In such a simple and crude manner did the theatre originate in India during Rig Vedic times. There also must have existed a theatrical tradition in the Harappan cities, but of this we lack material proof.
The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. It consists of minutely detailed precepts for both playwrights and actors. Bharata describes ten types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. In addition, he lays down principles for stage design, makeup, costume, dance (various movements and gestures), a theory of aesthetics (rasas and bhavas), acting, directing and music, each in individual chapters.
Bharata sets out a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of Aristotle. He refers to bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform, and the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. He argues that there are eight principal rasas: love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy, and that plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one. According to the Natya Shastra, all the modes of expression employed by an individual viz. speech, gestures, movements and intonation must be used. The representation of these expressions can have different modes (vritti) according to the predominance and emphasis on one mode or another. Bharatamuni recognises four main modes: speech and poetry (bharati vritti), dance and music (kaishiki vritti), action (arabhatti vritti) and emotions (sattvatti vritti).
Kālidāsa in the first century BC, is arguably considered to be ancient India's greatest Sanskrit dramatist. Three famous romantic plays written by Kālidāsa are the Mālavikāgnimitram (Mālavikā and Agnimitra), Vikramuurvashiiya (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi), and Abhijñānaśākuntala (The Recognition of Shakuntala). The last was inspired by a story in the Mahabharata and is the most famous. It was the first to be translated into English and German. In comparison to Bhasa, who drew heavily from the epics, Kālidāsa can be considered an original playwright
The Tang Dynasty is sometimes known as 'The Age of 1000 Entertainments'. During this era, Emperor Xuanzong formed an acting school known as the Children of the Pear Garden to produce a form of drama that was primarily musical.
During the Han Dynasty, shadow puppetry first emerged as a recognized form of theatre in China. There were two distinct forms of shadow puppetry, Cantonese southern and Pekingese northern. The two styles were differentiated by the method of making the puppets and the positioning of the rods on the puppets, as opposed to the type of play performed by the puppets. Both styles generally performed plays depicting great adventure and fantasy, rarely was this very stylized form of theatre used for political propaganda. Cantonese shadow puppets were the larger of the two. They were built using thick leather which created more substantial shadows. Symbolic color was also very prevalent; a black face represented honesty, a red one bravery. The rods used to control Cantonese puppets were attached perpendicular to the puppets’ heads. Thus, they were not seen by the audience when the shadow was created. Pekingese puppets were more delicate and smaller. They were created out of thin, translucent leather usually taken from the belly of a donkey. They were painted with vibrant paints, thus they cast a very colorful shadow. The thin rods which controlled their movements were attached to a leather collar at the neck of the puppet. The rods ran parallel to the bodies of the puppet then turned at a ninety degree angle to connect to the neck. While these rods were visible when the shadow was cast, they laid outside the shadow of the puppet; thus they did not interfere with the appearance of the figure. The rods attached at the necks to facilitate the use of multiple heads with one body. When the heads were not being used, they were stored in a muslin book or fabric lined box. The heads were always removed at night. This was in keeping with the old superstition that if left intact, the puppets would come to life at night. Some puppeteers went so far as to store the heads in one book and the bodies in another, to further reduce the possibility of reanimating puppets. Shadow puppetry is said to have reached its highest point of artistic development in the eleventh century before becoming a tool of the government.
Yuan drama spread across China and diversified into numerous regional forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which is still popular today.
During the 14th century, there were small companies of actors in Japan who performed short, sometimes vulgar comedies. A director of one of these companies, Kan'ami (1333-1384), had a son, Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) who was considered one of the finest child actors in Japan. When Kan'ami's company performed for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), the Shogun of Japan, he implored Zeami to have a court education for his arts. After Zeami succeeded his father, he continued to perform and adapt his style into what is today Noh. A mixture of pantomime and vocal acrobatics, this style has fascinated the Japanese for hundreds of years.
Japan, after a long period of civil wars and political disarray, was unified and at peace primarily due to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1600-1668). However, alarmed at increasing Christian growth, he cut off contact from Japan to Europe and China and outlawed Christianity. When peace did come, a flourish of cultural influence and growing merchant class demanded its own entertainment. The first form of theatre to flourish was Ningyō jōruri (commonly referred to as Bunraku). The founder of and main contributor to Ningyō jōruri, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), turned his form of theatre into a true art form. Ningyō jōruri is a highly stylized form of theatre using puppets, today about 1/3d the size of a human. The men who control the puppets train their entire lives to become master puppeteers, when they can then operate the puppet's head and right arm and choose to show their faces during the performance. The other puppeteers, controlling the less important limbs of the puppet, cover themselves and their faces in a black suit, to imply their invisibility. The dialogue is handled by a single person, who uses varied tones of voice and speaking manners to simulate different characters. Chikamatsu wrote thousands of plays during his lifetime, most of which are still used today.
Kabuki began shortly after Bunraku, legend has it by an actress named Okuni, who lived around the end of the sixteenth century. Most of Kabuki's material came from Nõ and Bunraku, and its erratic dance-type movements are also an effect of Bunraku. However, Kabuki is less formal and more distant than Nõ, yet very popular among the Japanese public. Actors are trained in many varied things including dancing, singing, pantomime, and even acrobatics. Kabuki was first performed by young girls, then by young boys, and by the end of the sixteenth century, Kabuki companies consisted of all men. The men who portrayed women on stage were specifically trained to elicit the essence of a woman in their subtle movements and gestures.
