A Historical Background Of Victorian Age English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

In the year 1837, Queen Victoria ascended the throne of Great Britain and Ireland and succeeded William the IV. She served for a period of 64 years, till her death in 1901 and it is one of the longest reigns in the history of England. The period was marked by many important social and historical changes that altered the nation in many ways. The population nearly doubled, the British Empire expanded exponentially and technological and industrial progress helped Britain become the most powerful country in the world.

1.1.1. Chief Characteristics of Victorian Period

While the country saw economic progress, poverty and exploitation were also equally a part of it. The gap between the rich and the poor increased significantly and the drive for material and commercial success was seen to propagate a kind of a moral decay in the society itself. The changing landscape of the country was another concern. While the earlier phase of Romanticism saw a celebration of the country side and the rich landscape of the flora and fauna, the Victorian era saw a changing of the landscape to one of burgeoning industries and factories. While the poor were exploited for their labor, the period witnessed the rise of the bourgeoisie or the middle class due to increasing trade between Britain and its colonies and the Reform Bill of 1832 strengthen their hold. There was also a shift from the Romantic ideals of the previous age towards a more realistic acceptance and depiction of society.

One of the most important factors that defined the age was its stress on morality. Strict societal codes were enforced and certain activities were openly looked down upon. These codes were even harsher for women. A feminine code of conduct was levied on them which described every aspect of their being from the proper apparels to how to converse, everything had rules. The role of women was mostly that of being angels of the house and restricted to domestic confines. Professionally very few options were available to them as a woman could either become a governess or a teacher in rich households. Hence they were financially dependent on their husbands and fathers and it led to a commercialization of the institution of marriage.

1.1.2. Victorian Novels

Victorian Era is seen as the link between Romanticism of the 18th century and the realism of the 20th century. The novel as a genre rose to entertain the rising middle class and to depict the contemporary life in a changing society. Although the novel had been in development since the 18th century with the works of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Richardson and the others, it was in this period that the novel got mass acceptance and readership. The growth of cities, a ready domestic market and one in the oversea colonies and an increase in printing and publishing houses facilitated the growth of the novel as a form. In the year 1870, an Education Act was passed which made education an easy access to the masses furthermore increasing literacy rates among the population. Certain jobs required a certain level of reading ability and simple novels catered to this by becoming a device to practice reading. Also the time of the daily commute to work for men and the time alone at home for women could be filled by reading which now became a leisure activity. As a response to the latter, the demand for fiction, rose substantially.

The novels of the age mostly had a moral strain in them with a belief in the innate goodness of human nature. The characters were well rounded and the protagonist usually belonged to a middle class society who struggled to create a niche for himself in the industrial and mercantile world. The stress was on realism and an attempt to describe the daily struggles of ordinary men that the middle class reader could associate with. The moral tangents were perhaps an attempt to rescue the moral degradation prevalent in the society then and supplied the audience with hope and positivity. These moral angles allowed for inclusion of larger debates in fiction like the ones surrounding "the woman question", marriage, progress, education, the Industrial Revolution. New roles for women were created because of the resultant economic market and their voice which was earlier not given cadence was now being spotted and recognized and novels became the means where the domestic confinement of women was questioned. Novels reflecting the larger questions surrounding women, like those of their roles and duties. In the latter half of the century, Married Women's Property Acts was passed, the women suffrage became an important point of debate, and poverty and other economic reasons challenged the traditional roles of women. The novel as a form became the medium where such concerns were raised.

1.1.3 Charles Dickens: A Popular Victorian Author

In the same year that Queen Victoria ascended the throne, Charles Dickens published the first parts of his novel Oliver Twist, a story of an orphan and his struggle with poverty in the early part of the century. As the Industrial Revolution surged on, the class difference between the traditional aristocracy and the middle class was gradually getting reduced and with the passing of the Reform Act, the middle class got the right to vote and be politically engaged in the affairs of the nation. While the aristocracy criticized the work that the bourgeoisie had to do in the factories and the industries, to maintain the supremacy that they had the privilege of, the middle class in response promoted work as virtue. The result of this led to a further marginalization of those struck by poverty and were part of neither groups. The Poor Law that was passed made public assistance available to the economically downtrodden only through workhouses where they had to live and work. The conditions of these workhouses were deliberately made to be unbearable so as to avoid the poor from becoming totally dependent on assistance from outside. Families were split, food was inedible, and the circumstances were made inhospitable to urge the poor to work and fight a way through poverty. However, these ultimately became a web difficult to transgress and people chose living in the streets rather than seeking help from a workhouse. Dickens was aware of these concerns as a journalist and his own life and autobiographical experiences entered the novel through Oliver Twist. His novel enters the world of the workhouses, the dens of thieves and the streets and highlights that while there was economic prosperity on one side, there was poverty on the other and while morality, virtue were championed, hypocrisy was equally a part of society. His social commentary entered the world of his fiction.

In 1836, before Oliver Twist, his serials of Pickwick Papers were published which led him to instant recognition and popularity. It started the famous Victorian mode of serial novels which dominated the age till the end of the century. It not only made the reader anxious for the next serial to come and spread the popularity of the book itself, but also gave the writer a chance to alter his work according to the mood and expectation of his audience. His works enjoyed continuous popularity and acceptance and Dickens as a writer became famous for his wit, satire, social commentary and his in depth characters.

