What’s the difference between a dramatic performance and a dramatic text?


Drama as text

A dramatic text can be defined in a variety of different ways. Aristotle suggested that dramas were forms of poetry that required written literary texts and performed actions. However, dramas can also be viewed as texts or performances. A written literary dramatic text can be viewed as a piece of literature that exists separately from the actions or images used to perform a text. In western traditions of drama, literary dramatic texts are often identified as plays and these texts can form the basis of the scripts used and presented by performers. While plays may explore and describe various kinds of human actions through carefully constructed literary and poetic forms, they need not always be poetic or refer to ‘real’ or even ‘human’ events, activities, languages or images. While written dramatic texts are usually regarded as literary texts that are composed for performance, written texts that have not been composed for performance may also be identified as dramatic if they refer to or include action.

Examples: Shakespeare’s plays eg. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Verbatim Theatre



Fischer-Lichte, E. The Semiotics of Theater. Bloomington, Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1992.

Drama as performance

Dramatic performances can be simply defined as actions that are performed for audiences. Traditionally, dramas have been viewed as written texts that describe actions that can be performed by actors for an audience in some kind of theatre. But, while a dramatic performance usually requires an audience and/or an action of some kind, it is not confined to a theatre (consider film) and does not necessarily require written texts (consider improvisation) or actors (consider puppetry). Although not dependent on written texts, a dramatic performance can still be described as a text because it constructs meaning through the selection of different kinds of actions and representations. Using various kinds of media such as film, television, theatre, mime, dance, movement, spatial arrangements, visual imagery and sound, a multitude of meanings can be constructed. For example, in a theatrical dramatic performance, visual, somatic or auditory texts may be enacted according to many different designs that have been created for a particular production by a director, choreographer, lighting designer, sound designer, costume designer or set designer. As various cultures develop new technologies and new understandings of human art and actions, the possibilities associated with the production of dramatic performances are bound to expand.

Examples: Commedia Del’Arte, Physical Theatre, Performance Art


Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon, 1964.

Campbell, Patrick, ed. Analysing Performance: A Critical Reader. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1996.

Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. New York; London: Routledge, 1996.

de Marinis, Marco. The Semiotics of Performance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993.


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