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What are the different forms of drama? On searching for the same query on the internet, I found multiple articles that called Comedy, Tragedy, Tragicomedy and Melodrama as the major forms but, there were an equal number of articles that called out many other genre names and sometimes with no inclusion of one of the four. So my first guess was that a lot of these genres might be subsets of the big four. This is my question here that are all dramas essentially qualified as one of these four or are there other genres? Here is a list of some of the genres I found other than the ones mentioned earlier.

  1. Farce
  2. Opera
  3. Musical Drama
  4. History Plays
  5. Problem Play
  6. Realistic Drama
  7. Poetic Drama
  8. Epic Theatre
  9. Theatre of the Absurd
  10. Classical Sanskrit Theatre
  11. Historical Form
  12. Metadrama
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    Hello, and welcome to Literature SE! I've noticed your question has received a few close votes from the community. If you ask me, at the moment it seems a bit too broad and maybe even opinion-based for us. You could explicitly narrow it down to genres in literature to partially solve the first problem, but I don't see how you could deal with the latter issue without changing the question dramatically. Literature is a heterogeneous medium with many schools of thought, I doubt they'd all agree on a finite list of forms of drama. Is there any way you could narrow this down?
    – Gallifreyan
    Oct 23 at 19:12
  • If you'd like, we could invite you to our chat, where those limitations don't exist and you can ask pretty much anything.
    – Gallifreyan
    Oct 23 at 19:13
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    To the close voters: the question is "are all dramas essentially qualified as one of these four or are there other genres?" This is (relatively easily) answerable without discussing all forms of drama.
    – Tsundoku
    Oct 24 at 9:52
  • Aye, I'd agree with Tsundoku. I think that's a pretty straight forward yes/no question with evidence. Oct 25 at 2:26
  • Thank you so much guys... I'm new to the place so I thought noone replied to me since I didn't get an email saying someone did but on checking it for heck's sake I found so many helpful comments... Again it's really helpful. Thanks a lot Oct 30 at 7:13
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The main issue with the list of genres in the question is that it mixes terms that have been used since antiquity (especially tragedy and comedy) with terms that are particular to specific periods or authors (history plays, epic theatre, theatre of the absurd) or to specific cultures (mostly Western, with the exception of classical Sanskrit theatre).

In Europe, the terms "tragedy" and "comedy" have been around since classical antiquity. Aristotle's Poetics distinguished between two types of drama (Poetics, 1448a):

It is just in this respect that tragedy differs from comedy. The latter sets out to represent people as worse than they are to-day, the former as better.

However, the continued use of the term "comedy" since antiquity should not mislead us into thinking that the term has always had the same meaning. Many modern readers have difficulty seeing some of Shakespeare's plays as comedy where Elizabethans had no such problem; see for example, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well. These three plays have sometimes been categorised as problem plays, but there is no accepted definition of that term, either. (For example, some scholars included the tragedy Hamlet into the problem plays, so "problem plays" does not seem to be a genre in the same way that "comedy" and "tragedy" are considered genres.)

Tragedy is a genre that has not always been around (see Why did attitudes change towards tragedy?); in fact, it seems particular to a few specific periods in the history of Europe.

J. L. Styan puts it well when he writes in The Dramatic Experience (page 109):

Today we no longer deal in tragedy, it seems, but in problem plays, propaganda plays, modern morality plays, plays of ideas, or simply 'dramas', and we are at a loss to explain our response to them as either tragedy or comedy. With the movement for naturalistic drama, dramatists imposed upon themselves the limitation of being as like life as possible, and refused themselves the heightening of tragedy and the exaggerations of comedy.

Tragicomedy doesn't have a formal definition that works across the age, i.e. no definition that goes beyond "a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms" (Wikipedia). (Shakespeare's tragedies contain elements of "comic relief" (a misnomer according to J. L. Styan) but are not categorised as tragicomedies for this reason.) Cuddon also notes that tragicomedy has become hard to distinguish from black comedy (a term coined by Jean Anouilh).

Epic theatre is mainly connected with Bertolt Brecht and the 1920s–1940s; other examples include Vatermord (Parricide, 1922) by Arnolt Bronnen and Fahnen by Alfons Paquet. In other words, epit theatre is a very "localised" term both in time and in the literatures in which it was used (i.e. German literature).