Bleak House, A Christmas Carroll, David Copperfield, Great Expectations are some of his other great works.

1.1.4 William Makepeace Thackeray: English Victorian Writer

Thackeray was born in Calcutta, India and was also an important writer but one who expressed his age very differently from Dickens and other writers. He is most noted for his satirical work Vanity Fair that portrays the many myriads of English society. Although he was seen as equally talented as Dickens, but his views were deemed old-fashioned which hindered his popularity. He did not readily accept the changing values of the age. His work is seen almost as a reactionary voice. Vanity Fair for example has the subtitle 'A novel without a Hero' and in a period where other writers usually embarked on a portrayal of the coming of age of a hero, Thackeray himself very deliberately opposes it. While the protagonist of Dickens' David Copperfield invites the reader to identify with him, Thackeray's Becky Sharp is the conniving, cynical and clever. Even his novel Pendennis, is a complete opposite of the novel David Copperfield, although both were published the same year. Thackeray did not identify with the middle class because hence his novels lack a middle class hero. When novels were catering to reassure middle class self-worth, Thackeray denied to give that assurance. Even, Dobbin, a middle class character in Vanity Fair, is not completely granted hero status and a tone of criticism lingers on the character throughout the work.

In The History of Henry Esmond, Thackeray deals with questions of not only of the concerns of society at large but also of individual identity. While most writers supported the idea of innate goodness in the individual human self, Thackeray differed. For example the character of Henry Esmond is also not a completely positive character and the negatives of his self, is perhaps Thackeray's critique of Victorian emphasis on the individual. An individualism that focused on personal virtue and morality is seen as Thackeray to at the risk of selfishness bordering on narcissism and self-absorption. His discontent with his age became more vocal in later works like Phillip and The New Comes. While the former is injected with autobiographical accounts and is goes back to the satirical tone of Vanity Fair, the latter is a harsh critique of the material greed of the age and a critique of the contemporary culture of the age.

As a result of his strong opinions of his society and its issues, and a critical rejection of the dominant concerns found in works of other writers of the same age, Thackeray stands in isolation as an outsider to this circle due his skepticism of the changing Victorian society. His stand did not change with time and lends to a social criticism and commentary of a very different sort in his works. Catherine, A Shabby Genteel Story, The Book of Snobs are some of his other works.

1.2 Women Novelists of the Victorian Era

The era saw a proliferation of women writers. The novel as a genre was initially seen as feminine literature and as the literacy rate among women increased, a new need for women writers catering to this segment was answered by these writers.

1.2.1. Mrs. Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, popularly called Mrs. Gaskell wrote short stories and novels that dealt with presenting a social picture of her society in the 1850s. While it was a time when doubts about material progress reaching the actual lives of the ordinary man were starting to be raised, Gaskell mostly gave an optimistic view of the time. Gaskell's North and South for example, seeks to present an answer to division and difference by presenting a form of a social reconciliation. There is an attempt at reconciliation of many divergent streams in the novel.

Mary Barton was her first novel, published in 1848 with a subtitle, 'A Tale of Manchester Life' and sticks to the Victorian concern of presenting the daily life of the middle class. Cranford came next in the form of a serial and was edited by Dickens for the magazine called Household Words. It was received positively and Gaskell gained immediate popularity for it. It centered on women characters like Mary Smith, Miss Deborah and the others. However the book was also critiqued for its lack of a significant story line. She was also famous for her gothic style in some of her works and this made Gaskell slightly different from other novelist of her time. Ruth, Sylvia's Lovers, Wives and Daughters were other significant works by her.

1.2.2. George Eliot

Perhaps the one most famous women writers, George Eliot still maintains a canonical status. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans or Marian Evans and she adopted the pseudonym George Eliot to escape the stereotype attached with women writers and successfully entered the domain of 'serious' writing. She had a controversial personal life and there too was not hesitant to break the norms of societal feminine boundaries. Adam Bede was her first novel, published 1859, set in a rural landscape and deals with a love rectangle. It received critical appreciation for its psychological descriptions of the characters and a realistic description of rural life.

Mill on the Floss, 1860, revolves around the life of Tom and Maggie Tulliver and traces their life as they grow up near the River Floss. Historical, political references to those of the Napoleonic Wars and the Reform Bill of 1832 inform the novel and lend it a more intellectual and serious strain. Autobiographical elements also form a part of the novel as George Eliot fuses herself partly with Maggie, the protagonist of the book. After Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Felix Holt the Radical, (1866) came Eliot's most popular novel Middlemarch in the year 1871. The novel revolves around the life of complex characters and the Reform Bill of 1832. Subtitled 'A Study of Provincial Life' the plot is based in the fictitious town of Midlands. The greatness of the novel was because of the vast portraiture of country and urban life that it depicts, its complex plots and characters, and its stark realistic projection of the time its set in. The role of education, the women question, politics, social commentary, idealism are other complicated strands of the novel.

