“A composition in prose or verse portraying life or character by means of dialogue and action,” is Webster’s definition of drama. He goes on to distinguish plays as those for reading (known as closet dramas) and those meant for acting.
Drama had its beginning many hundreds of years ago, even before the birth of Christ. In its most primitive use, drama denotes “deed.” It has always had its place in the field of the arts, and is designated as a descriptive or pictorial art. Primitive drama was much like the folk tale, taking the place of the printed page.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Netherlands as well as the other European countries, produced many worthwhile dramas. Several of these plays were allegorical in nature, and therefore taught a lesson as well as entertaining the audience. One of the most outstanding of these plays was “Everyman”, a play dealing with sin and its results.
As early as the fifth century, the mass itself contained many dramatic elements. The clergy used drama, accompanied by liturgical music, to illustrate Gospel truths to the laity. Religious feasts, too, were dramatic in character.
Man is basically an imitative creature. When he sees a person doing something, he seeks to retell this event to someone else. Narration is sometimes insufficient to tell the whole story, and so he begins to use the appropriate gestures. So drama is basically only a way to relate things in a more artistic and efficient way.
Some say that drama is a lie since it declares something to be true which really is not so. But drama does not really do this. Drama is an art which pictures the true or the fictional. It is like the work of an artist or a sculptor. No one calls the artist a liar simply because he draws a picture of his wife and then tells someone — “That is my wife.” So we cannot condemn the actor who seeks to picture someone else.
Others will probably say, “But in drama you act out the sins of someone else.” Sin, we all know, is a thing of the heart. It is the purpose or intent of a thing that causes it to be sinful. The activities of the heart is a sphere of life which no actor can or can even attempt to portray. Thus, like the artist, the dramatist does not picture sin, but only the outward actions of a person.
Children, who are very natural in their expression, are basically dramatic in their play. Look at one of the most common children’s games, “London Bridges,” a game approved by everyone. Children have fun pretending that their arms are bridges which fall down on the heads of innocent victims.
Any teacher or parent can witness to the effectiveness of drama as a teaching device. What better way is there to impress the events of history on a child’s mind than by showing a film dealing with well-known historical figures? What more effective way of teaching the enjoyment of reading can one find than to have the children work out their simple stories in play form?
Many will be saying, “This is all very true in the past, but what about the corrupt drama of today? What about the motion picture, saturated with crime and sex, that presents the extremes as though they are the norm? What about the volumes of corrupt dramatic drivel that comes out of Hollywood each year? What about all the corrupt drama to be seen on television every day?
Of course, we all agree that this is not good. But it is merely a corrupt use of a good medium. Merely because some have misused the printed page, we do not condemn every future use of printed literature. Just because someone used a match to set a house afire, we do not condemn all further use of matches. And so, even though drama has been gravely misused by the wicked world, we need not necessarily condemn drama in itself. On the contrary, this misuse of a good means should challenge us as Reformed people to seek to improve the use of drama. We must join in the cause of bettering drama and using it, like all other things, to further the Kingdom of God.