A play, or stageplay, is a form of literature written by a playwright, almost always consisting of dialogue between fictional characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than reading. Many people (especially scholars) read plays for pleasure, or study them in an academic manner. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed or read. Therefore, the term "play" can refer to both the written works of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance.
Richard Monette, who held the longest tenure of Artistic Director at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (1994-2007), said that plays on the shelf are literature, whereas plays on the stage are theatre.
In Westeren culture, the play originated in Ancient Greece and was popular through Roman times. They began to fade from popularity until the late 16th Century, when Shakespeare popularised theatres and plays. His influence on this literary form, and the English language, is still apparent today.
Shakespeare may, in fact, have helped introduce the play to England, as before the late 1500s there were no set plays in England, just wandering minstrels performing scenes on request.
The history of plays in Eastern theatre is traced back to 1000 BC with the Sanskrit drama of ancient Indian theatre. The earliest plays in Chinese theatre also date back to around the same time. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Noh, and Kyogen date back to the 17th century. Other Eastern forms were developed throughout China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
The most popular plays in the medieval Islamic world were passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than ta'ziya plays.