drama, Western, plays produced in the Western world. This article discusses the development of Western drama in general; for further information see the various national literature articles.

Greek Drama

The Western dramatic tradition has its origins in ancient Greece. The precise evolution of its main divisions—tragedy, comedy, and satire—is not definitely known. According to Aristotle, Greek drama, or, more explicitly, Greek tragedy, originated in the dithyramb. This was a choral hymn to the god Dionysus and involved exchanges between a lead singer and the chorus. It is thought that the dithyramb was sung at the Dionysia, an annual festival honoring Dionysus.

Tradition has it that at the Dionysia of 534 B.C., during the reign of Pisistratus, the lead singer of the dithyramb, a man named Thespis, added to the chorus an actor with whom he carried on a dialogue, thus initiating the possibility of dramatic action. Thespis is credited with the invention of tragedy. Eventually, Aeschylus introduced a second actor to the drama and Sophocles a third, Sophocles' format being continued by Euripides, the last of the great classical Greek dramatists.

Generally, the earlier Greek tragedies place more emphasis on the chorus than the later ones. In the majestic plays of Aeschylus, the chorus serves to underscore the personalities and situations of the characters and to provide ethical comment on the action. Much of Aeschylus' most beautiful poetry is contained in the choruses of his plays. The increase in the number of actors resulted in less concern with communal problems and beliefs and more with dramatic conflict between individuals.

Accompanying this emphasis on individuals' interaction, from the time of Aeschylus to that of Euripides, there was a marked tendency toward realism. Euripides' characters are ordinary, not godlike, and the gods themselves are introduced more as devices of plot manipulation (as in the use of the deus ex machina in Medea, 431 B.C.) than as strongly felt representations of transcendent power. Utilizing three actors, Sophocles developed dramatic action beyond anything Aeschylus had achieved with only two and also introduced more natural speech. However, he did not lose a sense of the godlike in man and man's affairs, as Euripides often did. Thus, it is Sophocles who best represents the classical balance between the human and divine, the realistic and the symbolic.

Greek comedy is divided by scholars into Old Comedy (5th cent. B.C.), Middle Comedy (c.404-c.321 B.C.), and New Comedy (c.320-c.264 B.C.). The sole literary remains of Old Comedy are the plays of Aristophanes, characterized by obscenity, political satire, fantasy, and strong moral overtones. While there are no extant examples of Middle Comedy, it is conjectured that the satire, obscenity, and fantasy of the earlier plays were much mitigated during this transitional period. Most extant examples of New Comedy are from the works of Menander; these comedies are realistic and elegantly written, often revolving around a love-interest.

Roman Drama

The Roman theater never approached the heights of the Greek, and the Romans themselves had little interest in serious dramatic endeavors, being drawn toward sensationalism and spectacle. The earliest Roman dramatic attempts were simply translations from the Greek. Gnaeus Naevius (c.270-c.199 B.C.) and his successors imitated Greek models in tragedies that never transcended the level of violent melodrama. Even the nine tragedies of the philosopher and statesman Seneca are gloomy and lurid, emphasizing the sensational aspects of Greek myth; they are noted primarily for their inflated rhetoric. Seneca became an important influence on Renaissance tragedy, but it is unlikely that his plays were intended for more than private readings.

Although Roman tragedy produced little of worth, a better judgment may be passed on the comedies of Plautus and Terence. Plautus incorporated native Roman elements into the plots and themes of Menander, producing plays characterized by farce, intrigue, romance, and sentiment. Terence was a more polished stylist who wrote for and about the upper classes and dispensed with the element of farce.

The Roman preference for spectacle and the Christian suppression of drama led to a virtual cessation of dramatic production during the decline of the Roman Empire. Pantomimes accompanied by a chorus developed out of tragedy, and comic mimes were popular until the 4th cent. A.D. (see pantomime). It is this mime tradition, carried on by traveling performers, that provided the theatrical continuity between the ancient world and the medieval. The Roman mime tradition has been suggested as the origin of the commedia dell'arte of the Italian Renaissance, but this conjecture has never been proved.

