Western drama originates in classical Greece. The theatrical culture of the city-state of Athens produced three genres of drama: tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play. Their origins remain obscure, though by the 5th century BCE they were institutionalised in competitions held as part of festivities celebrating the god Dionysus. Historians know the names of many ancient Greek dramatists, not least Thespis, who is credited with the innovation of an actor ("hypokrites") who speaks (rather than sings) and impersonates a character (rather than speaking in his own person), while interacting with the chorus and its leader ("coryphaeus"), who were a traditional part of the performance of non-dramatic poetry (dithyrambic, lyric and epic).
Only a small fraction of the work of five dramatists, however, has survived to this day: we have a small number of complete texts by the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the comic writers Aristophanes and, from the late 4th century, Menander. Aeschylus' historical tragedy The Persians is the oldest surviving drama, although when it won first prize at the City Dionysia competition in 472 BCE, he had been writing plays for more than 25 years. The competition ("agon") for tragedies may have begun as early as 534 BCE; official records ("didaskaliai") begin from 501 BCE when the satyr play was introduced. Tragic dramatists were required to present a tetralogy of plays (though the individual works were not necessarily connected by story or theme), which usually consisted of three tragedies and one satyr play (though exceptions were made, as with Euripides' Alcestis in 438 BCE). Comedy was officially recognized with a prize in the competition from 487 to 486 BCE.
Five comic dramatists competed at the City Dionysia (though during the Peloponnesian War this may have been reduced to three), each offering a single comedy. Ancient Greek comedy is traditionally divided between "old comedy" (5th century BCE), "middle comedy" (4th century BCE) and "new comedy" (late 4th century to 2nd BCE).
Following the expansion of the Roman Republic (509–27 BCE) into several Greek territories between 270–240 BCE, Rome encountered Greek drama. From the later years of the republic and by means of the Roman Empire (27 BCE-476 CE), theatre spread west across Europe, around the Mediterranean and reached England; Roman theatre was more varied, extensive and sophisticated than that of any culture before it.
While Greek drama continued to be performed throughout the Roman period, the year 240 BCE marks the beginning of regular Roman drama. From the beginning of the empire, however, interest in full-length drama declined in favour of a broader variety of theatrical entertainments. The first important works of Roman literature were the tragedies and comedies that Livius Andronicus wrote from 240 BCE. Five years later, Gnaeus Naevius also began to write drama. No plays from either writer have survived. While both dramatists composed in both genres, Andronicus was most appreciated for his tragedies and Naevius for his comedies; their successors tended to specialise in one or the other, which led to a separation of the subsequent development of each type of drama.
By the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, drama was firmly established in Rome and a guild of writers (collegium poetarum) had been formed. The Roman comedies that have survived are all fabula palliata (comedies based on Greek subjects) and come from two dramatists: Titus Maccius Plautus (Plautus) and Publius Terentius Afer (Terence). In re-working the Greek originals, the Roman comic dramatists abolished the role of the chorus in dividing the drama into episodes and introduced musical accompaniment to its dialogue (between one-third of the dialogue in the comedies of Plautus and two-thirds in those of Terence). The action of all scenes is set in the exterior location of a street and its complications often follow from eavesdropping.
Plautus, the more popular of the two, wrote between 205 and 184 BCE and twenty of his comedies survive, of which his farces are best known; he was admired for the wit of his dialogue and his use of a variety of poetic meters. All of the six comedies that Terence wrote between 166 and 160 BCE have survived; the complexity of his plots, in which he often combined several Greek originals, was sometimes denounced, but his double-plots enabled a sophisticated presentation of contrasting human behaviour. No early Roman tragedy survives, though it was highly regarded in its day; historians know of three early tragedians—Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pacuvius, and Lucius Accius.
