Purposes of Drama Why We Still Study Shakespeare Term Paper

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Drama [...] how drama can capture the emotions of an audience and engage participants and audience to such an extent that they may experience feelings they forgot they had and thoughts they had not yet discovered. Drama can capture an audience and make us want to know more about the playwright, but what is drama, really? Everyone has drama in their own lives, so watching dramatic presentations makes us feel closer to our own problems, and perhaps find some solutions. Drama captivates us, which is why it has been such a popular form of entertainment for so many eras.

What is drama, and what purpose does it serve in our fast-paced society, anyway? Drama is entertaining, obviously, but the best dramas contain much more than entertainment value. They have compelling characters, situations that strike a chord with the viewers, and offer solutions that very well may apply to the drama of our own very hectic lives. Dramas then are character studies with serious implications for the characters, and so, they draw the viewer into their spell and captivate them, making them want to know more. Dramas were one of the first types of entertainment for mass audiences, and they continue to captivate audiences today. In fact, they are one form of entertainment that is created mainly for viewing, rather than reading. The encyclopedia Encarta notes, "Although works of drama, called plays, are also often read in this manner, they are created primarily to be presented in public by a group of performers, each of whom pretends to be one of the characters in the story the play is telling" ("Drama"). Thus, dramas are created for the eye and ear, rather than the eye alone, and so, they appeal to a wider variety of our senses.

Drama has a long and varied history. The actual origin of the word is from Greek for "To do or act" (Hartley and Ladu 1), which is especially appropriate, since Greek dramas are some of the oldest known to humankind. While many experts believe drama began in very ancient times, the first real record we have of drama is from the Greeks, where as early as the 6th century B.C., drama pageants and festivals were held to honor the Gods ("Drama"). Many types of plays were performed, but tragedies seemed to lead the way, and some of the earliest playwrights are still being read today, such as Sophocles and Aeschylus. Thus, drama was one of the earliest chronicled forms of entertainment.

Drama gradually went out of style in the ancient world, but interest was renewed in medieval times, when church performances grew and were enhanced into outdoor plays. Secular plays were also performed during this time, and the dramatic form of comedy regained popularity, too. Interest in all forms of drama continued to surge during the Renaissance, and scholars began to study the many forms of drama, and develop new types. The old dramas of Greece and Rome that had contained a chorus along with the actors were studied and reformed into a new form of entertainment - opera. Drama continued to spread, and its' popularity paved the way for some of the world's most famous playwrights, including Shakespeare ("Drama"). Queen Elizabeth loved drama, and Shakespeare's work was extremely popular in her court. After her death in 1603, popular drama took a tragic turn, and it was during this time that Shakespeare wrote some of his most famous tragedies, including "Othello," "King Lear," and "Macbeth." Drama continued to ebb and flow during the 18th and 19th centuries ("Drama"). Today, it remains a popular and enduring form of entertainment, with drama translated to the movie screen and the television screen. Modern tastes in drama can run from the alluring Broadway musical to the tense dramas of Arthur Miller and Edward Albee or the comedies of Neil Simon. Whatever the taste, chances are there is a drama playing that will satisfy and entertain.

Shakespeare is one of the premier playwrights in history, and good drama makes the viewer want to see more, and explore other facets of drama. Perhaps that is why Shakespeare's work is so very enduring. His work has all the elements, tragedy, comedy, romance, and character study that keep audiences guessing and coming back for more. Sometimes, watching a play that rings true can help a person sort out their own personal dramas. For example, viewing the trials and tribulations of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, the viewer might see a little bit of themselves in the players, or someone they love in the characters, and they might come to understand their own reactions to emotions better. Anyone who has lost a loved one can understand the grief Hamlet displays, and anyone who has loved can understand the giddy happiness of Romeo and Juliet when they first fall in love. These characters are fully fleshed out and understandable, and so the viewer tends to empathize with them, and understand their motivations and desires. One critic stated, "With a few exceptions, all playwrights attempt to create for presentation on the stage flesh-and-blood characters who act according to motives and impulses understandable to any intelligent observer of life" (Hartley and Ladu 11). Thus, watching drama can often put the audience in touch with their own emotions at a deeper level, while showing them the appropriate and inappropriate ways to act on these emotions. Perhaps that is why, after all this time, theatergoers are still drawn to Shakespeare. His characters touch a chord in the viewer, and make them want to learn more about the characters, ultimately so the viewers can learn more about themselves. Would they murder their mother if she married their father's murderer? Would they kill themselves if they lost their one true love? Would they run from a sprite they discovered in the woods, or embrace him and his fairyland friends? Shakespeare's work brings out the basest emotions in his viewers - laughter, hatred, revenge, and betrayal, and so, they make them think about our lives, and about the lives of those they love and hate.

Another compelling piece of the dramatic puzzle is that drama is so ever present in peoples' lives today. Everyone experiences the volatile emotions of love, greed, morality, jealousy, death, and betrayal in their lives, and so watching characters on the stage helps people to understand their own emotions, and the drama that fills their lives. Dramas are difficult to deal with, but they are always there, and so, watching drama is also a release. The audience can let go of their own problems while they view the problems of others, and they can learn from watching how others deal with complex issues, too. One dramatic historian notes, "Greek drama may offer no answers to the problems of our existence, but it places life in a larger frame so that people can understand it" (Bogdanov 34). Shakespeare's plays are excellent examples of this, but so are many modern dramas, such as "Death of a Salesman" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." Here, salesmen deal with complex issues such as rejection and aging, and how they deal with them brings the audience right into the drama. Dramatic critics believe there is at least one conflict of significance in every drama, and this conflict must be resolved by the end of the action (Hartley and Ladu 3). Audiences want to know how the conflict is resolved, how it relates to their own lives, and how it affects the lives of the characters. Thus, drama plays an important role in the fabric of life today, and audiences enjoy dramatic performances not just as a diversion and entertainment, but for the lessons they can learn from characters facing the same tensions they may be facing in their daily lives. Because everyone has drama in his or her daily lives, everyone can learn something from drama.

One of the amazing things about drama today is that it is beamed right into the living rooms of millions of people every day. Many experts believe the best drama gives the "illusion of reality" (Hartley and Ladu 8), and that is nowhere more apparent today than in the proliferation of reality television shows flooding the market. If drama is an allusion to reality, then these shows are off the dramatic charts. They embroil "everyday" people against each other and tremendous odds, and they embody many in modern society who hold money above every other possession or virtue. Drama makes the audience look inward, but reality shows take that one step further, and release whatever devils lurk within in the name of coming out on top. Viewers can speculate they would never act like that, but in reality, they just might, and that is one of the things that seem to keep viewers coming back to the reality series. This could be drama at its worst, or at its best, depending on the viewpoint. It certainly places the audience in the middle of the action, and makes…[continue]

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