Medieval Drama

While the Christian church did much to suppress the performance of plays, paradoxically it is in the church that medieval drama began. The first record of this beginning is the trope in the Easter service known as the Quem quaeritis [whom you seek]. Tropes, originally musical elaborations of the church service, gradually evolved into drama; eventually the Latin lines telling of the Resurrection were spoken, rather than sung, by priests who represented the angels and the two Marys at the tomb of Jesus. Thus, simple interpolations developed into grandiose cycles of mystery plays, depicting biblical episodes from the Creation to Judgment Day. The most famous of these plays is the Second Shepherds' Play.

Another important type that developed from church liturgy was the miracle play, based on the lives of saints rather than on scripture. The miracle play reached its peak in France and the mystery play in England. Both types gradually became secularized, passing into the hands of trade guilds or professional actors. The Second Shepherds' Play, for all its religious seriousness, is most noteworthy for its elements of realism and farce, while the miracle plays in France often emphasized comedy and adventure (see miracle play).

The morality play, a third type of religious drama, appeared early in the 15th cent. Morality plays were religious allegories, the most famous being Everyman. Another type of drama popular in medieval times was the interlude, which can be generally defined as a dramatic work with characteristics of the morality play that is primarily intended for entertainment.

Renaissance Drama

By the advent of the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th cent., most European countries had established native traditions of religious drama and farce that contended with the impact of the newly discovered Greek and Roman plays. Little had been known of classical drama during the Middle Ages, and evidently the only classical imitations during that period were the Christian imitations of Terence by the Saxon nun Hrotswitha in the 10th cent.


The translation and imitation of the classics occurred first in Italy, with Terence, Plautus, and Seneca as the models. The Italians strictly applied their interpretation of Aristotle's rules for the drama, and this rigidity was primarily responsible for the failure of Italian Renaissance drama. Some liveliness appeared in the comic sphere, particularly in the works of Ariosto and in Machiavelli's satiric masterpiece, La Mandragola (1524). The pastoral drama—set in the country and depicting the romantic affairs of rustic people, usually shepherds and shepherdesses—was more successful than either comedy or tragedy. Notable Italian practitioners of the genre were Giovanni Battista Guarini (1537-1612) and Torquato Tasso.

The true direction of the Italian stage was toward the spectacular and the musical. A popular Italian Renaissance form was the intermezzo, which presented music and lively entertainment between the acts of classical imitations. The native taste for music and theatricality led to the emergence of the opera in the 16th cent. and the triumph of this form on the Italian stage in the 17th cent. Similarly, the commedia dell'arte, emphasizing comedy and improvisation and featuring character types familiar to a contemporary audience, was more popular than academic imitations of classical comedy.


Renaissance drama appeared somewhat later in France than in Italy. Estienne Jodelle's Senecan tragedy Cleopatre captive (1553) marks the beginning of classical imitation in France. The French drama initially suffered from the same rigidity as the Italian, basing itself on Roman models and Italian imitations. However, in the late 16th cent. in France there was a romantic reaction to classical dullness, led by Alexandre Hardy, France's first professional playwright.

This romantic trend was stopped in the 17th cent. by Cardinal Richelieu, who insisted on a return to classic forms. Richelieu's judgment, however, bore fruit in the triumphs of the French neoclassical tragedies of Jean Racine and the comedies of Molière. The great tragedies of Pierre Corneille, although classical in their grandeur and in their concern with noble characters, are decidedly of the Renaissance in their exaltation of man's ability, by force of will, to transcend adverse circumstances.


Renaissance drama in Spain and England was more successful than in France and Italy because the two former nations were able to transform classical models with infusions of native characteristics. In Spain the two leading Renaissance playwrights were Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Earlier, Lope de Rueda had set the tone for future Spanish drama with plays that are romantic, lyrical, and generally in the mixed tragicomic form. Lope de Vega wrote an enormous number of plays of many types, emphasizing plot, character, and romantic action. Best known for his La vida es sueño [life is a dream], a play that questions the nature of reality, Calderón was a more controlled and philosophical writer than Lope.