The vast majority of Ancient Greek theatrical texts have not survived intact. A small number of works from four Greek playwrights writing during the fifth century B.C. remain fully intact.
The above-mentioned playwrights are regarded as the most influential by critics of subsequent eras including (Aristotle). The tragic and sartyr plays were always performed at the festival (City Dionysia) where they were part of a series of four performances (a "tetralogy"): the first, second and third plays were a dramatic trilogy based on related or unrelated mythological events, and the culminating fourth performance was a satyr play, a play on a lighter note, with enhanced celebratory and dance elements. Performances lasted several hours and were held during daytime.
The dramas rarely had more than three actors (all male), who played the different roles using masks. There was a chorus on the stage most of the time which sang songs and sometimes spoke in unison. As far as we know, most dramas were staged just a single time, at the traditional drama contest. Such contests were always held in the context of major religious festivals, most notably those in honor of the god Dionysos, and competed for an honorific prize (such as a tripod and a sum of money) awarded by a panel of judges - usually these were the sacerdotal and civil officers presiding over the particular religious festival. The prize was awarded jointly to the producer, who had financed the staging, and the poet, who was at the same time the author, composer, choreographer and director of the plays.
The actors wore large masks, which were very colourful. These masks depicted two things: the age of the character, and their mood. They also amplified sound in the same way that cupping your hands over your mouth does. Actors also wore thick, padded clothing, and shoes with thick soles. This made them seem larger, so the audience could see them better when seated in the uppermost rows of the amphitheatre.
When comparing and contrasting ancient Roman theatre to that of Greece it can easily be said that Roman theatre was less influenced by religion. Also, Roman theatre was more for aesthetic appeal. In Roman theatre war was a more common thing to appear on stage as opposed to the Greek theatre where wars were more commonly spoken about. This was no doubt a reflection of Roman culture and habits.
The audience was often loud and rude, rarely applauding the actors, but always shouting insults and booing. Because the audience was so loud, much of the plays were mimed and repetitive. The actors developed a kind of code that would tell the audience about the characters just by looking at them.
Plays lasted for two hours, and were usually comedies. Most comedies involved mistaken identity (such as gods disguised as humans).
Theatre was reborn as liturgical dramas, written in Latin and dealing with Bible stories and performed by priests or church members. Then came vernacular drama spoken in the vulgate (i.e the language of the people as opposed to Church Latin); this was a more elaborate series of one-act dramas enacted in town squares or other parts of the city. There were three types of vernacular dramas. Mystery or cycle plays, like the York Mystery Plays or Wakefield Cycle were series of short dramas based on the Old and New Testaments organized into historical cycles. Miracle plays dealt with the lives of saints. Morality plays taught a lesson through allegorical characters representing virtues or faults. Secular plays in this period existed, but medieval religious drama is most remembered today.
Plays were set up in individual scenic units called mansions or in wagon stages which were platforms mounted on wheels used to move scenery. Often providing their own costumes, amateur performers in England were only men, but other countries had female performers. The platform stage allowed for abrupt changes in location which was an unidentified space and not a specific locale.
Among the more notable religious plays were "The Summoning of Everyman" (an allegory designed to teach the faithful that acts of Christian charity are necessary for entry into heaven), passion plays (such as the later Oberammergau Passion Play, which is still performed every ten years), and the great cycle plays (massive, festive wagon-mounted processions involving hundreds of actors, and drawing pilgrims, tourists, and entrepreneurs) York Corpus Christi Play Simulator The morality play and mystery play (as they are known in English) were two distinct genres.
Since many of the more theatrically successful medieval religious plays were designed to teach Catholic doctrine, the Protestant Reformation targeted the theatre, especially in England, in an effort to stamp out allegiance to Rome.
Whereas most churches carefully watched over the scripts of their dogmatic plays, in order to ensure that the faithful were being taught the accepted doctrine, by the end of the 1500s Queen Elizabeth was controlling the stage just as effectively through a system of patronage, licensing, and censorship. Hamlet's reference to a frenetic performance that "out-Herods Herod" refers to the tradition of presenting King Herod as a bombastic figure, suggesting that Shakespeare expected his audience to be familiar with this particular medieval tradition, long after the religious landscape in England had changed.
Puritan opposition to the stage – informed by the arguments of the early Church Fathers who had written screeds against the decadent and violent entertainments of the Romans – argued not only that the stage in general was pagan, but that any play that represented a religious figure was inherently idolatrous. In 1642, the Protestant authorities banned the performance of all plays within the city limits of London. A sweeping assault against the alleged immoralities of the theatre crushed whatever remained in England of the Medieval dramatic tradition.
References: Heise K, Ursula. “Transvestism and the Stage Controversy in Spain and England, 1580- 1680.” Theatre Journal 44.3 (1992): 357-74. Shergold, N.D. A History of the Spanish Stage: From Medieval Times Until the End of the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1967. Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: A History. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000.
A number of aesthetic movements emerged in the 20th century, including: