Domestic drama

Domestic drama

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Domestic drama expresses and focuses on the realistic everyday lives of middle or lower classes in a certain society, generally referring to the post-Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 eras. According to the English Communications Syllabus, domestic drama refers to a dramatic story containing an emphasis on its “characters' intimate relationships and their responses to [the] unfolding events in their lives.” The characters, their lives, and the events that occur within the show are usually classified as 'ordinary' events, lives, and characters, but this does not limit the extent of what domestic drama can represent. Domestic drama does, however, take the approach in which it “concerns people much like ourselves, taken from the lower and middle classes of society, who struggle with everyday problems such as poverty, sickness, crime, and family strife.” One scholar suggests that domestic drama is possibly one third of the plays being written.


Domestic is derived from the Latin domus, or home. The word domestic is defined as “of or relating to the household.” Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

 receives the definition of “A prose or verse composition, especially one telling a serious story, that is intended for representation by actors impersonating the characters and performing the dialogue and action,” and it is derived from the Greek word drao, to act or to take action. The combination of both domestic and drama provides a literal translation of “a serious story relating to the household,” clearly a synonymous definition to the given definition provided by the English Communications Syllab

Development and History

Dramatic works have nearly always contained a sense of domestic drama within its fundamental plot line. Even in the early ages of Greek drama, there has been a sense of ordinary people's struggles with their lives (though this cannot be classified as domestic drama due to the incorporation of the Greek gods interfering with the common people and the enabling of the common people to have “godlike” attributes). Medieval theatre
Medieval theatre
Medieval theatre refers to the theatre of Europe between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. and the beginning of the Renaissance in approximately the 15th century A.D...

 tended to express religious themes within their shows with miracles and the creation of morality play
Morality play
The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment. In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral theme. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of...

s, in which the shows were used as religious allegories. Though not yet emphasizing the ordinary lives, the development of dramatic works is slowly working towards more realistic plot lines, one of the essential elements in domestic drama.
Renaissance theatre
Renaissance theatre
For Renaissance theatre see*Its section in the History of Theatre*English Renaissance theatre*French Renaissance theatre*German Renaissance theatre*Italian Renaissance theatre*Spanish Renaissance theatre*Renaissance TragedyFor place name see...

 marks the arrival of pastoral drama, drama referring to the relationships of the rustics
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

. Though this describes the events of 'ordinary people', the shows tended to stretch realism, focussed mainly on the romantic relationships of the rustics, and were decorated with an emphasis on the comedic aspect of theater. Pastoral drama was considered to be more successful than the traditional comedies
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 and tragedies
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

, enforcing the further development into domestic drama.

Drama in the late seventeenth century consisted of neoclassical
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

 comedies focusing on the comedic relationships within the upper class
Upper class
In social science, the "upper class" is the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class may have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area.- Historical meaning :...

es. This era also consisted of the Restoration drama and placed an emphasis on the usage of poetic language
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

, “sensational incidents, and epic personages” within the show. These styles of shows are not considered domestic dramas because they focus on the relationships of the higher classes, as opposed to the middle or lower classes. This further develops into domestic drama as the plot lines become more realistic and centered around character
Fictional character
A character is the representation of a person in a narrative work of art . Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr , the earliest use in English, in this sense, dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of...

s' relationships and their actions towards each other.

The eighteenth century marks the arrival of domestic drama as the shows start focusing on the problems of the ordinary people. The early eighteenth century playwrights used domestic drama to express the “trend toward sentimental bourgeois realism.” These new domestic dramas also incorporated realistic comedies of fairly sophisticated characterizations [with] middle-class morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

. These early domestic dramas are classified as part of the Romantic era of all types of arts.

Nineteenth century drama took the complete step in incorporating realism into drama, thus resulting in more serious and philosophical drama. Characters and setting
Setting (fiction)
In fiction, setting includes the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place, and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may...

s gradually developed into the realistic truths of the current society. Along with realism was naturalism
Naturalism (literature)
Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character...

: “selective realism emphasizing the more sordid and pessimistic aspects of life.” This movement of combined realism and naturalism gave way to the “slice-of-life” shows commonly synonymous with domestic drama. One outstanding playwright of this era was Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

 of Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

. His frequent usage of realism within his shows “brought to a climax the realistic movement of the nineteenth century and also served as a bridge to twentieth century symbolism.” Ibsen used middle-class characters dealing with his complex plots and “surpassed other such works” of his time. Playwrights such as Ibsen have drawn much attention to domestic drama and have brought this method to its high significant stature in modern theatrical works.

The twentieth century introduced symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ism into the makings of domestic dramas, ultimately causing variations within domestic drama. Early twentieth century shows incorporated such psychological devices as “minimal scenery, telegraphic dialogue, talking machines, and characters portrayed as types rather than individuals.” Domestic drama suddenly became a combination of naturalism
Naturalism (literature)
Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character...

