Drama comes from the Greek word for "action." In theater, drama is presented by actors to an audience. Many times, dramas use dance and music to convey their message. For example, opera uses song throughout the entire performance, and musicals include dialogue and songs. Most drama or theater today comes from classical Greece and included tragedies and comedies.
Drama dates from the sixth century in Athens, Greece. Though accounts are scarce, it is believed that a poet, Thespis, created a new musical form. He mimicked a character and had singer-dancers do the dialogue. Greek tragic playwrights created hundreds of pieces, but only 32 survived.
Medieval drama had almost no resemblance to Greek drama. Priests imitated biblical figures and performed small scenes from holiday stories. Ultimately, these skits grew more detailed and went from the church to the marketplace. Theaters founded in the 1600s were mainly for the needs of the upper class. The rebirth of Puritanism greatly affected eighteenth century drama as well. From the Renaissance onward, theater attempted to recreate real life, or a semblance of it, through the genre of realism. That objective was accomplished in the late nineteenth century, and realist drama continues to lead commercial theater, particularly in the United States.
Tragedy and comedy are the two types of drama. A tragedy is a drama that showcased non-commoners (heroes, kings, gods) who shifted from good fortune to bad fortune. Its purpose was to clean the soul of "fear and pity," which the philosopher Aristotle defined as catharsis. Comedy was about typical or below average people who moved from bad situations to good ones; the characters spoke everyday language.
Dramas include character, plot and theme, among other things. Most plays include major and minor characters. The plot is generally made up of acts and scenes. One type of plot is dependent on the suspense of a conflict in which the hero is not ill-fated. Theme has been described as the soul of the play. Most plays have some type of conflict--between individuals, man and society, man and a greater power or man and himself. Plot and theme in drama should compliment each other and be in sync.
One of the most common features associated with theater are masks. Masks from dramatic plays were dedicated to the altar of Dionysus after performances. It is believed the masks were helmet-like, concealing the entire face and head with holes for the eyes and the mouth, and had a wig. In big theaters, classical masks made the characters' faces easier to see for the audience. The masks allowed the actor to play many roles, and prevented the audience from associating the actor with one particular character. In addition, unique masks were made for specific characters and events in a production.