From the time of the empire, the work of two tragedians survives—one is an unknown author, while the other is the Stoic philosopher Seneca. Nine of Seneca's tragedies survive, all of which are fabula crepidata (tragedies adapted from Greek originals); his Phaedra, for example, was based on Euripides' Hippolytus. Historians do not know who wrote the only extant example of the fabula praetexta (tragedies based on Roman subjects), Octavia, but in former times it was mistakenly attributed to Seneca due to his appearance as a character in the tragedy.
Beginning in the early Middle Ages, churches staged dramatised versions of biblical events, known as liturgical dramas, to enliven annual celebrations. The earliest example is the Easter trope Whom do you Seek? (Quem-Quaeritis) (c. 925). Two groups would sing responsively in Latin, though no impersonation of characters was involved. By the 11th century, it had spread through Europe to Russia, Scandinavia, and Italy; only Muslim-occupied Spain was excluded.
In the 10th century, Hrosvitha wrote six plays in Latin modeled on Terence's comedies, but which treated religious subjects. Her plays are the first known to be composed by a female dramatist and the first identifiable Western drama of the post-Classical era. Later, Hildegard of Bingen wrote a musical drama, Ordo Virtutum (c. 1155).
One of the most famous of the early secular plays is the courtly pastoral Robin and Marion, written in the 13th century in French by Adam de la Halle. The Interlude of the Student and the Girl (c. 1300), one of the earliest known in English, seems to be the closest in tone and form to the contemporaneous French farces, such as The Boy and the Blind Man.
A large number of plays survive from France and Germany in the late Middle Ages, when some type of religious drama was performed in nearly every European country. Many of these plays contained comedy, devils, villains, and clowns. In England, trade guilds began to perform vernacular "mystery plays," which were composed of long cycles of a large number of playlets or "pageants," of which four are extant: York (48 plays), Chester (24), Wakefield (32) and the so-called "N-Town" (42). The Second Shepherds' Play from the Wakefield cycle is a farcical story of a stolen sheep that its protagonist, Mak, tries to pass off as his new-born child asleep in a crib; it ends when the shepherds from whom he has stolen are summoned to the Nativity of Jesus.
Morality plays (a modern term) emerged as a distinct dramatic form around 1400 and flourished into the early Elizabethan era in England. The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1400—1425) depicts an archetypal figure's progress from birth through to death. Horestes (c. 1567), a late "hybrid morality" and one of the earliest examples of an English revenge play, brings together the classical story of Orestes with a Vice from the medieval allegorical tradition, alternating comic, slapstick scenes with serious, tragic ones. Also important in this period were the folk dramas of the Mummers Play, performed during the Christmas season. Court masques were particularly popular during the reign of Henry VIII.
One of the great flowerings of drama in England occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of these plays were written in verse, particularly iambic pentameter. In addition to Shakespeare, such authors as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, and Ben Jonson were prominent playwrights during this period. As in the medieval period, historical plays celebrated the lives of past kings, enhancing the image of the Tudor monarchy. Authors of this period drew some of their storylines from Greek mythology and Roman mythology or from the plays of eminent Roman playwrights such as Plautus and Terence.
Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in England during the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. Comedy of manners is used as a synonym of Restoration comedy. After public theatre had been banned by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 with the Restoration of Charles II signalled a renaissance of English drama. Restoration comedy is known for its sexual explicitness, urbane, cosmopolitan wit, up-to-the-minute topical writing, and crowded and bustling plots. Its dramatists stole freely from the contemporary French and Spanish stage, from English Jacobean and Caroline plays, and even from Greek and Roman classical comedies, combining the various plotlines in adventurous ways. Resulting differences of tone in a single play were appreciated rather than frowned on, as the audience prized "variety" within as well as between plays. Restoration comedy peaked twice. The genre came to spectacular maturity in the mid-1670s with an extravaganza of aristocratic comedies. Twenty lean years followed this short golden age, although the achievement of the first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn, in the 1680s is an important exception. In the mid-1690s, a brief second Restoration comedy renaissance arose, aimed at a wider audience. The comedies of the golden 1670s and 1690s peak times are significantly different from each other.