The English drama of the 16th cent. showed from the beginning that it would not be bound by classical rules. Elements of farce, morality, and a disregard for the unities of time, place, and action inform the early comedies Gammer Gurton's Needle and Ralph Roister Doister (both c.1553) and the Senecan tragedy Gorboduc (1562). William Shakespeare's great work was foreshadowed by early essays in the historical chronicle play, by elements of romance found in the works of John Lyly, by revenge plays such as Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (c.1586)—again inspired by the works of Seneca—and by Christopher Marlowe's development of blank verse and his deepening of the tragic perception.

Shakespeare, of course, stands as the supreme dramatist of the Renaissance period, equally adept at writing tragedies, comedies, or chronicle plays. His great achievements include the perfection of a verse form and language that capture the spirit of ordinary speech and yet stand above it to give a special dignity to his characters and situations; an unrivaled subtlety of characterization; and a marvelous ability to unify plot, character, imagery, and verse movement.

With the reign of James I the English drama began to decline until the closing of the theaters by the Puritans in 1642. This period is marked by sensationalism and rhetoric in tragedy, as in the works of John Webster and Thomas Middleton, spectacle in the form of the masque, and a gradual turn to polished wit in comedy, begun by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher and furthered by James Shirley. The best plays of the Jacobean period are the comedies of Ben Jonson, in which he satirized contemporary life by means of his own invention, the comedy of humours.

Drama from 1750 to 1800

The second half of the 17th cent. was distinguished by the achievements of the French neoclassicists and the Restoration playwrights in England. Jean Racine brought clarity of perception and simplicity of language to his love tragedies, which emphasize women characters and psychological motivation. Molière produced brilliant social comedies that are neoclassical in their ridicule of any sort of excess.

In England, Restoration tragedy degenerated into bombastic heroic dramas by such authors as John Dryden and Thomas Otway. Often written in rhymed heroic couplets, these plays are replete with sensational incidents and epic personages. But Restoration comedy, particularly the brilliant comedies of manners by George Etherege and William Congreve, achieved a perfection of style and cynical upper-class wit that is still appreciated. The works of William Wycherley, while similar in type, are more savage and deeply cynical. George Farquhar was a later and gentler master of Restoration comedy.

Eighteenth-Century Drama

The influence of Restoration comedy can be seen in the 18th cent. in the plays of Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. This century also ushered in the middle-class or domestic drama, which treated the problems of ordinary people. George Lillo's London Merchant; or, The History of George Barnwell (1731), is an important example of this type of play because it brought the bourgeois tragic hero to the English stage.

Such playwrights as Sir Richard Steele and Colley Cibber in England and Marivaux in France contributed to the development of the genteel, sentimental comedy. While the political satire in the plays of Henry Fielding and in John Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728) seemed to offer a more interesting potential than the sentiment of Cibber, this line of development was cut off by the Licensing Act of 1737, which required government approval before a play could be produced. The Italian Carlo Goldoni, who wrote realistic comedies with fairly sophisticated characterizations, also tended toward middle-class moralizing. His contemporary, Count Carlo Gozzi, was more ironic and remained faithful to the spirit of the commedia dell'arte.

Prior to the surge of German romanticism in the late 18th cent., two playwrights stood apart from the trend toward sentimental bourgeois realism. Voltaire tried to revive classical models and introduced exotic Eastern settings, although his tragedies tend to be more philosophical than dramatic. Similarly, the Italian Count Vittorio Alfieri sought to restore the spirit of the ancients to his drama, but the attempt was vitiated by his chauvinism.

The Sturm und Drang in Germany represented a romantic reaction against French neoclassicism and was supported by an upsurge of German interest in Shakespeare, who was viewed at the time as the greatest of the romantics. Gotthold Lessing, Friedrich von Schiller, and Goethe were the principal figures of this movement, but the plays produced by the three are frequently marred by sentimentality and too heavy a burden of philosophical ideas.

Nineteenth-Century Drama

The romantic movement did not blossom in French drama until the 1820s, and then primarily in the work of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas père, while in England the great Romantic poets did not produce important drama, although both Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley were practitioners of the closet drama. Burlesque and mediocre melodrama reigned supreme on the English stage.

Although melodrama was aimed solely at producing superficial excitement, its development, coupled with the emergence of realism in the 19th cent., resulted in more serious drama. Initially, the melodrama dealt in such superficially exciting materials as the gothic castle with its mysterious lord for a villain, but gradually the characters and settings moved closer to the realities of contemporary life.