Opera seems to have originated from "chanted tragedy" (Cuddon: entry "opera") but is usually ignored by literary studies in the West. Even the highly regarded Mozart librettists Emanuel Schikaneder (The Magic Flute) and Lorenzo Da Ponte (The Marriage of Figaro Don Giovanni Così fan tutte) are ignored in books on the history of literature. For example, Fritz Martini's Deutsche Literaturgeschichte mentions Mozart a few times but for reasons that have nothing to do with the libretti for his operas. When opera is mentioned at all, it is typically because the author was well-known for literary works that are independent of collaborations with composers. Examples inlude Bertolt Brecht's collaborations with Kurt Weill (The Threepenny Opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) and W. H. Auden's collaboration with Igor Stravinsky (The Rake's Progress. An exception to this tendency is Richard Wagner; Fritz Martini's Deutsche Literaturgeschichte still points out that a discussion of Wagner's work is strictly speaking beyond the scope of what is usually covered in a history of literature (pages 396–398).

Opera also means something totally different in China, where traditional Chinese opera combines elements of music, song, dance, martial arts, acrobatics, costume and make-up art. (In addition, it has many regional genres or styles, of which Peking opera is only the most famous one.)

The main lesson from this answer should be that genre theory is complicated because authors are constantly trying to find new and effective ways to capture the theatre audience's attention and their efforts constantly subvert existing genre conventions. For this reason, each effort to define genres needs to take into account both historical conditions and the literary tradition (English literature, Italian literature, Sanskrit literature) that is being studied. A catalogue of all genres across all eras and languages would be of limited value without explanations of what the respective terms mean or meant in different literary contexts.

Based on this, it is not possible to categorise all forms of drama as one of the types in the list "tragedy", "comedy", "tragicomedy" and "melodrama".

References

  • Cuddon, J. A.: The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third edition. Penguin 1992.
  • Martini, Fritz: Deutsche Literaturgeschichte. Sixteenth edition. Stuttgart: Kröner, 1972.
  • Styan, J. L.: The Dramatic Experience: A Guide to the Reading of Plays. Cambridge University Press, 1965.
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  • Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time out to research as much as you did for my question. I will be using so much from the content you provided me and I appreciate it more than you know. Oct 30 at 7:18
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That's a deep question. We have to turn the analytical lens back on itself: what is a genre, anyway? Where does the assertion of one come from?

On the most basic level, a genre seems to be a typology: an attempt at classifying like with like. It is up to the person perceiving and interpreting the (art) objects in question to provide a convincing explanation for what properties are definitive of a genre, which are ancillary. For example, in Shakespeare's time, a comedy was anything with a happy ending, a tragedy anything with a negative ending. That's why Dante's "Divine Comedy" is called a comedy, not because it's funny. So, "a happy ending" is definitive, in the way that a human without legs is still a human, but a robot that looks like a human is not one.

From the outset, it's interesting to consider if genres will always vary infinitely, without bound on what kinds there can be, or if there is something about the human mind which guarantees certain recurrent patterns, properties, types, parameters, or what have you, and if these do seem to recur universally and cross-culturally.

This is necessary background and contextualization to answering the above question. We could generate a list of all genres ever identified in human history, but they would probably be highly culture-specific. Even though we can draw parallels between certain types of Indian drama and certain types of European, there are often surprising, culturally specific features to an aesthetic or cultural practice that distinguish it. To give one small example, in Tibet, they make sand mandalas which are erased at the end. We can draw parallels between this art practice and a Western one, but there's no need to assert any absolute correspondence between one of their genres and a Western one. In other words: there may be an infinitude of possible genres. Even the idea of "drama" is a culturally specific assertion of a "thing" - an ontological assertion - which we define the boundaries and characteristics of.

And yet, while on one level of the system that gives rise to drama practices - the human mind and conceptual system - there is enough flexibility for a combinatorial infinitude of possibilities - we should also consider that there still may be recurrent patterns because of the (more or less) shared cognitive structures humans possess. We may still spot universal patterns. For example, according to one theory, there are 5 major emotions cross-culturally. We can imagine we can spot these emotions in dramatic genres, as well.

I don't think anybody can easily provide you with a list of all genres of drama, but some ways you can generate a pretty long list would include:

Consulting a comprehensive reference work: https://oxfordre.com/literature/page/literary-theory/the-oxford-encyclopedia-of-literary-theory https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780198601746.001.0001/acref-9780198601746

Or just anything near at hand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_genres https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Drama_genres

Using a computational script on a corpus of literary materials to generate genre-related terminology - as a way of objectively harvesting the poetical terms people have used themselves, throughout history, to describe their dramatic practices - https://jcls.io/

Or consulting a more abstract theory which attempts to classify all genres universally, even ones that haven't come into existence yet. This could include basic parameters like, is the overall sentiment positive or negative? What is the plot structure? What are some the lexical characteristics, does it use a certain kind of language? And so on. I don't think there's any definitive such theory, but literary theorists have aimed at universal classification, for example, the structuralist theorists of the 20th century.

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  • Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time out to research as much as you did for my question. I will be using so much from the content you provided me and I appreciate it more than you know. Oct 30 at 7:18

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