, expressionism
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...

, symbolism, and commonly used psychological affairs. The classification of domestic dramas became unclear as shows challenged new ideas and created a difficulty in determining the illusion
An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. While illusions distort reality, they are generally shared by most people....

s and realism
Realism (arts)
Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects "in accordance with secular, empirical rules", as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation...

 of a show.

Modern dramas usually revolve around psychological, social
The term social refers to a characteristic of living organisms...

, and political affairs, all of which seem to have their roots in domestic drama. Modern works also use interpretive ideas, such as “distinctive voice and vision, stark settings, austere language in spare dialog, meaningful silences, the projection of a powerful streak of menace, and outbursts of real or implied violence.” The utensils of dramatic works have greatly expanded, but all still carry the roots of domestic drama. Domestic drama also carries the implications of current affairs with society: such as civil rights
Civil rights movement
The civil rights movement was a worldwide political movement for equality before the law occurring between approximately 1950 and 1980. In many situations it took the form of campaigns of civil resistance aimed at achieving change by nonviolent forms of resistance. In some situations it was...

, feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

, and current political and sociological disputes. Current domestic drama itself tends to express the “war-at-home” style of theater, whereas twentieth century domestic drama could be classified as experimental theater or symbolic theater.

Audience Appeal

Domestic drama tends to appeal to the audience because most of the audience can relate to the events within a domestic drama. The audience is appealed to this style of drama in four ways: empathy, humor, suspense, and resolution of the issues. This group of spectators can emphasize with the domestic drama at hand because the domestic drama touches incidents that are common to the 'ordinary' people. Many playwright use the audience's empathy to manipulate the proposed expression of the show. David Williamson's “Brilliant Lies” uses “domestic unit battling” to create sympathy from the audience as they are confronted with the issue.
Humor provides the entertainment value within a domestic drama as these usually touch base with serious matters. The entertainment value of a show keeps the people engaged without having to continually use serious turns of events in order to maintain an audience's interest.
Suspense provides “dramatic irony” as the audience indulges itself within the characters' situation and privacy of their backgrounds. Suspense is used in a domestic drama in order for the audience to react with the characters of the show. This “[positions] the audience to feel privileged and therefore involved with the unfolding drama.”
As in all shows, an audience expects a resolution to the conflict within a show. Domestic dramas drive the show to its resolution to keep the audience desiring to reach the climax. Domestic dramas use such a technique that is very similar to the style of modern soap operas.


The text of a domestic drama follows a specific guideline in order to stay within this genre: subject, structure, and language. By deviating from this guideline too excessively, the classification as a domestic drama becomes problematic.
The subject of a domestic drama must be that of the 'ordinary' people. The audience (generally 'ordinary') needs to connect with the characters of the domestic drama, and the plot must the following the “domestic sphere” of “traditional families, urban family units, or domestic households.” The subject of the domestic drama could also imply to relationships at a workplace as this does relate to the 'ordinary' events of 'ordinary' people. The subjects of concern could vastly range from poverty to family strife , from civil rights to economic injustices. Due to the audience relationship with the material of the domestic drama, most domestic dramas are most successful in the society in which the plot is direct towards because the audience is most familiar with the culture of the show.
Domestic dramas follow a fairly linear structure and generally have a sort of patriarchal figure as a representative of the family. This patriarchal figure provides the guidelines of the everyday nature of the subjects of the show. Confrontations with the patriarchal figure are also a common structure within domestic dramas.
The language used in a domestic drama generally relates with the 'ordinary' subjects of a show to reinforce the “realistic impression” of the show onto and audience. The usage of a specific language enables a specific audience to further connect with the subjects of the domestic drama as language is an “intimate personal way of communicating.”

Social expression

Theater has been commonly used as a public expression of the humanitarian affairs of a certain era. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth era, drama expressed the ideals of the caste and court system, with nobility on high and rustics down low. This expression gave way to the public in order to see and understand how this system was to work within their society. Some might say that theater has played a very important role in the shaping of societies when used in this way. Nineteenth century induced the importance of the middle-class within drama and introduced the role of the bourgeois and the usage of aristocratic entertainment. The political aspects of a certain era were inevitably present within these shows, especially shows leading towards domestic drama. Theater was considered to have “good [socially] position” characters against the immoral acts of society, usually a sort of infringement against a certain code of behavior. Theater was the way to explain the rights and wrongs of a certain lifestyle in a society, especially if the characters were of the 'ordinary' people so that the audience could relate with the characters. Modern drama changed this aspect of theater as it was not directed towards any one class in society, but rather the collaboration of the artistic aspects within these classes. Such a combination created much difficulty in domestic drama as domestic drama appeals to a specific class.


  1. Domestic Drama by Maddy Ritchard and Anna Forward
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition (2007)

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