Drama has no single definition and does not have a common meaning that can be applied to the wide range of texts, plays, acts, and various others that can be called drama. However, drama is “by far the most economical means of expression” (Esslin, 1976). The subjects expressed in drama are extensive and diverse and can be declared dramatically or subtly. A common and almost essential subject matter expressed in drama is the representation of social issues.
Drama can be manipulated and used as a powerful political weapon; as propaganda. Indeed, during periods such as war, cinema and theatre were used commonly as a form of propaganda in order to gain the attention and support of the public. Perhaps then, drama’s representation of social issues differs from that of propaganda only in the way drama is used. Propaganda’s representation of social issues is often limited because of it being censored, controlled, in the hands of mainly the government. Its purpose is to persuade and convince a targeted audience of a central idea. Nonetheless, it can reflect social issues such as poverty, war, famine, or perhaps equality, democracy, peace.
In Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, Ibsen is able to use this piece of drama as a tool to comment on social values and issues; these issues being about women and their place in a ‘double-standard society’. His message is subtle but strong. While this piece of drama represents a substantial social issue, it could also be used as propaganda to argue Ibsen’s views on women. Subsequently, Hedda Gabler, as a piece of drama representing social issues, differs only from the way propaganda may have represented it in that it is drama and its aim is to express not persuade. It also differs in the way it is used: as drama or as propaganda.
The diverse forms of drama are able to express many different themes and issues, including many different social issues. These include marriage, gender and sexual equality, politics, war, crime, racism and discrimination, poverty, religion, and class division. Drama is a universal form of expression and communication that can contribute to social changes by the issues it discusses. The social issues that drama represents can often be controversial and the author, playwright, or poet must try to either convince the audience of the argument they are trying to make or present the audience with a final idea or the issue itself causing them to truly reflect on it. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the greedy Jew Shylock suffers the hatred and injustice which Jews were treated with.
The play is able to represent the treatment of a racial minority and a significant social issue. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, represents social issues such as the position of women in a Victorian marriage, while in Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the social issue of prostitution is represented. Shakespeare wrote through Hamlet, that theatre holds “the mirror up to nature” however, Martin Esslin writes that it is society, rather, that theatre holds a mirror to. Drama is able to influence society greatly by the social issues it represents. While these issues may sometimes be controversial, the impact of drama is more immediate, direct, and powerful, contributing to great social change.
Propaganda is a certain form of message presentation usually aiming to persuade and convince an audience of an issue or idea. Sometimes it deliberately delivers false or deceiving information which supports the interests of those in power or those who are endeavoring to seize power while it may discredit those who abuse their power such as a corrupt government or simply an opposition group. Propaganda was commonly used in times of war or hardship. In this respect, it is able to represent social issues such as war, peace, poverty, or equality. However, propaganda’s representation of social issues is limited because it is a biased piece of information which only shows one side of an often multi-sided issue. One of the principal examples of propaganda was during the Nazi regime in Germany from 1933 to the end of World War Two.
The Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda sent out powerful propaganda in order to win the hearts and minds of the masses. This propaganda represented social issues such as discrimination and hatred towards the Jews, strong patriotism, anti-Communism, and national socialism. As this Nazi propaganda was extremely biased, it fails to represent other social issues such as the violence of the Nazi regime and the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem- their persecution and slaughter. Meanwhile, Chinese propaganda from the last two to three decades represents social issues such as loyalty to the Communist government while it fails to represent social issues like extreme poverty.
The social issues it represents are limited because it is biased. In Soviet Russia, propaganda represented political discipline and economic prosperity, and social issues such as a happy working society and national literacy to strengthen Communism. It does not represent social issues such as the class divisions, religion, and social differences and inequalities. As the aim of propaganda is to persuade, only one side of an argument will be shown. Therefore, propaganda’s representation of social issues will be limited because it depends on the purpose and the creator to decide to what extent social issues may be represented.
The way in which drama represents social issues may be different to that of propaganda, but drama can also be used as a form of propaganda. Drama in the form of theatre and cinema was used commonly as a propaganda tool in places like Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. The German plays and movies often had issues of anti-Semitism and the rule of the Aryan race. Propaganda films such as Triumph of the Will were aimed at the population of Germans who were considered Aryans, of the issue of anti-Semitism and the enemy the Jews were, while also reinforcing the purity of the Aryan race.
Another way drama has been used as propaganda has been through the ‘pageant’, one of the earliest forms of drama. The pageant is, in simplest terms, “a play on wheels”. However, in the United States in the 1900s, pageants were used to bring awareness to social issues in the form of propaganda. Silk workers went on strike in 1913 in New Jersey with the pageant exposing the strike and also gaining the attention of the media. Other strikes with similar purposes came to be known as the “Drama of Democracy”. They began to be used as political propaganda representing social issues such as work and wages, working conditions and hours. When drama is used as propaganda, its representation of social issues is limited in comparison to when it is simply drama. This is because drama and propaganda have different objectives and will represent the same thing differently.