The unsentimental or "hard" comedies of John Dryden, William Wycherley, and George Etherege reflected the atmosphere at Court and celebrated with frankness an aristocratic macho lifestyle of unremitting sexual intrigue and conquest. The Earl of Rochester, real-life Restoration rake, courtier and poet, is flatteringly portrayed in Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676) as a riotous, witty, intellectual, and sexually irresistible aristocrat, a template for posterity's idea of the glamorous Restoration rake (actually never a very common character in Restoration comedy). The single play that does most to support the charge of obscenity levelled then and now at Restoration comedy is probably Wycherley's masterpiece The Country Wife (1675), whose title contains a lewd pun and whose notorious "china scene" is a series of sustained double entendres.
During the second wave of Restoration comedy in the 1690s, the "softer" comedies of William Congreve and John Vanbrugh set out to appeal to more socially diverse audience with a strong middle-class element, as well as to female spectators. The comic focus shifts from young lovers outwitting the older generation to the vicissitudes of marital relations. In Congreve's Love for Love (1695) and The Way of the World (1700), the give-and-take set pieces of couples testing their attraction for one another have mutated into witty prenuptial debates on the eve of marriage, as in the latter's famous "Proviso" scene. Vanbrugh's The Provoked Wife (1697) has a light touch and more humanly recognisable characters, while The Relapse (1696) has been admired for its throwaway wit and the characterisation of Lord Foppington, an extravagant and affected burlesque fop with a dark side. The tolerance for Restoration comedy even in its modified form was running out by the end of the 17th century, as public opinion turned to respectability and seriousness even faster than the playwrights did. At the much-anticipated all-star première in 1700 of The Way of the World, Congreve's first comedy for five years, the audience showed only moderate enthusiasm for that subtle and almost melancholy work. The comedy of sex and wit was about to be replaced by sentimental comedy and the drama of exemplary morality.
The pivotal and innovative contributions of the 19th-century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and the 20th-century German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht dominate modern drama; each inspired a tradition of imitators, which include many of the greatest playwrights of the modern era. The works of both playwrights are, in their different ways, both modernist and realist, incorporating formal experimentation, meta-theatricality, and social critique. In terms of the traditional theoretical discourse of genre, Ibsen's work has been described as the culmination of "liberal tragedy", while Brecht's has been aligned with an historicised comedy.
Other important playwrights of the modern era include Antonin Artaud, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, Frank Wedekind, Maurice Maeterlinck, Federico García Lorca, Eugene O'Neill, Luigi Pirandello, George Bernard Shaw, Ernst Toller, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Dario Fo, Heiner Müller, and Caryl Churchill.
The earliest form of Indian drama was the Sanskrit drama. Between the 1st century CE and the 10th was a period of relative peace in the history of India during which hundreds of modern plays were written. With the Islamic conquests that began in the 10th and 11th centuries, theatre was discouraged or forbidden entirely. Later, in an attempt to re-assert indigenous values and ideas, village theatre was encouraged across the subcontinent, developing in a large number of regional languages from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Modern Indian theatre developed during the period of colonial rule under the British Empire, from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th.
The earliest-surviving fragments of Sanskrit drama date from the 1st century CE. The wealth of archeological evidence from earlier periods offers no indication of the existence of a tradition of theatre. The ancient Vedas (hymns from between 1500 and 1000 BCE that are among the earliest examples of literature in the world) contain no hint of it (although a small number are composed in a form of dialogue) and the rituals of the Vedic period do not appear to have developed into theatre. The Mahābhāṣya by Patañjali contains the earliest reference to what may have been the seeds of Sanskrit drama. This treatise on grammar from 140 BCE provides a feasible date for the beginnings of theatre in India.
The major source of evidence for Sanskrit theatre is A Treatise on Theatre (Nātyaśāstra), a compendium whose date of composition is uncertain (estimates range from 200 BCE to 200 CE) and whose authorship is attributed to Bharata Muni. The Treatise is the most complete work of dramaturgy in the ancient world. It addresses acting, dance, music, dramatic construction, architecture, costuming, make-up, props, the organisation of companies, the audience, competitions, and offers a mythological account of the origin of theatre.