1.2.3. Bronte Sisters

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte were the three famous novelist daughters of Patrick Bronte, a well-educated man and a writer himself; and Maria Bronte. The family together went through a series of tragedies where Maria Bronte died very early and none of the three sisters could reach the age of 40. Charlotte died at the age of just 39, Emily at 30 and Anne at 29. All three were educated by their father at home and all of them were fond of storytelling since childhood. Charlotte Bronte is famous for her novel Jane Eyre, published in 1847. The titular protagonist of the book, Jane Eyre, and her struggles in life and love for Mr. Rochester along with the process of her mental and spiritual growth are traced. The novel is believed to have a feminist tone to it and the famous 'woman in the attic' character of Bertha Mason raises several gender and feminist issues. Emily Bronte, the second of the trio, became famous for her novel Wuthering Heights, published in the year 1847 and the only book written by her. Like George Eliot, Emily wrote under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell but after her death Charlotte published the novel with her sister's real name. The novel is the love story of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Anne Bronte, the last of the three, wrote two novels: Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). The former was an autobiographical work and the latter is about a woman named  Helen Graham who transgresses marital and social boundaries to assert her freedom. It is seen a substantial piece of feminist writing.

All three sisters hence larger societal questions through mostly women characters and the plot focusses on their life with themes of love and passion. They hence enjoyed a large female readership and have achieved status as classics of literature.

1.3. Late Victorian Novelists

Thomas Hardy was the most important writer in the later part of the Victorian Era. He was influenced by both the romanticism of the earlier era and the social commentary of Dickens. He is famous for the conception of the fictional town of Wessex. Far from the Madding Crowd published in 1874, The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1886, Tess of the d'Urbervilles in 1891, and Jude the Obscure in 1895 are his famous novels but Hardy was also known for his poetry. The late part of the period also saw the rise of the 'sensational' novels by writers like Wilkie Collins and they too were based on the life of the middle class. The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) are Collins famous sensational novels. Anthony Trollope, another writer in the second half of the era, was himself from a middle class background and wrote the Phineas Finn (1869) and The Way we Live (1874). It was the time when Lewis Carroll wrote his famous Alice's Adventures in Wonderland published in 1865 and stood very different from other because of the child fiction genre it became a classic of the Carroll's different dreamy world that stood in direct contrast with the realistic tone of novels that was at its peak. George Gissing, George Moore, Samuel Butler, Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson were other novels of the era. Rudyard Kipling and his short stories based in India pointed to the larger historical process of colonialism happening at the time. It was in 1877 that Queen Victoria became the Empress of India. Then also came George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, another two most famous writers of the time.

1.3.1. Overview of Victorian Period

The age hence was important for the rise of the novel as a genre and form which itself saw transformation within the period. From romanticism to realism, politics to passion, optimism to pessimism, the novel could successfully deal with the changing mood of the society. Class, gender, individualism, society all were given space in the novel. The period was known to have witnessed the massive change of Britain from an agrarian to industrial landscape. All concerns informed the novel and the novel was made into perhaps the most important genre of the age and the ones that would follow.

1.4 Modern Period

After Queen Victoria's death in 1901 came the period which saw writers like Joseph Conrad, H.G Wells, D.H Lawrence, E.M Forster and others. The most important event in the early part of the 20th century was the First World War that took place from 1914 to 1918. It was a crucial event that changed the way of the world, impacted the psyche of the people and also the way literature was written. The pessimism and doubts that were a part of the writings of the earlier period may perhaps have anticipated the War. Hence Joseph Conrad, instead of talking of the society and its change now focused on dislocated individuals, a question of where one belongs in a seemingly cruel world. Colonialism are important part of his works wherein he presents a stark reality of exploitation and greed. Lord Jim, Nostromo, Heart of Darkness, are some of his major works. H.G Wells was a prolific writer and wrote around a hundred novels. The Time Machine, Ann Veronica, The History of Mr. Polly, The War of the Worlds, are some his important novels and Tono- Bungay is seen as his most brilliant work. Lawrence, was a controversial writer because of the open sexual references in his work. His work was different because of the sensual language and emotional feelings that made them. Therefore the novel then moved from the realism of the world outside more towards a description of the reality of the individual within. Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love are important works by him. E.M Forster, lastly wrote his famous Howard's End that deals with the Schegel and the Wilcox family and the society in 1910, brilliantly and delicately described which would then be transformed permanently by the First World War.

1.4.1. The Georgian Poets and World War I

During the reign of George V, was published five anthologies of poetry by Edward Marsh in the year 1912 to 1922. Many important writers like of the time like Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, D.H Lawrence, Walter de la Mare contributed to these anthologies. The main concern was to depict the real issues surrounding the world around the World War.

