Drama or dramatic literature. A literary genre. In the wide sense drama is the depiction of certain actions through monologues or through dialogues between dramatic personae. In the narrower sense drama is merely a genre of dramatic literature among other genres such as tragedy, comedy, melodrama, pantomime, and farce.
Contemporary Ukrainian drama, like Western European drama (except medieval mystery plays), is of Greek origin. In Old Ukrainian literature only certain elements of the dramatic style can be found: dialogues in the sermons of Cyril of Turiv, such as the dispute between the soul and the flesh in his tale ‘The Blindman and the Cripple.’ The history of Ukrainian dramatic literature begins with school drama at the end of the 16th century. Several dozen texts from the 17th–18th century, exemplifying various types of drama—dialogues, morality plays, mystery plays, and ordinary theatrical plays on the lives of saints—have survived. The beginnings of comedy can be traced to the intermede or interlude of this period. Among the noted playwrights of the time were Ioanykii Volkovych, Dymytrii Tuptalo, Mytrofan Dovhalevsky, Teofan Prokopovych, Varlaam Lashchevsky, and Heorhii Konysky. This Ukrainian drama had a great influence on the development of Russian and South Slavic dramatic literature.
Modern Ukrainian literature of the 19th century produced classicist drama of a sentimental type. Its first representative was Ivan Kotliarevsky, whose plays Natalka Poltavka (Natalka from Poltava) and Moskal’-charivnyk (The Soldier-Sorcerer) display the typical features of classicist poetics on the one hand and, in keeping with the spirit of national rebirth of the period, an interest in the common people on the other. The latter element accounts for Natalka Poltavka's popularity to the present day and its influence on the development of dramatic literature in the 19th century. Vasyl Hohol-Yanovsky's Prostak (The Boor) and Sobaka ta vivtsia (The Dog and the Sheep) and Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko's Svatannia na Honcharivtsi (Betrothal in Honcharivka) and Shel’menko-denshchyk (Shelmenko the Orderly) are other examples of classicist drama.
The romantic period is represented by Mykola Kostomarov's plays Sava Chalyi and Pereiaslavs’ka nich (Pereiaslav Night). They were greatly influenced by William Shakespeare and partly by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. Lacking theatrical quality, these plays left no mark on the further development of Ukrainian drama. A more popular play of this period, owing to its rich ethnographic content, was Taras Shevchenko's Nazar Stodolia.
Ukrainian drama attained a particularly high level of development in the second half of the 19th century, in the period of realism. Mykhailo Starytsky's populist-realist plays, which tended to be melodramatic, combined romanticism with common-life realism. He wrote Ne tak stalosia, iak zhadalosia (It Did Not Happen as Was Desired); plays on borrowed themes: Tsyhanka Aza (Aza, the Gypsy Girl) and Oi, ne khody, Hrytsiu (Don't Go to Parties, Hryts); historical plays: Ostannia nich (The Last Night), Marusia Bohuslavka, Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyi, Oborona Bushi (The Defense of Busha); and reworkings of plays by other authors: Chornomortsi (The Black Sea Cossacks), Za dvoma zaitsiamy (Chasing Two Hares), Kruty, ta ne perekruchui (Twist, but Don't Lie). Another playwright who combined elements of romanticism and melodrama with ethnographic realism was Marko Kropyvnytsky. Among his many plays the most popular were Dai sertsiu voliu—zavede v nevoliu (Give the Heart Free Reign and It Will Lead You into Slavery), Doky sontse ziide—rosa ochi vyist’ (Before the Sun Rises the Dew Will Consume the Eyes), and Hlytai, abozh pavuk (The Profiteer, or the Spider). The greatest Ukrainian dramatist of the 19th century, Ivan Karpenko-Kary, began as an author of romantic plays—Bondarivna (The Cooper's Daughter), Palyvoda 18 st. (A Madcap of the 18th Century), Chumaky (The Chumaks), and Sava Chalyi—and turned gradually to realist-populist plays—Burlaka (The Homeless Wanderer), Ponad Dniprom (Along the Dnieper), Naimychka (The Servant Maid), and Beztalanna (The Hapless Girl). His work culminated in the realistic, socially critical, and profoundly psychological plays of his later period: Martyn Borulia, Sto tysiach (A Hundred Thousand), Suieta (Vanity), and particularly Khaziain (The Farmer), which marks the peak of realism as well as the transition to modern drama. The dramas of Ivan Franko and Panas Myrny belong basically to realism.
