Dramatic Poetry: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Dramatic Poetry Defined
  • 1:43 Examples of Dramatic Poetry
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Do you really like poetry, but wish someone else would read it to you? Then look no further than dramatic poetry! Come explore some examples of the dying art of dramatic verse in this lesson.

How It All Started: Dramatic Poetry Defined

Do you recall any of Shakespeare's plays? If so, you may also remember that they were composed in what's called blank verse. The works of Shakespeare are probably some of the most easily recognizable examples of dramatic poetry, which is any dramatic work written in lines of verse. Nevertheless, Shakespeare's examples are by far not the earliest.

Although this literary form has greatly dropped out of use since the 19th century, dramatic poetry is not only the precursor to drama as we know it today, but also one of the earliest forms of any Western literature. Along with epic poetry, dramatic poetry had its literary origins in Greece, where in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., drama was first invented in Athens as part of a celebration dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. The earliest dramatic poetry was performed at the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

Aeschylus, the Athenian soldier-poet, is often credited with having developed tragedy as an art form from the choral singing contests that were always a part of the Dionysian festival. Greek hymns and other songs were, like epic poetry, written in metered lines, so as these tunes evolved into lines of dramatic dialogue, the measured quality of the poetry remained.

Dramatic poetry as a literary form remained popular from the Classical period, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However, there has been a steady decline in dramatic poetry in favor of the now more common prose we find in plays and other dramatic works. Even so, there have still been examples since the Renaissance. Let's discuss a few of them.

Examples of Dramatic Poetry

Doctor Faustus

A close contemporary of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe also wrote plays in blank verse, or generally unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Probably first performed in the early 1590s, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is the most classic tale of dealing with the Devil - most likely adapted from legends surrounding a 15th-century German dealer in the occult. The term Faustian pact, meaning a deal with the Devil, gained much of its prevalence from the works of Marlowe and Johann Goethe.

Prometheus Unbound

Published in 1820 by Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound is what is known as a closet drama, meaning it was meant to be read or recited privately rather than performed. Shelley was inspired by the Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus, who is enslaved after bringing fire to humanity. The Romans may have inspired Shelley as well: some consider Seneca the Younger, a Roman playwright of the 1st century A.D., to be the first writer of these non-production plays.

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