1.4.2 Modernism

Modernism as a movement was a response to the horrors of World War-I and to the rising industrial societies and growth of cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It challenged the harmony and the rationality of the Enlightenment and sought to reinvent art and literature of the age. To do so, it broke away from the works of the past and conventions that were earlier held at a pedestal. The view that traditional conceptions of beauty and on the whole the meaning of art itself did not fit the age lead to another movement called "Dadaism" that consciously set to redefine art itself. The movement was seen as "anti-art" that aimed to upturn its order. Chaos then as the basic antithesis to order was abundantly used by artists. Started by Tristan Tzara (1896- 1963) as a reaction against the senseless violence of the First World War and to reflect the anarchy that it spread in the social system as well as in the lives of ordinary people. What was also opposed was the conception of what was worthy of being the object of art. The classical subjects were replaced by the mundane as the urinal that Marcel Duchamp placed as an object of art in his gallery. Also in his 'LHOOQ' Duchamp's Mona Lisa with a moustache was a direct means to shake the viewer and the age out from his complacency that lead to the war itself. It was the direct expression of disillusionment with the war and that art too had lost its meaning like the literature of the classical time. The breaking down of any previously set rules and a violent portrayal of freedom of expression to shock and awe was the channel of the time that saw the violence of the World War firsthand. The artists and writers of the Dada movement were mostly war veterans and expressed through their work the psychological devastation of the war. The call for re-invention was echoed in the movement and stood for what modernism broadly aimed at.

1.4.3 Thematic and Technical Features of Modern Literature

The conception that reality could be easily be comprehended was replaced by modernism with a more subjective argument. Reality became not what was directly seen but what was behind the apparent surfaces and it took a crude look at the ugly, the stark behind the glossy surfaces. It was to raise these questions that distortion became a crucial trope in the visual arts of the era. Comte's Positivism could no longer be used to describe reality. The distorted images force the onlooker to step out of his comfort zone and to question his conception of reality. It highlights the dialectical relationship between the object of expression and the language that expresses it. This was echoed in the Literature of the time where sentences are fragmented and deliberately left incomplete as in Waiting for Godot. Dialogues are seldom completed and there is an inability to find the correct words to describe the state of the self. This breakdown of language after the World War calls out for a need to reinvent language to fit the post war world.

Hitler's use of almost an enigmatic, opera type use of words (he admired Wagner) that achieved his mass appeal, did also lead to the war. It was perhaps then necessary to breakdown language to reinvent it. The distortion and the fragments not only hint at the former but to a unity that needs to be rediscovered. The half-sentence make the reader seek to complete them and participate in the call for a search of a new unity and identity which is Pound's injunction to "Make it New". The onlooker/reader is removed from his role as a mere passive observer to an active one who contributes to the meaning of the art he views/reads. Hence the incompleteness was not aimed at a completely pessimistic answer that leads to a loss of hope, but to different source of comfort similar to what T.S Eliot finds in the world of 'shanti shanti shanti' at the end of 'Wasteland'.

1.4.4 Overview of Modern Age Literature

James Joyce set his novels and short stories in a small city of Dublin. Dubliners published in 1914 is a part of the modernist literature along with The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Stephen Daedalus is a central character both in the Portrait and Ulysses. The latter however was banned.

The next important writer was Virginia Woolf who was associated with the Bloomsbury Group which was a group of intellectuals and writers that met at her house which included E.M Forster and Leopold Woolf. Woolf attempted to present the changed world through a changed style of writing. In 1915 came her first novel called The Voyage Out and then came Night and Day in 1919. There was a realistic serious tone to both these books. Modernist strain in her writing began with her next novel call Jacob's Room which was published in 1922 along with Ulysses. The rest of the novels like Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and Orlando had the same modernist tone.

1.5 Stream of Consciousness

Picasso's cubism became an important part of modernism's subjective view of reality and a need to move away from traditional forms of art. It was this subjectivity that lead to the 'stream of consciousness' technique of narration, as used by Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway. The focus on the interiority of the self and its perception of the objects it conceives was way to grasp the changed notion of reality. The 'Pre-Speech' level of consciousness (as Henry James called it) of the character where the narrative deals with what is freely sensed or felt by the characters rather than what is directly uttered changed the way that narratives functioned. The expression of the self was also to highlight the crisis of the self within itself. The existential view of life and its cyclical futile form was what entrapped it rendering it unable to transcend futility of existence. This pessimistic view was a residue of the war which saw man as Sisyphus with his worthless search for meaning, identity and unity in an age that cannot satiate his search. In 'The Myth of Sisyphus' Albert Camus dwells on this futility of the modern experience.

1.6 Poetic Drama

The term 'poetic drama' was made popular during the middle of the 20th century. The term was made famous due to the works of T.S Eliot who used his work as a reaction to the drama of G. B Shaw and Galsworthy who were immensely influenced by Henrik Ibsen who wrote A Doll's House and Ghosts. In the 'The Quintessence of Ibsenism' written by G.B Shaw, he accepted the former's influence on him. T.S Eliot apart from being a poet was also a critic and wrote many important works like 'Possibility of Poetic Drama' and 'Poetry and Drama' in which he expressed his belief that poetry and drama are linked inseparably. W.B. Yeats, W. H. Auden and other poets also tried writing poetic drama.


2.1. Dramatic Monologue

A persona poem or what is popularly termed as a dramatic monologue in poetry, uses the theatrical device of a monologue where a character or person on stage speaks alone. Often done to highlight the character or author's internal thoughts and vocalize them to an implied audience, it was used in poetry in the 20th century. Romantic poetry was seen as the root of the same. It is usually one person's speech to oneself or the audience / reader wherein he talks about a subjective view on a situation, topic, or any other character. Robert Browning was the poet who perfected the use of dramatic monologue in his poems like "My Last Duchess", "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister". His use of the device influenced Eliot and other modernist writers.

