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Characteristics of Drama Genres

Drama is intended to reflect human behavior and action in the midst of crisis and everyday life. Several genres exist within drama, each with their own storytelling methods, character types and dramatic approach. There are four main genres of drama: the tragedy, comedy, melodrama and tragicomedy. Understanding the characteristics of these genres creates a basic understanding of the influences and types of theater being produced today.


The tragedy deals with a serious action in which the consequences are of great magnitude to the characters involved. This genre tells the story through action instead of through narrative. It often deals with profound problems that are universal to the human experience. The tragic hero, or protagonist, of the drama often has one tragic flaw that causes his undoing, usually hubris, or too much pride. The protagonist realizes the severity of the flaw too late, which leads to inevitable downfall. A tragedy's action is meant to fill the audience with fear and pity while the action takes place; however, at the conclusion of the action the audience is meant to leave the theater uplifted and enlightened about the drama's unfolded events.


Comedy represents the sense of renewal and rebirth, which is why this genre traditionally ends in a wedding and the expectation of a future generation. The pain and pity projected by a tragedy is replaced with absurdity and mass intellect in comedy. Characters behave in comic and absurd ways, serving as a mirror for society that encourages corrective behaviors. Romantic comedies point out the absurdities people perform when in love, which usually lead to unsuspecting unions. Dark comedies, on the other hand, leave the audience with a grim truth that's presented in humorous, playful seriousness.


In a melodrama the tragedy or problem is caused by external forces outside of the protagonist's control. It sets itself apart from tragedy because the protagonist does not take responsibility for the action, nor does she feel guilty. In fact, the protagonist is often the victim of circumstance. The melodrama has clearly distinguished good and evil characters. These plays end with a strict moral judgment that rewards the good and punishes evil in a fitting way.


The tragicomedy attempts to portray characters and life in the most realistic way. Action, characters and plot are not absolute, but nonjudgmental. A character changes his mind and acts out of character, and the plot ends unpredictably. Tragicomedies are meant to show complex dynamics of human relationships and that society is in a constantly changing flux. As the name suggests, these plays present a thorough mix of tragedy and comedy.

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