Dramatic poetry is a form of theatrical expression that, in the European tradition, dates back to the ancient Greek dramas of Aristophanes, Sophocles and others. Although poetic verse is no longer widely used in modern drama, some of history's most renowned plays are in the form of dramatic poetry. Within this genre, there are different types of dramatic poems, including verse, monologues and closet dramas.
Dramatic poetry is essentially any poetic verse that is meant to be spoken as well as performed by actors in front of an audience. In early Greek drama, both comedies and tragedies were written in verse, as characters in these plays were usually gods or kings, who were expected to speak in a stylized and articulate manner befitting their station. Prior to the 19th century in the West, drama typically took the form of poetic verse. Playwrights such as William Shakespeare used verse as a medium that could communicate a more complex portrayal of a character's emotions and motivations than prose.
Dramatic verse can be found in any play or other form of dramatic work that is written in poetic form. Beyond its ancient Greek origins, dramatic verse was widely used in Britain during the Renaissance. Among the leading practitioners of this genre were English playwrights Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, who innovated the form substantially by developing new techniques in both poetic form and dramatic structure. Since the 19th century, there has been a decline in the popularity of dramatic verse as audiences became more accustomed to the prose dramas of playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen.
Sometime around 1800 the closet drama became fashionable. Closet dramas were written in verse form, but were meant to be read aloud, not performed by actors. The leading writers who worked in this form were Lord Byron with "Don Juan" and Percy Bysshe Shelley with "Prometheus Unbound." The 19th century also saw the rise of opera, in which verses were set to music and sung instead of merely recited. Closet drama also faded in popularity in the 20th century. In his 1960 collection of essays, "A Voice From the Attic," Canadian writer Robertson Davies describes closet drama as the "dreariest of literature."
While a dramatic monologue is written in verse, it is different from a poetic soliloquy found within a play, in which a character delivers a monologue in verse form though the rest of the play may be written in prose. The dramatic monologue was one of the favored forms of 19th-century British poet Robert Browning, whose works in this genre include "The Last Duchess" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." In Browning's dramatic monologues, a single narrator recites the poem in its entirety, interacting with specific people who are known to the audience only from clues within the verse.