2.2 Paradox

As the term signifies, a paradox occurs when there is self-contradiction in a sentence. Even ideas can have a paradox in them. It is done often for stylistic reasons and to express a complicated thought or feeling. Hamlet's line "I must be cruel only to be kind." (Act 3, Scene iv line 178) in Shakespeare's play with the same title is an example of paradox where two contradictory emotions of kindness and cruelty are brought together.

2.3 Antithesis

It basically denotes the coming together of complete opposites in a sentence. It is a rhetorical device often used by orators. For example, Goethe's quote "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing" is an example of the same.

2.4 Symbol

Derived from the greek word Symbolom, a symbol is a word or object that stands for another word or object. For example a fox is a symbol for cleverness and dove is the universal symbol for peace.

2.5 Problem Play

Used mostly with reference to drama, a problem play usually deals with an attempt to focus the public opinion about a social concern. It engages therefore with a 'problem' in the most feasible manner and may either seek to solve it or complicate it further. It was made famous by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian Playwright and even used by G.B Shaw in his plays.

2.6 Essay

Usually a piece of prose writing that is aimed at being a thoughtful piece of writing with strong intellectual debates and undertones. It is derived from the word exagium that in Latin means a 'trial by weight'. The form is believed to have emerged in the Renaissance and Francis Bacon in 1597 published his "Essays".

2.7 Novel

A novel is a piece of literature that can be fictional or real and is written in prose. It is very different from drama and poetry by the extent of its length. There are many sub genres that can be a part of the novel itself. In fact a single novel is often is result of play of these various strands of literature. The root of the word "Novel" or "Novella" signifies something "new" as it was a later conception in the history of literature. It came after poetry and drama. It was the 18th and the 19th century that form became a major literary field with writers like Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe; Fielding, who wrote Tom Jones and Samuel Richardson, Charles Dickens and others. After the romantic phase there was a revival of the gothic fiction in works like Ann Radcliff's Mysteries of Udolfo and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Gothic was one such genre of the novel form. Realist novels, Sensational novels, domestic novels are just some of the others. On the whole the novel can be seen as a fictional narrative in prose, generally longer than a short story. Unlike the epic, which is now seen as a dead genre, the novel is still enjoying its high status in the literary market as perhaps, it has evolved with the continuously evolving world.

2.8 Free Verse

Free verse is a type of structure which does not have a fixed meter or regular rhythm. Even the line length varies from one sentence to another. The cadence is dependent solely on the wish of the writer but sometimes alternates between stressed and unstressed syllables. It was derived from the word 'freo' a middle-english word that meant 'free'. Many great writers and poets experimented with the free verse style including Milton in his Samson Agonistes.

2.9 Short Story

 A short story is also a form of fiction writing but is different from the novel because of the length due to which it gets its name. It can be a highly serious work of literature, a didactic one with a moral, a part of children's fiction and is also open to experimentation. For example, Rudyard Kipling wrote many short stories. The word 'short' comes from the word 'sceort' which means the same. Defoe also wrote short stories because of the popularity of serial novels at his time. It is however Edgar Allen Poe, who is considered to be a seminal figure responsible for the popularity of short stories as a genre. Joyce wrote them in his work titled Dubliners and Kafka wrote Metamorphosis using the same.


Drama is one of the oldest forms of literature along with the epic. It is believed to have derived from the ancient Greek and Roman works.

3.1 Plot

A plot is the main trajectory of drama and called be called as its story line. In Poetics, while defining all the major parts of a drama, Aristotle believed that the plot was of prime importance. It was so because it the plot that could be success at achieving a catharsis in the audience which is the purging of the feelings of fear and pity. It was catharsis that Aristotle believed was the main aim of drama and a good plot was one that could successfully achieve a catharsis. He also asserted that a plot should have a beginning, middle and end.

3.1.1 The Beginning (Exposition)

The beginning or the exposition should be a form of introduction to the audience. The place of setting of the drama and the most important characters, along with the protagonist are mostly be revealed in this part. The type of the characters are also exposed in the beginning.

3.1.2 The Middle (Complication)

The middle of the drama should highlight the issue of concern or the conflict/complication. Whether it is personal revenge or a political crisis, the middle is whether the complicated strand of the drama lies and in which the main character seeks to correct or rectify the conflict in question.

3.1.3 The End (Resolution)

It is in the end when the conflict is usually resolved in a tragic or comic way at the end of which a catharsis should occur in the audience if the drama was successful.

3.2 Character

A character is all the people that make up the plot of the drama. They can be major ones like the chief protagonist or minor ones with brief roles in the plot. They can static or dynamic.

3.3 Thought (Theme)

The thought is the underlying idea behind the whole drama itself. Sometimes it is given away to the audience directly in the title itself and sometimes is depicted in the words or actions of a character.

3.4 Diction (Dialogue)

The manner in which the characters speak in the drama is called diction. A good diction should be comprehensible to the audience. The intonation, accent, inflection all form a part of it.

