical principles of representing character types and blended satire on social evils with the common people’s joie de vivre.

The ideas and conflicts of the Renaissance were reflected in the dramas of Lessing, Diderot, Beaumarchais, and Goldoni. At the same time the genre of “middle-class drama” appeared, falling halfway between tragedy and comedy. The universality of the classical norms was challenged, and a democratization of drama and its language occurred. The early works of Schiller and Goethe were precursors of romantic drama. The later dramatic works of the two writers, created during the period of Weimar classicism, were models of the drama of great ideas that consciously expressed the meaning of history. In the first half of the 19th century the most effective dramatic writing was done by the romantics H. von Kleist, Byron, Shelley, and Hugo. The enthusiasm and passion of the free individual and protests against “bourgeois values” were expressed in brilliant and dynamic events, usually legendary or historical, and in the inspired lyricism of the monologues and dialogues.

Realistic drama prevailed in Russian literature from the 1820’s and 1830’s (Griboedov, Pushkin, and Gogol). Ostrovskii’s dramatic writing in many genres, with its persistent conflict between spiritual worth and the power of money, its emphasis on the destructive force of the social, “conditions” of life and the despotism of everyday affairs, its bias toward showing the inner purity of character of the “little man,” and the prevalence in it of “lifelike” forms, played a decisive role in creating the Russian national repertoire of the 19th century. L. Tolstoy also wrote “lifelike” dramas, more or less free of the conventions of dramaturgy and permeated with unpitying realism and a psychological approach, which was “combined” with epic qualities. At the turn of the century drama underwent a radical shift with the work of Chekhov. The unity of outer conflict, willful action by the main characters, and peripeteia in the action ceased to be obligatory. Chekhov reproduced the spiritual drama of creative and honest intellectuals, tormentedly seeking but not finding general or supraindividual ideas, filled with exalted, romantic aspirations and with impotence and sometimes despair in the face of the prosaic destructiveness of everyday life. He clothed his profoundly dramatic themes in sadly ironic lyricism. The dynamic of his plays lies not in their eventfulness or in skirmishes of dialogue but in the lingering conversations and the flow of “impressionistic” states of mind. Cues and episodes are linked by association—by a contrapuntal principle. The complexity of emotions is revealed in the flow of ordinary events, creating meanings suggested but not overtly expressed in the text (a technique simultaneously developed by Maeterlinck).

Western European drama began to prosper at the turn of the century: Ibsen and Shaw focused attention on urgent social, philosophical, and moral conflicts. Maeterlinck’s symbolic drama (written in 1896-1918) retained the themes of the “tragic quality of everyday life,” “the mystery of the soul,” and the principle of the suggested meanings (dialogue behind the words), but at the same time began to acquire realistic colors and optimistic social ideas. In the 20th century realistic traditions were further developed by R. Rol-land, J. B. Priestley, S. O’Casey, E. O’Neill, K. Capek, A. Miller, E. DeFilippo, F. Durrenmatt, E. F. Albee, and T. Williams. The so-called intellectual drama, which is associated with existentialism (J.-P. Sartre and J. Anouilh), has had an important place in art outside the Soviet Union. The severe sociopolitical collisions of the 1920’s through the 1940’s were reflected in the work of Brecht, one of the most important socialist realists of the West. Brecht’s theater is emphatically rationalistic, intellectually tense, and frankly conventional, and it has the features of a mass meeting with actors doing oratorical work.

Soviet drama has taken its inspiration from Gorky, whose play The Enemies marks the beginning of the history of socialist realist drama. The heroic spirit of revolutionary struggle is conveyed in the plays of such writers as Vs. Vishnevskii (An Optimistic Tragedy), N. Pogodin (the trilogy on Lenin), K. Trenev (Liubov larovaia), and B. Lavrenev. Brilliant models of satirical drama were written by Mayakovsky (The Bedbug and The Bathhouse) as well as by such writers as M. Bulgakov (The Purple Island) and lu. Smuul (The Colonels Widow). The genre of the fairy tale play, in which bright lyricism, heroics, and satire are combined, was developed by E. Shvarts. Socio-psychological drama is represented by the creative work of A. Afinogenov, L. Leonov, A. Korneichuk, I. Mikitenko, A. Arbuzov, V. Rozov, A. Volodin, I. Drutse, and E. Rannet. Soviet drama, which is united in its social emphasis, is quite varied in its aesthetic and ethical ideas and its styles and genres.


Aristotle. Ob iskusstve poezii. Moscow, 1957.
Hegel, G. W. F. “Dramaticheskaia poeziia.” In his Soch., vol. 14. Moscow, 1958.
Belinskii, V. G. O drame iteatre. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Brecht, B. O teatre. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from German.)
Vol’kenshtein, V. Dramaturgiia. Moscow, 1969.
Anikst, A. Teoriia dramy ot Aristotelia do Lessinga. Moscow, 1967.
Sakhnovskii-Pankeev, V. A. Drama. Leningrad, 1969.
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Thompson, A. R. The Anatomy of Drama, 2nded. Los Angeles, 1946.
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Styan, J. L. The Elements of Drama. Cambridge (England), 1963.
Clark, B. H. European Theories of the Drama. Revised by H. Popkin. New York, 1965.
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Calderwood, J. L., and H. E. Toliver, eds. Perspectives on Drama. New York, 1968.


(2) One of the basic forms or genres of dramatic writing, in addition to tragedy and comedy. Like comedy, drama above all re-creates the private life of its characters, but its chief aim is not to ridicule mores and personalities but to por-tray the individual in dramatic relation with society. Like tragedy, drama portrays its protagonists in their spiritual development or in the process of moral change. However, unlike tragic characters, the characters in dramas are not exceptional. Drama tends to represent sharp contradictions and collisions. At the same time, its conflicts are not as unrelenting as those in tragedy, and in principle the possibility of their being resolved is not precluded.

Precursors of drama are found even in classical antiquity (for example, Euripides) and more often among Renaissance plays. However, drama first appeared as an independent genre and was given theoretical justification among Enlightenment writers only in the second half of the 18th century (for example, the middle-class drama of Diderot and Mercier in France and Lessing in Germany). The interest shown by drama in social reality, everyday life, the moral ideals of the democratic milieu, and the psychology of the “average” person helped to promote realistic trends in European art.

In the early stages of the development of drama, works usually offered a favorable solution to the conflicts depicted. Later, the inner dramatic tension increased, the happy ending occurred less frequently, and the hero usually remained at odds with society and with himself. Increasingly, his fate was one of spiritual suffering or loneliness, as in Ostrovskii’s The Storm and The Dowerless Girl, Ibsen’s The Master Builder and Hedda Gabler, and plays by Chekhov and Shaw. The hero’s tense ideological struggle against his environment (the general conditions of life) is the outstanding characteristic of Gorky’s dramas.

In the mid-20th century, psychological drama remains a dominant form. Certain varieties of drama tend to merge with other genres, actively using the forms of expression common to them (for example, the techniques of tragicomedy and the theater of masks). The realistic psychological drama is a widespread form of contemporary Soviet dramatic writing.

T. M. RODINA [8-1425-1)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a work to be performed by actors on stage, radio, or television; play
2. the genre of literature represented by works intended for the stage
3. the art of the writing and production of plays
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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