Its drama is regarded as the highest achievement of Sanskrit literature. It utilised stock characters, such as the hero (nayaka), heroine (nayika), or clown (vidusaka). Actors may have specialised in a particular type. It was patronized by the kings as well as village assemblies. Famous early playwrights include Bhasa, Kalidasa (famous for Vikrama and Urvashi, Malavika and Agnimitra, and The Recognition of Shakuntala), Śudraka (famous for The Little Clay Cart), Asvaghosa, Daṇḍin, and Emperor Harsha (famous for Nagananda, Ratnavali, and Priyadarsika). Śakuntalā (in English translation) influenced Goethe's Faust (1808–1832).
Rabindranath Tagore was a pioneering modern playwright who wrote plays noted for their exploration and questioning of nationalism, identity, spiritualism and material greed. His plays are written in Bengali and include Chitra (Chitrangada, 1892), The King of the Dark Chamber (Raja, 1910), The Post Office (Dakghar, 1913), and Red Oleander (Raktakarabi, 1924). Girish Karnad is a noted playwright, who has written a number of plays that use history and mythology, to critique and problematize ideas and ideals that are of contemporary relevance. Karnad's numerous plays such as Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Taledanda, and Naga-Mandala are significant contributions to Indian drama. Vijay Tendulkar and Mahesh Dattani are amongst the major Indian playwrights of the 20th century. Mohan Rakesh in Hindi and Danish Iqbal in Urdu are considered architects of new age Drama. Mohan Rakesh's Aadhe Adhoore and Danish Iqbal's 'Dara Shikoh' are considered modern classics.
Urdu Drama evolved from the prevailing dramatic traditions of North India shaping Rahas or Raas as practiced by exponents like Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. His dramatic experiments led to the famous Inder Sabha of Amanat and later this tradition took the shape of Parsi Theatre. Agha Hashr Kashmiri is the culmination of this tradition.
In some way or other, Urdu theatre tradition has greatly influenced modern Indian theatre. Among all the languages Urdu (which was called Hindi by early writers), along with Gujrati, Marathi, and Bengali theatres have kept flourishing and demand for its writers and artists has not subsided by the drama aficionados. For Urdu drama, no place is better than Bombay Film industry otherwise known as Hindi film industry. All the early gems of Urdu Theatre (performed by Parsi Companies) were made into films. Urdu Dramatic tradition has been a spectator’s delight since 100 years and counting.
Drama as a theme is made up of several elements. It focuses on life and different aspects of it. The thing to be noticed here is that drama on stage imitates drama in life. It has been said that there has always been a mutual relationship between theatre and real life. Great historical personalities like Shakespeare have influenced Modern Urdu tradition to a large extent when Indian, Iranian, Turkish stories and folk was adapted for stage with heavy doses of Urdu poetry. In modern times writers like Imtiaz Ali Taj, Rafi Peer, Krishan Chander, Manto, Upender Nath Ashk, Ghulam Rabbani, Prof. Mujeeb and many others shaped this tradition.
While Prof Hasan, Ghulam Jeelani, J.N,Kaushal, Shameem Hanfi, Jameel Shaidayi, etc. belong to the old generation, contemporary writers like Danish Iqbal, Sayeed Alam, Shahid Anwar, Iqbal Niyazi, and Anwar are a few postmodern playwrights actively contributing in the field of Urdu Drama.
Sayeed Alam is known for his wit and humour and more particularly for Plays like 'Ghalib in New Delhi', 'Big B' and many other gems which are regularly staged for massive turn out of theatre lovers. Maulana Azad is his magnum opus both for its content and style.
