What Are the Elements of Drama

Essential elements of drama are present in any play that you see. Aristotle was the first to write about these essential elements, more than two thousand years ago. While ideas have changed slightly over the years, we still discuss Aristotle's list when talking about what makes the best drama.

Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama
Aristotle considered these six things to be essential to good drama.

  • Plot: This is what happens in the play. Plot refers to the action; the basic storyline of the play.
  • Theme: While plot refers to the action of the play, theme refers to the meaning of the play. Theme is the main idea or lesson to be learned from the play. In some cases, the theme of a play is obvious; other times it is quite subtle.
  • Characters:  Characters are the people (sometimes animals or ideas) portrayed by the actors in the play. It is the characters who move the action, or plot, of the play forward.
  • Dialogue: This refers to the words written by the playwright and spoken by the characters in the play. The dialogue helps move the action of the play along.
  • Music/Rhythm: While music is often featured in drama, in this case Aristotle was referring to the rhythm of the actors' voices as they speak.  
  • Spectacle: This refers to the visual elements of a play: sets, costumes, special effects, etc. Spectacle is everything that the audience sees as they watch the play.

In modern theater, this list has changed slightly, although you will notice that many of the elements remain the same. The list of essential elements in modern theater are:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Dialogue
  • Convention
  • Genre
  • Audience

The first four, character, plot, theme and dialogue remain the same, but the following additions are now also considered essential elements of drama.

  • Convention: These are the techniques and methods used by the playwright and director to create the desired stylistic effect.
  • Genre: Genre refers to the type of play. Some examples of different genres include, comedy, tragedy, mystery and historical play.
  • Audience: This is the group of people who watch the play. Many playwrights and actors consider the audience to be the most important element of drama, as all of the effort put in to writing and producing a play is for the enjoyment of the audience.
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