Verse Drama vs. Dramatic Verse

Much of the world's literature is written in verse.  Everything from Gilgamesh to Beowulf to The Divine Comedy were written using lines of poetical verse

So what makes verse drama different?

The lovers fight in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare, directed by Emily C. A. Snyder for the Hudson Drama Society 2004.

The Purpose of Drama

While dramatic verse, such as The Iliad, may be performed - indeed, was likely recited aloud - dramatic verse is primarily meant to be read like literature.  This is different from drama which is meant to be enacted.

The Three Parts of Drama

As Peter Brook wrote in The Empty Space: "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.  A man walks across the empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged."

Essentially, drama is not dependent upon a written script being present, but rather about story being enacted on stage and viewed by another party.  Verse drama is therefore when there is a script, written primarily or significantly in verse, which is enacted and viewed.

We may therefore say that all drama has three parts.  Which are:
  • Generative: That is, the creation of the story which will be enacted.  This may or may not be written down. 
  • Interpretive: That is, the interpretation of the text - written or unwritten - which is then rehearsed, with or without the playwright's involvement, including additions and interpretations by the cast and crew, as they prepare the story for performance.
  • Receptive: That is, when an outside party views the interpretation of the original text, as it is enacted for them.
It is probably worth noting that while verse drama is frequently found in live performance, such as the theatre, any script written in verse and then recorded for posterity may be considered verse drama.  Examples would include audio drama or cinema.

A Question of Intent

The primary difference between dramatic verse and verse drama may therefore be seen as a matter of intent.  Is the writer concerned with communicating directly with a reader?  Or is the playwright concerned with leaving notes for future interpreters, and considering practical questions like quick changes and casting for a production?  

Many closet dramas - that is, verse plays which were published but either never or only privately performed - may seem at first glance to be dramatic verse, since they were capable of being read rather than viewed by an audience.  However, closet dramas are still formatted like scripts, include playable characters and actions, and in short, although they may have not been performed, were still written for performance conditions.

NEXT TIME: We'll talk about Narrative vs. ​Interpretation as we continue to examine what separates drama from literature.


WRITERS: Do you have a closet play that hasn't been performed yet, but may be available on New Play Exchange?  Did you write with actors and audience in mind, or do you write primarily for a reader?  We'd love to know your thought process!

READERS: What do you love about scripts?  What do you look for, or wish playwrights included when you're reading a script without ever seeing it performed?

Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @hamlet2hamilton!


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