3.5 Music

Music is a part of drama that can either be used in the intervals or to add an extra effect to the performance. It can also be used along with the performance and can mimic the action on stage. It adds to the cathartic appeal of drama by affecting the emotions of the audience.

3.6 Spectacle

It is the visual element of drama and is based on how the drama is actually performed in front of the audience. Derived from the Greek word 'opsis' which means the sight or appearance of a thing, in drama Aristotle linked it to drama in the book 6 of his Poetics.

3.7 Convention

Specific styles of performance action or speech that the character or the writer uses to attain a desired emotional effect on the viewer are called dramatic conventions and can be seen as specific rules that already are made familiar to the audience or the actors. All forms of drama have their own set conventions and can be seen as the device that makes one genre of drama different from another.

3.8 Genres

Genres are the distinguishing categories of drama or literature on the whole. The style, tone, conventions, theme, diction of one form of drama can be widely different from another. However genres also are fluid categories and may overlap from time to time.

3.9 Audience

Audience is the chief receiver of the performance of drama. They are the spectators of it and hence form perhaps the most important part of the conception of drama itself. They are the final end point of any performance and an emphasis on their reception forms the main concern. A group of individuals collected to watch the performance constitute the audience. This audience lends itself to the performance by not only their reaction to it but by a sensory and visual participation in the process of drama unfolding itself. Sometimes the audience is directly addressed by a character or a narrator and may also just be invisibly implied.

3.10 Forms of Drama

3.10.1 Miracle Play

In the Medieval period, the church was the centre of all human and social life. Drama initially was used by the church for delivering a spiritual message to the spectator through a performance of a sermon or a public way of preaching on the pulpit. In fact the rituals that were a part of the church initially had all the important depiction of a form of drama. The Mass for example was one such event were the rich robes of the priests, processions and choral singing formed a spectacle for the audience. On Christmas and other important festivals, candles and incense were used to add to the performance of a ritual. The pulpit at the centre of the church was like a theatrical structure in itself. It was by the 10th century that apart from choral singing, words entered the performance of preaching which were called tropes and ended with a celebratory song. The performance was always based on a Biblical story or a teaching. The Quem Quaeritis is believed to have been the earliest example of such a trope in c.950 and was based on the Gospel according to St. Marks and dealt with three Maries visiting the tomb of Christ and ended with a happy announcement of Christ rising from death. Only four lines of Latin were a part of it.

3.10.2 Mystery Play

The popular form the religious drama was centered on the festival of Corpus Christie which was a form of thanksgiving to Christ for his sacrifice. It was added to the church calendar in 1311 and was henceforth celebrated every year. Eventually these became a big social event where people started participating financially and in the organization of these performances. The village guilds slowly became more entrenched in the performances of the plays. Each guild was given a biblical trope to perform like the Noah's Arc to the shipwrights. Slowly the plays moved outside the church to the market areas. The biblical themes picked up were usually didactic or depicted the story of a miracle and lives of saints.

3.10.3 Morality Play

Morality plays dealt with themes that applied to all mankind. The characters had names like Everyman, Mankind and the plays also meant to supply a moral lesson. Many visual and thematic elements were borrowed from earlied religious tropes and plays. The main theme however was the battle of good and evil to possess the soul of man and the cycle of man's fall from innocence to temptation and finally to suffering. Mankind, Everyman, Wisdom are some of these morality plays. The question of free will versus predestination was a silent theme at operation in these plays. Often there was redemption of the fallen figure by God which led to a reconciliatory celebration in the end. This was later to become a part of the comic genre of drama where reconciliation happens at the end.

3.10.4 Interludes

These types of drama were the transition between the morality plays and the Tudor indoor drama. They were given the name because they were usually performed in the middle of a banquet or a celebration to entertain the guests at great houses and manors. John Heywood was a famous interlude writer who wrote The Play of the Wether in the year 1533.

3.10.5 Tragedy

The etymology of the word 'tragedy' is generally regarded to have been derived from the Greek word 'tragoidia' which means goat song or from the words 'tragos' and 'aeidein' which mean 'goat' and 'to sing' respectively as in ancient Greece the best dramatists were awarded a goat for their work and also because it is believed that goats were sacrificed at the beginning of the rituals where tragedies were performed. Initially the singing of these rituals was extended to include a dialogue between one speaker, who was usually a priest and the singers in the background. This structure later became a chorus which was a key part of Athenian tragedies. Aeschylus, a writer of that time, wrote ninety tragedies and is regarded as the one who developed the ritualistic performance to the form of a tragedy.

The form of drama that is of a serious tone and deals with a suffering of the protagonist is broadly called as a Tragedy. This suffering might be due to an unfortunate turn of events or because of a tragic flaw in the character of the protagonist which Aristotle calls as a hamartia. The hero falls from a position of respect and nobility, as is usual the case, because of his flaw. Also, tragedy can investigate the role of man in the universe and probes into the question of his state of existence itself or may end with a tragic death of a character.

