Problem Play – A Form of Drama .

The term “drama” comes from a Greek word meaning “action” .

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on radio or television.

A problem play is a type of drama .
As the name suggests, problem play discusses problems openly in the form of play in theatre or stage.
It is a drama built around a specific problem. The problem is generally of a sociological nature.
Problems such as prostitution, inadequate housing, unemployment, labour unrest, etc. are mostly found as major subject matter of the play .
It examines a specific social or political problem with the aim of igniting public debate.

It was established in France in the 19th century to deal with controversial social issues in a realistic manner openly to the audience.
It flourished in England in the period between the last years of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth.

It deals with the social problems or ills through debates between the characters on stage, exposing the conflicting points of view within a realistic social context.

According to Albert Guerated ,
” The problem play is the presentation of a contemporary question through realistic techniques”

The dramatists of the problem play were preoccupied with the vital problem of contemporary life and morality and the drama which was directly inspired by the society of the time could be effective only if it adopts a realistic form or medium.


The beginning of the problem play was introduced into England towards the end of the nineteenth century by Henry Arthur Jones & and Sir A. W. Pinero .
Towards the end of the 19th century the English
society started feeling the need of something new and refreshing
on the stage and therefore the start of problem play began .

Pinero’s most popular play is The Second Mrs Tanqueray which deals with the marriage of “a woman with a past.

G. B. Shaw and Galsworthy took the problem play to its height in the twentieth century.

G.B Shaw plays ,
Houses, Mrs.Warren’s Profession ,Arms and the Man and many
other plays are concerned ,as the writer saw it, less with the
crimes of society, and more with its romantic follies and with the
struggles of the individuals against these follies.

Some other examples of problem play are :-

The earliest forms work of Alexandre Dumas, dealt with the subject of prostitution in The Lady of the Camellias.

Shakespeare ‘s All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cresside written between the late 1590s and the first years of the seventeenth century:
These plays are difficult to classify because their sombre themes and cynical tones contrast oddly with their comedic elements, and the moral issues raised are not satisfactorily resolved.

Ibsen’s plays are mostly problem plays.
His works usually concentrated on the moral dilemmas of a central character which dealt with a social problem such as in A Doll’s House (1879), sexually-transmitted disease in Ghosts (1882) and provincial greed in An Enemy of the People (1882).

In America the problem play was associated with the emergence of debates over civil rights issues. Racial issues were tackled in plays such as Angelina Weld Grimké’s, Rachel

Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession (1902), examining attitudes towards prostitution; and Galsworthy’s Justice (1910), exposing the cruelties of solitary confinement and the legal system.

Some plays by later writers such as A. Wesker, J. McGrath, Caryl Churchill, H. Brenton, and D. Hare also raises contemporary issues, in the form of problem play.


The problem play is also termed as “thesis play,” or “discussion play “ .
As the play discusses the social ill and opens a room for discussion over certain important topics for the audience.
Using the serious subjects it brings to life some contemporary controversy of the public,by creating a somewhat simplistic, didactic thesis with the audience .

The problem play is sometimes called “the propaganda play,” for the obvious reason that its intent is overtly didactic and propagandist.

Problem play or a play of ideas deals with a particular social or
moral problem related to love, marriage, sex, war, peace, justice
or crime etc. and tries to suggest a solution to it. It profusely
takes the recourse of wit, intellect, materialism and realism. A
problem play finally opposes and rejects all types of narrowness,
confusion and falsehood, and adheres to the principles of
equality, freedom or justice .

Scoffing at the romantic
view of life the new genre of drama examined the social institutions and social ills .
Slum landlords, prostitution, marriage conventions ,social prejudices,
romanticized soldier, glamorous historical figure, medical
profession, critics, religion- these are but some of the people
and things which come under the major theme of problem plays during the 19th & 20 th century .

Many dramatists used problem play for the theme of socialist and socialism.

The problem play is supposed to have arisen out of sentimental drama of the nineteenth century and has often been identified with ‘serious drama ‘ ; a dramatic form distinctly serious but not tragic that aims at presenting the real life problems using fiction on a realistic level.


Referral link :- Shakespeare’s problem plays. G.B Shaw ‘s Play