But what is drama? Broadly speaking, it is whatever by imitative action rouses interest or gives pleasure. The earliest of the mediæval plays, the trope of the church in which the three Marys go to the tomb to find that Christ has risen, and make their way thence rejoicing, does not differentiate one Mary from another. The words, which were given to music, have only an expository value. Here, as through the ages succeeding, it is action, not characterization, however good, not dialogue for the sake of characterization or for its own sake, which counts. Of course, this very early drama is too bald and too simple to have value as literature. As the trope in the tenth to the thirteenth centuries adds to the episode of the Resurrection or the Nativity preliminary or continuing Biblical material, so story develops around the original episode. Almost inevitably, in order to make these differing episodes convincing, characterization appears, for, unless the people are unlike, some of the episodes could not occur. The dialogue ceases to be merely expository and begins to characterize each speaker. Later it comes to have charm, amusingness, wit, that is, quality of its own. When the drama attains a characterization which makes the play a revelation of human conduct and a dialogue which characterizes yet pleases for itself, we reach dramatic literature.

So, too, as time goes on, there develop the play of story, the play mainly of characterization, the play in which dialogue counts almost as much as plot or character, and the great masterpieces in which all these interests, plot, character, and dialogue are blended into a perfect whole. “The Duchess of Malfi”〖Harvard Classics, xlvii, 755ff.〗 of Webster is a story play which illustrates a change in public taste. For a modern reader, probably more interested in the character of the Duchess than in the story itself, the last act doubtless lacks the interest it had for its own public. In Johnson’s “Alchemist”〖H. C., xlvii, 543ff.〗 it is character mainly which interests us. In Sheridan’s “School for Scandal,”〖H. C., xviii, 109ff.〗 as in Congreve’s “Way of the World,” dialogue counts as much as character. In “Hamlet,” “Lear,” and “Macbeth”〖H. C., xlvi, 93, 215, 321.〗 there is a perfect union of story, characterization, and dialogue.

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