Danish Iqbal's play about 'Dara Shikoh' directed by M. S. Sathyu is considered a modern classic for the use of newer theatre techniques and contemporary perspective. His other plays are 'Sahir' on the famous lyricist and revolutionary poet. 'Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam' is another play written by Danish which is basically a Celebration of the Faiz's poetry, featuring events from the early part of his life, particularly the events and incidents of pre-partition days which shaped his life and ideals. 'Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan' – another play inspired from Faiz's letters written from various jails during the Rawalpindi Conspiracy days. He has written 14 other plays including 'Dilli Jo Ek Shehr Thaa' and 'Main Gaya Waqt Nahin hoon'. Shahid's 'Three B' is also a significant play. He has been associated with many groups like 'Natwa' and others. Zaheer Anwar has kept the flag of Urdu theatre flying in Kolkata. Unlike the writers of previous generation Sayeed, Shahid, Danish Iqbal and Zaheer do not write bookish plays but their work is a product of vigorous performing tradition. Iqbal Niyazi of Mumbai has written several plays in Urdu, his play "AUR KITNE JALYANWALA BAUGH?" won a National award other awards. Hence this is the only generation after Amanat and Agha Hashr who actually write for stage and not for libraries.
Chinese theatre has a long and complex history. Today it is often called Chinese opera although this normally refers specifically to the popular form known as Beijing opera and Kunqu; there have been many other forms of theatre in China, such as zaju.
Japanese Nō drama is a serious dramatic form that combines drama, music, and dance into a complete aesthetic performance experience. It developed in the 14th and 15th centuries and has its own musical instruments and performance techniques, which were often handed down from father to son. The performers were generally male (for both male and female roles), although female amateurs also perform Nō dramas. Nō drama was supported by the government, and particularly the military, with many military commanders having their own troupes and sometimes performing themselves. It is still performed in Japan today.
Kyōgen is the comic counterpart to Nō drama. It concentrates more on dialogue and less on music, although Nō instrumentalists sometimes appear also in Kyōgen. Kabuki drama, developed from the 17th century, is another comic form, which includes dance.
Western opera is a dramatic art form that arose during the Renaissance in an attempt to revive the classical Greek drama in which dialogue, dance, and song were combined. Being strongly intertwined with western classical music, the opera has undergone enormous changes in the past four centuries and it is an important form of theatre until this day. Noteworthy is the major influence of the German 19th-century composer Richard Wagner on the opera tradition. In his view, there was no proper balance between music and theatre in the operas of his time, because the music seemed to be more important than the dramatic aspects in these works. To restore the connection with the classical drama, he entirely renewed the operatic form to emphasize the equal importance of music and drama in works that he called "music dramas".
Chinese opera has seen a more conservative development over a somewhat longer period of time.
These stories follow in the tradition of fables and folk tales. Usually, there is a lesson learned, and with some help from the audience, the hero/heroine saves the day. This kind of play uses stock characters seen in masque and again commedia dell'arte, these characters include the villain (doctore), the clown/servant (Arlechino/Harlequin/buttons), the lovers etc. These plays usually have an emphasis on moral dilemmas, and good always triumphs over evil, this kind of play is also very entertaining making it a very effective way of reaching many people.
Mime is a theatrical medium where the action of a story is told through the movement of the body, without the use of speech. Performance of mime occurred in Ancient Greece, and the word is taken from a single masked dancer called Pantomimus, although their performances were not necessarily silent. In Medieval Europe, early forms of mime, such as mummer plays and later dumbshows, evolved. In the early nineteenth century Paris, Jean-Gaspard Deburau solidified the many attributes that we have come to know in modern times, including the silent figure in whiteface.
Jacques Copeau, strongly influenced by Commedia dell'arte and Japanese Noh theatre, used masks in the training of his actors. Étienne Decroux, a pupil of his, was highly influenced by this and started exploring and developing the possibilities of mime and refined corporeal mime into a highly sculptural form, taking it outside of the realms of naturalism. Jacques Lecoq contributed significantly to the development of mime and physical theatre with his training methods.
Creative drama includes dramatic activities and games used primarily in educational settings with children. Its roots in the United States began in the early 1900s. Winifred Ward is considered to be the founder of creative drama in education, establishing the first academic use of drama in Evanston, Illinois.