In ancient Greece, this form of a drama was performed at public festivals and dates back to as far as the 5th century BCE. They became a kind of a mass spectacle where people gathered as a community to watch them and it became almost as a kind of religious ceremony. These dramas got the support of the local government in the form of financial sponsorships and fee for those who wanted to be a part of audience but did not have the financial means themselves. The issues raised in these dramas were often myths of the religious order, legends from history or a major historical event. The priests also attended these dramas. Sometimes works from well-known writers were used like that of Homer who wrote the famous Canterbury Tales and most of the audience probably was aware of his genius. Aeshylus, Sophocles and Euripides were the three Greek giant pillars of the genre and their works, written as long back as 6th century BCE survives even today.

After the high tragedies of Greece, the form was developed and used in the Elizabeth era by writers like Shakespeare (Romeo and Julient, Hamlet, Othello for example), and Thomas Kyd (The Spanish Tragedy), in the Jacobean era by writers like Webster (Duchess of Malfi) and then in France in the 17th century followed by writers in Europe and America in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The type of tragedy as a genre underwent many changes in each of these periods.

Tragedies can also raise serious issues related to the place of man in the universe, the concept of justice, and more beyond the individual to address larger concerns. Even Aeschylus and his Oresteia and Prometheus Bound question these concepts. In the Former which is a trilogy, the concept of justice is questioned as a man is commanded by the gods to kill his mother and take revenge and patricide is looked in a very different way in the drama. In the latter, Prometheus is punished by Zeus for stealing fire for mankind. The drama around such a punishment opens to criticism of the concept of divine justice. While earlier these concepts were presumed to be valid on their own, tragic writers made possible the questioning of these absolute values and go on to a deeper exploration of issues they raised. They also opened up a psychological depth of in the study of man which was later to be used and developed by Shakespeare and all the tragic dramatists that followed. The suffering depicted also allows for a kind of learning and it became characteristic of the tragic hero.

After Aeschylus came Sophocles who is credited as many as 125 plays of which only seven survived. While Aeschylus sought deeper questions in tragedy, Sophocles is said to have depicted a truer picture of human experience. His tragedies are little freer in terms of the lessons through suffering trajectory and focusses more on addressing issues rather than raising them. Oedipus the King is his most popular work that established his dramatic genius. It moves closer to the conception of drama than as a part of a larger ritual with its much sharper dialogue and less focus on the chorus. The debate of free will and predestination is raised here as though Oedipus was fated marry his mother after killing his father, he does engage in a certain freedom of decision making throughout the course of the drama. However, Oedipus' suffers in the end, his blindness perhaps due to his fate decreed on him by the oracles and his refusal to act despite it. It ends with a larger theme of human happiness and suffering as the chorus ends by singing "Count no man happy, until he is dead." Even this suffering is made problematic as it is not the gods that punish him but Oedipus himself. Sophocles also wrote a sequel to this drama titled Oedipus at Colonus where the old King denies his sin of killing his father and grows as a tragic hero into a glorified one as he is turned into a demigod in the end. In the end it is a kind of a reaffirmation in the human capacity to move beyond sin and evil not in the afterlife but in this very place of human existence itself. It is a kind of humanism that is in a deemed heroic.

Euripedes, the next great tragic dramatist after Sophocles, moved the latters set conventions even further. They seemed to focus on the stress that the expectations of the gods place on humans and also at their indifference by becoming a spectator of human devastation. A hint of irony hence enters the tragic genre. Hippolytus is his famous work wherein Aphrodite takes revenge on Hippolyte for not worshiping her. Medea, another famous work by the dramatists is based on a woman's revenge on Jason, her husband as she kills their own sons and takes away the privilege of having an heir. The justice of gods and the human condition are brought forward

As the city of Athens declined, even though performances continued to happen throughout the period, the quality of tragedy had seen to have declined. It is also argued by critics like Friedrich Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy that the dialogues of Plato and his belief that the individual could learn through himself moved the questions of the state of human existence towards a philosophical probing rather than a dramatic one.

In the Roman world, Seneca is known still to have influenced the development of the genre and at least 8 tragedies are attributed to him most of which were a rendering of earlier known Greek myths and stories. Seneca became important because of his influence on the Elizabethan playwrights who used the Senecan tragedy as a source.

It was the Renaissance that became a major catalyst of the development of the form of tragedies. Shakespeare, Marlowe and Middleton took the Greek model and gave it a more morbid ending. The performances drew awe from the audience and the ending often involved murder, revenge or death. As a genre tragedy continued to evolve and be redefined in fresh ways in every age that used it.

3.10.6 Comedy

Dante used the term comedy in his title La Commedia and before him the Greeks and Romans referred it for plays with happy endings. It was later expanded to include works which evoked laughter in the reader/spectator. Comedy also expanded further to include satire and became a vehicle for social criticism.

In ancient Greece, comedies were a part of phallic rituals and festivals that celebrated fertility. In Poetics Aristotle too affirmed this root of comedy and that they were devoted to Thalia, the muse of comedy. He also asserted that it was one of the first four genres of literature apart from epics, tragedies and lyric poetry.As the genre was not given the high status as tragedies were assigned, the beginnings of comedy are obscure. The earlier known comedies are attributed to Aristophanes who is believed to have written 40 of them of which only 11 presently survive. The satyr plays of his time were development by him to become comedies in their own right.

