Poetic Drama | Definition, History, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Poetic Drama | Definition, History, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Poetic Drama


Poetry is always considered something higher than prose that signifies high and intensified emotions of man and philosophy of human life. Poetic form has been the most natural presentation of artistic feelings. On the other hand, drama is a mean to present the communication of imaginative experience. Aristotle has emphasized the need of heightened and embellished style in tragedies to fulfill the universal human demand.

Poetic Drama Definition

Poetic drama combines both the qualities of poetry and drama that give deep impact of dramatist’s emotions on the readers. In fact, poetry combined with drama increases seriousness in tragedy and actors feel comfortable to learn poetic dialogues. This greatness of verse drama has now been well recognized because in this chaotic world, the poetic dramatist does not bring the characters near to us nor he tries to impress us but in fact, he attempts to make a great distance between us and realities of the world. He wishes to cut us away from our realistic world and deprive us from seeing the replica of the world on the stage to raise us to some unfamiliar associations which can be helpful in detaching the individual from his fellow and make us feel in him the flow of inner life.

The poetry in verse drama is inherent in the structure of the play itself. Poetry is not in any part of the play, in any one of its elements but all the elements act in cooperation in the poetic drama. In the twentieth century, T. S Eliot gave the theater a workable dramatic verse and has done more than any other playwright of this century to get audience to accept this verse without prejudice There has been a great variety in the poetic drama of twentieth century

Difference Between Poetic Drama And Prose Drama

  1. In verse drama, character talk in verse while in prose drama characters talk in prose.
  2. Prose drama concentrates its imitation on the outermost reality while the second on the innermost reality of life
  3. Poetic drama induce deepest sense of joy in life and strongly reminds its witnesses that they have the power of being conscious of their own lives, while in prose drama, simple description wrapped in reality is presented.
  4. Through its poetic equipment, poetic drama gives us sensuous joy, while prose drama gives a detailed description of events happened in the drama.

History of Poetic Drama

Poetic drama reached its pinnacle in Elizabethan England because during this time, poetry came to be recognized as the medium of drama. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote great poetic plays which were saturated with intense emotions. The adventurous spirit of the age can nowhere be seen more clearly than in dramatic poetry.

Though the heroic couplet was used by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night Dream, the popularity of blank verse was also firmly established. Shakespeare started his literary career as a poet but when he was engaged in writing plays, he did not discard poetry and brought out a fine combination of drama and poetry.

After Shakespeare, there came a steady decline in poetic drama. It was only Webster who could touch the greatest heights and though his verse could have great power, it was often faulty. Milton also wrote verse drama Samson Agonistes that combined poetic and personal appeal with intensity unequalled except in Dante’s.

During the eighteenth century, verse drama became an almost homely waif and several reasons became the cause of its decline. It had to face sheer rivalry with another genre of literature called novel. Only Dryden wrote drama in verse form. Rest of the dramatists wrote in prose. Nineteenth century was also not so strong in dramatic writings but still, William Wordsworth’s Boarderers and Shelley’s The Cenci are worth mentioning. The Cenci was a fine play taken from actual historical episode. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound is a real masterpiece, but lacked the body of real drama.

In late nineteenth century, poets like Browning, Tennyson, Swinburne and Matthew Arnold produced excessively bad literary sense through their works and almost all of their works were imitation of Greek classic drama. But during the twentieth century, verse drama came to bloom through certain literary minds. The two poetic dramatists who had great theatrical success are Stephen Phillips and Elroy Flecker Modern dramatists have attempted to infuse religious spirit in poetic drama and tried to establish relationship between God and Man. Religion has become the chief factor of modern poetic drama because they feel religion as the solution of modern complex problems. They have introduced Celtic mythology and Irish atmosphere in their plays.

Stephen Phillips, James Elroy Flecker, Laurence Binyon, John Masefield, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, John Drinkwater, John Davidson, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Symons, WB Yeats, John Millington Synge, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender are the chief dramatists writing in verse.

Chief Characteristics of Poetic Drama

Following are the chief characteristics of verse drama:

1.The pictorial quality and expressive sensuousness of poetic drama is vivid. In Macbeth, we are moved by Macbeth and his wife haunted by remorse and fear. We are also moved by Hamlet desperately trying to see his mother in sin and disloyalty. The images and language presented in a poetic drama make it intensely vivid and serves as the total image and the sense of distilled human reality we observe in it.

2. Intimate cooperation between dramatist and character is the heart of poetic drama. Unless the dramatist’s imagination warms the actor’s imagination, no theatrical experience can come out because then, nothing remains to share with the audience.

3. Poetry introduces sensory experience into drama which always remains abstract and along with that it interprets the action by setting it in a large context of moral and spiritual world.

4. The poetic dramatist must unite whole drama in a manner of analogous with music. This organic order coming from within not as technical order imposed from within is quite impossible to prose because poetry has greater scope and flexibility.

5. The poetic dramatist’s apprehension of experience is not ad hoc contrivance. The symbolic system of Ibsen’s prose style is mutually exclusive and the poetic world of Shakespeare’s plays, although they have different atmosphere, they belong to same planetary system

6. Religious attitude to human life is essential for writing a true verse drama. Except Auden and Isherwood, all the major poetic drama of the last thirty years have been religious to the core. The significant phase of poetic drama began when drama retreated to its origin inside the church. Then, from church, it moved to commercial theaters.

Like other kinds of drama, poetic drama should aim at entertaining the public. The Elizabethan drama aimed at general public which only wanted entertainment of a simple kind. But in the present times, the problems of contemporary life should be the leit-motif of poetic drama.

Poetic Dram Examples

Given below are some of the prominent literary examples:

Poetic Dramatists Name of Poetic Drama
William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream,

Romeo and Juliet

John Milton Samson Agonistes
William Wordsworth Boarderers
PB Shelley The Cenci
Stephen Phillips The King, Harod
James Elroy Flecker Hassan
John Masefield Good Friday,

A King’s Daughter

Wilfred Wilson Gibson Daily Bread,


John Drinkwater The Storm,

The God of Quiet

Thomas Hardy The Dynasts
W. B. Yeats The Shadowy Waters,

The King’s Threshold

John Millington Synge The Well of the Saints,

Riders to the Sea

T. S. Eliot Murder in Cathedral,

The Family Reunion

Rabindranath Tagore The Post Office, Muktadhara


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