Volodymyr Vynnychenko became a very popular playwright in the period of modernism. Rejecting the populist realism of his predecessors, he concentrated on the psychological and moral problems that concerned the intelligentsia between the two revolutions (1905–17). His best dramas were Shchabli zhyttia (The Steps of Life), Memento, Velykyi Molokh (The Great Moloch), Chorna pantera i bilyi vedmid’ (The Black Panther and White Bear), and Brekhnia (The Lie).
Less typical of the modernist period were the romantic dramas of Spyrydon Cherkasenko—Pro shcho tyrsa shelestila (What the Grass Rustled about), Kazka staroho mlyna (Tale of the Old Mill)—and the historical dramas of Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska—Hetman Petro Doroshenko, Rozbiinyk Karmeliuk (The Brigand Karmeliuk), Ivan Mazepa. The dramas of Lesia Ukrainka, in which her creativity attains its fullest expression, were novel and unique. In her dramas in verse, dialogues, and dramas she reached out beyond the populist subjects of the former period to biblical and classical antiquity and treated themes that are often found in the classics of world literature in an original manner (Kaminnyi hospodar [The Stone Host]). She wrote about the eternal questions of human existence, such as spiritual freedom and the struggle against slavery, with unusual earnestness and passion. Even Lisova pisnia (The Forest Song), which is wholly based on folklore materials, although influenced by G. Hauptmann's Die versunkene Glocke in subject and composition, deals in symbolic images with the eternal questions.
In the Soviet period some Ukrainian dramatists, such as Ivan Mykytenko and later Oleksander Korniichuk, adapted to the official Party line, while others, such as Mykola Kulish, sought an independent solution to the Ukrainian national problem and an individual philosophical approach to life. Kulish is the outstanding Ukrainian dramatist of the 20th century. He began his career depicting the revolution in the villages in 97 and Komuna v stepakh (A Commune in the Steppes). Then he raised the nationality question (in the comedy Myna Mazailo) and condemned the Bolshevik revolution as antinational in Narodnyi Malakhii (The People's Malakhii) and attained an artistic generalization of the struggle for Ukrainian independence in the heroic image of Maryna in Patetychna sonata (The Sonata Pathétique). At the beginning of the 1930s, however, terror and political repression were invoked to force writers to serve the Party and the Soviet dictatorship. Kulish died in exile. Another excellent dramatist of the period, Ivan Kocherha, turned from originally structured, philosophical plays such as Maistry chasu (Masters of Time) and Pidesh—ne verneshsia (If You Go, You'll Never Return) to historical subjects. The leading dramatist at the beginning of the 1930s was Mykytenko, whose plays—Dyktatura (Dictatorship), Kadry (Cadres), Sprava chesty (A Question of Honor), Divchata nashoï kraïny (The Girls of Our Country)—served as propaganda for the then-current Party policy. Mykytenko was liquidated in 1937, but Korniichuk continued to write in this vein. He became popular through his play Zahybel’ eskadry (The Destruction of a Squadron). Korniichuk's dramas depicted the ‘positive’ ideal of the Soviet man in a one-dimensional manner (Platon Krechet) or served as illustrations of Party resolutions—V stepakh Ukraïny (In the Steppes of Ukraine), Kryla (Wings), and many others. A middle line between opposition and servility was taken by Yakiv Mamontov, Ivan Dniprovsky, and others. The next generation of dramatists, which began to write in the 1930s (Liubomyr Dmyterko, Yakiv Bash, Vasyl Mynko, Yaroslav Halan, Oleksander Levada, etc) followed the official Party line without the slightest deviation. In the 1960s and 1970s many young dramatists appeared in print, the most talented being Oleksii Kolomiiets and Mykola Ya. Zarudny. Writers who have made their name in other genres have also turned to drama—the poets Ivan Drach, Platon Voronko, Liubov Zabashta, and Oleksander Pidsukha and the prose writers Pavlo Zahrebelny, Yurii Zbanatsky, Yurii Mushketyk, and many others. All later Soviet Ukrainian playwrights up until the early 1980s observed the standards of socialist realism, and there were no impressive individuals among them as there were in the 1920s and at the beginning of the 1930s.
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984). The bibliography has been updated.]
Encyclopedia of Ukraine