Comedies were usually defined in contrast with tragedies. While tragedies dealt with a hero of high stature, comedies revolved around base incidents of the not so high characters in their mundane life. They lacked serious gravity and were more focused on entertaining. Then later these two genres considered to be separate were connected to create a form altogether. Horace, the ancient Roman poet, noted that comedy could also have a tragic strain and tragedy could be applied to the mundane. This gave rise to the genre of the burlesque wherein a trivial subject was given the high style of tragedy and even included obscene and vulgar elements.

In the 18th century, in Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding made a differentiation between the burlesque and the comic. Burlesque, Fielding asserted, is bent towards an unnatural application of the characteristics of high manners to the lowly. It meant for pure entertainment based on absurdity. While comedy according to him did involve a mimesis of nature where the subject can be mundane but not the monstrous one of burlesque with an attempt to imitate the ordinary life of society. However the demarcation too can be called to be problematic because of the awareness of something monstrous and animal-like in the human rationale. Behind the mask of civilization sometimes there are instances of animalistic behavior coming from the part of man that acts on carnal instincts. Ever since the beginning of comic genre, there is celebration of a creative energy in it that stems from this carnal urge as was done in the celebratory phallic processions.

Comedy later expanded to include satire and irony and wit which made possible a social commentary. The tragic behind the mask of comic was used in the theatre of the grotesque where after the laughter at a comic situation, reveals the tragedy operating behind it. Pirandello in the preface of Six Characters in Search of an Author defined the theatre of the grotesque which was later used by writers like Ionesco and Beckett in the theatre of the absurd as late as the 20th century.

Comic genre included many other genres as stated. Satiric comedy used it to make apparent the difference between an ideal and the real and the criticism of that reality itself. Romantic comedy highlights the reality that the hero and heroine have to face in order to come together. Shakespeare developed the romantic comedy genre and even in the 20th century playwrights like T.S Eliot in his The Confidential Clerk used it.

3.10.7 Tragi-Comedy

Tragicomedy, as the name suggests, combines both tragedy and comedy. It was termed such by Plautus as far back as the 2nd century BC wherein it was used for works where gods and humans exchanged roles and engaged in a burlesque with tragic tones. One prime example by Plautus is Amphitryon.

It was in the Renaissance that this genre too was explored and developed. In Italy, a writer named Battista Guarini defined tragicomedy as one that uses the diction, depiction, theme and cathartic tone of tragedy but lacked its conventional ending. It also deviates from the tragic genre by including figures like the court jester and clowns and low-born characters. It was contradicted by also supplying a happy ending and a resolution despite the tragic tone. The influence of Neoclassicism with an attempt to reinvent the classics in their own way made possible such experimentation. John Fletcher in The Faithful Shepherdess reworked Guarini's Il Pastor Fido and Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and The Tempest are further examples of it.

The romantic writers that followed Shakespeare used his works as a model as they believe that it was a true mirror of life Novels of writers like Victor Hugo stand as proof of his influence and then with the stress on realism in the 19th century, tragicomedy was redefined yet again. Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts used it to made tragedy even more apparent behind the surface of comedy and G.B Shaw praised Ibsen as the one who re-established the tragicomedy and then Anton Chekov used it in his 1897 work called Uncle Vanya and the Cherry Orchard that came out in 1904. The absurdist drama that followed used the tragicomic genre to new heights. Examples of which include Samuel Beckett's Endgame in 1958 and Harold Pinter's Dumb Waiter in 1960.

3.10.8 Senecan Tragedy

In the 1st century A.D the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca issued nine dramas in blank verse which were more of closet dramas as they were intended to be read rather than to be performed. Seneca remodeled the tragedies of Euripedes and Aeshcylus and Sophocles but added to them a long serious diction, a long descriptive narrative, a didactic tone and soliloquies and also the use of witches and ghosts entered the drama. The Italian Renaissance revisited these works and gave the English Renaissance writers a model to base their tragedies on. It was in the 17th century that the French Renaissance writers like Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine that used the Senecan tragedies and borrowed from it its serious tone and style and rhetoric.

The bloodthirsty revenge of these tragedies suited the taste of the Elizabethan writers and Gorboduc by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton in 1561 was the first English tragedy that used the same bloody revenge theme. There is a mass of slaughter in the drama and crude revenge along with highly morbid tones was an imitation of Seneca and his works. This became established as the Senacan tragedy. Shakespeare's Hamlet is an example of an Elizabethan Senecan tragedy.

3.10.9 Revenge Tragedy

Hamlet was also an example of another type of tragedy called the revenge tragedy where the chief element of the drama is a revenge that often took a murderous ending. It was used by Shakespeare but was established in The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd and was performed in the year 1587. The plot revolves around a Spanish man named Heironimo who seeks revenge for the murder of his son. There is a play within the play where he enacts his role as the one seeking revenge and kills the murderers and even himself. His spells of madness also permeate the play. As is obvious, Hamlet borrows a lot of these elements where revenge, murder, play-within-a- play and the theme of madness are direct imitations.

John Marston's Antonio's Revenge (1599-1601), George Chapman's Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois (performed c. 1610, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (performed 1589-92) and Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy (1607) are more examples of the revenge tragic genre.