The term “drama” comes from the Greek word that means “action,” says professor Charles Burton Gulick in an article on Bartleby.com. The masks associated with dramas represent the earliest forms -- comedies and tragedies. The ancient Greeks used dramas to investigate their world and the essence of humanity, says PBS.org.

Early Comedies

Represented by the mask with a laughing face, Thalia is the ancient Greek muse of comedy, says theater professional T. Dawn Gatling-Coates. Comedies refer to satirical works that mock powerful individuals, works that are funny or dramas that have happy endings. Playwrights Aristophanes, Cratinus and Eupolis were the original masters of comedic dramas, reports AbleMedia.com. Early playwrights used their imaginations instead of myths to write comedies and incorporated choruses into their works. As comedies evolved, the playwrights injected less political satire and fewer choruses.

Examples of Comedies

While the works of Cratinus and Eupolis no longer exist, 11 of Aristophanes’ plays still survive. His works include “The Knights,” “The Frogs,” “Peace” and “Wealth.” The plays often include lewd jokes, self-mockery and satire related to politics and social norms. In the 1600s, English playwright William Shakespeare wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” "The Taming of the Shrew" and "As You Like It," among several other comedies. Later forms of comedy include the works of Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau and Bob Hope.

Tragedy and Loss

The mask of the weeping face is of the Greek muse Melpomene. In ancient Greek tragedies, the protagonist experiences a misfortune connected with his arrogant or foolish actions, AbleMedia.com explains. As the protagonist realizes the consequences of his actions, his situation becomes worse. The losses experienced may relate to pride, love, power or a relationship with the gods. While tragedies generally conclude with the protagonist’s suffering, some end with a more optimistic outlook. Early playwrights of dramatic tragedies include Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, whose works still survive.

Examples of Tragedies

Myths and works that honored the Greek god Dionysus were often the inspiration for early tragic dramas. It was common for ancient playwrights to compose the early tragedies as trilogies, such as “The Oresteia” by Aeschylus. It was common for ancient Roman playwrights, like Seneca, to model their tragedies after those written by Greeks. During the English Renaissance, Shakespeare wrote many tragedies, including the masterpieces "Macbeth," "King Lear" and “Romeo and Juliet.”