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Domestic Drama

Domestic Drama

The domestic drama is a genre that focuses on the dramatic stories of middle and lower-class people. Its advent in the 18th century marked an important shift in European society; bourgeois interests proved more dominant than those of the upper class.

The bourgeoisie is a term that describes the social middle and upper middle classes, which are characterised by their affluence and cultural influence.

We will explore more about the importance of domestic drama in this article, so keep reading!

Domestic drama: genre

Let's first consider the term's definition:

Domestic drama is a theatrical genre that explores the lives of "ordinary people" in the middle and lower classes. Usually, stories concern everyday problems, including issues of poverty, relationships, crime and sickness.

During the 18th century, there began a shift in the focus of dramatic stories. Where the theatre of the 17th century was epic and lofty, with high-class characters (i.e. nobles and aristocrats) and settings, the new century saw stories imbued with bourgeois realism, representing the lives of ordinary people on stage.

Realism, in literature, is a genre that seeks to truthfully represent subject matter, exploring familiar, everyday stories, settings and experiences.

By the 19th century, realism had become the primary mode of domestic dramas, which now had begun to explore more philosophical themes.

Bridging the gap between the 19th and the 20th century, the domestic drama was the incorporation of the philosophy of naturalism, which functioned similarly to realism but allowed for even more complexity in plot and characterisation.

Naturalism, in literature, is a movement that embraces objectivity in social commentary, emphasising observation, scientific methods, and detachment as methods of conveying reality in fiction. It began in the late 19th century.

During the 20th century, the genre became less homogenous, with more variations in the kinds of dramas being written and performed, making it harder to classify domestic dramas.

Increasingly, playwrights began using symbolism, which introduced more abstract representations of ideas, leaning away from the literary philosophies of realism and naturalism.

Symbolism is a literary device which uses objects, places, or people to represent an idea with a more profound meaning.

Modern domestic dramas follow on from this, expanding the ways in which these stories can be told. With less of a focus on realism, domestic plays now use a various array of literary and dramatic methods but still remain faithful to portraying the lives of ordinary people and societal issues.

Characteristics of domestic drama

Domestic drama can be classified by the incorporation of various characteristics. These include:

  • A story that focuses on 'ordinary' people from the middle or lower classes.

  • Everyday settings, with particular focus on the domestic sphere, i.e. within the home or familial unit.

  • Subject material concerning ordinary problems, such as family strife, economic injustices, poverty, or civil rights.

  • Linear structure with few time jumps.

  • A patriarchal figure, who represents order and power, upholding the structure of the family and society in general. Usually, domestic dramas present a confrontation involving this character, representing family turmoil and conflict.

  • Plain, unembellished language reflecting the realistic speech of ordinary subjects. Characters should speak as is appropriate to their environment and socio-economic status.

Domestic drama: examples

Now that we've established what a domestic drama is and what it contains, let's consider some examples in literature.

Domestic drama plays

Some of the most famous plays are domestic dramas. We will look at Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879) and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949).

A Doll's House

Perhaps the most renowned writer of domestic dramas was Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. His most famous work, 1879's A Doll's House, is an important work of the genre, embracing realism in its groundbreaking consideration of contemporary feminism.

The play focuses on Nora Helmer, an upper-middle-class married woman, as she considers her role as wife and mother, her relationship with her husband, Torvald, and how they might conflict with her true aspirations and desires.

Upon its premiere, the play caused great sensation and controversy, expanding beyond the world of theatre and bringing up questions about women's roles in the male-dominated, patriarchal 19th-century society. In Norway and most European countries during this time, women were not provided with many opportunities for financial independence or self-fulfilment; instead, they were encouraged to stay within the domestic sphere, remaining reliant on a husband.

This real-world issue is conveyed through the character of Nora, an 'ordinary' woman whose journey was able to reflect the struggles of many other women of the time.

Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller's 1949 play Death of a Salesman is a specific kind of domestic drama known as a domestic tragedy.

A domestic tragedy is a subgenre that incorporates classical tragic elements with a protagonist that belongs to the middle or working class rather than having high status.

The main character, Willy Loman, is an ailing travelling salesman, slowly descending further into mental instability and delusion. The play is largely set in the Loman home, involving Willy's wife, Linda, and his two sons, Biff and Happy.

The story retains elements of realism, focusing on economic and social issues prevalent in post-World War II America. However, in using a non-linear structure with flashbacks, Miller can represent Willy's mental instability and thereby consider more psychological, abstract themes.

Flashbacks are small scenes that are set in an earlier timeline than the present action.

Death of a Salesman is a great example of the modern domestic drama: it centres around ordinary people with commonplace lives, occupations and problems but uses various experimental, non-traditional techniques to express them. Miller's presentation of life is made more complex by dramatic illusions, which serve to confuse the audience in an attempt to recreate Willy's frame of mind.

Domestic Drama - Key takeaways

  • Domestic drama is a genre of drama that focuses on the lives of middle and working-class people.
  • Domestic dramas emerged during the 18th century.
  • Modern domestic dramas tend to incorporate more experimental techniques.
  • Some of the main characteristics of domestic dramas include: middle or working-class characters, a domestic setting and uncomplicated language.
  • Important examples of domestic dramas include A Doll's House and Death of a Salesman.

Frequently Asked Questions about Domestic Drama

A domestic drama is a drama that focuses on the lives and experiences of ordinary people. 

A domestic tragedy is a drama that incorporates classical tragic elements with a protagonist that belongs to the middle or working class, rather than having high status.

Heroic dramas usually follow epic journeys and include characters of extremely high status, exploring lofty ideas of honour, love and courage. 

Domestic dramas, on the other hand, present ordinary people with commonplace concerns and experiences.

Yes, domestic dramas are a genre of dramatic performance.

An example of a domestic drama is Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House.

Final Domestic Drama Quiz


What is a domestic drama?

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A dramatic genre that include characters from the middle or lower classes.

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During what century did the domestic drama develop?

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18th century

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What is realism?

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Realism is a literary movement that truthfully represents ordinary life and experiences in its subject matter.

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In what year was Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House published and performed?

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What is an example of a 20th century domestic drama?

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Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller

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Who is the main character of A Doll's House?

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Nora Helmer

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Who is the main character of Death of a Salesman?

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Willy Loman

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What is a domestic tragedy?

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A tragedy that includes a protagonist from the working or middle class.

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What is the bourgeoisie?

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The middle and upper-middle classes.

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What is naturalism?

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A literary movement that used scientific methods of observation to embrace objective presentations of reality.

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