The concern for generating excitement led to a more careful consideration of plot construction, reflected in the smoothly contrived climaxes of the "well-made" plays of Eugène Scribe and Victorien Sardou of France and Arthur Wing Pinero of England. The work of Émile Augier and Alexandre Dumas fils combined the drama of ideas with the "well-made" play. Realism had perhaps its most profound expression in the works of the great 19th-century Russian dramatists: Nikolai Gogol, A. N. Ostrovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and Maxim Gorky. Many of the Russian dramatists emphasized character and satire rather than plot in their works.

Related to realism is naturalism, which can be defined as a selective realism emphasizing the more sordid and pessimistic aspects of life. An early forerunner of this style in the drama is Georg Büchner's powerful tragedy Danton's Death (1835), and an even earlier suggestion may be seen in the pessimistic romantic tragedies of Heinrich von Kleist. Friedrich Hebbel wrote grimly naturalistic drama in the middle of the 19th cent., but the naturalistic movement is most commonly identified with the "slice-of-life" theory of Émile Zola, which had a profound effect on 20th-century playwrights.

Henrik Ibsen of Norway brought to a climax the realistic movement of the 19th cent. and also served as a bridge to 20th-century symbolism. His realistic dramas of ideas surpass other such works because they blend a complex plot, a detailed setting, and middle-class yet extraordinary characters in an organic whole. Ibsen's later plays, such as The Master Builder (1892), are symbolic, marking a trend away from realism that was continued by August Strindberg's dream plays, with their emphasis on the spiritual, and by the plays of the Belgian Maurice Maeterlinck, who incorporated into drama the theories of the symbolist poets (see symbolists).

While these antirealistic developments took place on the Continent, two playwrights were making unique contributions to English theater. Oscar Wilde produced comedies of manners that compare favorably with the works of Congreve, and George Bernard Shaw brought the play of ideas to fruition with penetrating intelligence and singular wit.

Twentieth-Century Drama

During the 20th cent., especially after World War I, Western drama became more internationally unified and less the product of separate national literary traditions. Throughout the century realism, naturalism, and symbolism (and various combinations of these) continued to inform important plays. Among the many 20th-century playwrights who have written what can be broadly termed naturalist dramas are Gerhart Hauptmann (German), John Galsworthy (English), John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (Irish), and Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets, and Lillian Hellman (American).

An important movement in early 20th-century drama was expressionism. Expressionist playwrights tried to convey the dehumanizing aspects of 20th-century technological society through such devices as minimal scenery, telegraphic dialogue, talking machines, and characters portrayed as types rather than individuals. Notable playwrights who wrote expressionist dramas include Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser (German), Karel Čapek (Czech), and Elmer Rice and Eugene O'Neill (American). The 20th cent. also saw the attempted revival of drama in verse, but although such writers as William Butler Yeats, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, and Maxwell Anderson produced effective results, verse drama was no longer an important form in English. In Spanish, however, the poetic dramas of Federico García Lorca are placed among the great works of Spanish literature.

Three vital figures of 20th-century drama are the American Eugene O'Neill, the German Bertolt Brecht, and the Italian Luigi Pirandello. O'Neill's body of plays in many forms—naturalistic, expressionist, symbolic, psychological—won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936 and indicated the coming-of-age of American drama. Brecht wrote dramas of ideas, usually promulgating socialist or Marxist theory. In order to make his audience more intellectually receptive to his theses, he endeavored—by using expressionist techniques—to make them continually aware that they were watching a play, not vicariously experiencing reality. For Pirandello, too, it was paramount to fix an awareness of his plays as theater; indeed, the major philosophical concern of his dramas is the difficulty of differentiating between illusion and reality.

World War II and its attendant horrors produced a widespread sense of the utter meaninglessness of human existence. This sense is brilliantly expressed in the body of plays that have come to be known collectively as the theater of the absurd. By abandoning traditional devices of the drama, including logical plot development, meaningful dialogue, and intelligible characters, absurdist playwrights sought to convey modern humanity's feelings of bewilderment, alienation, and despair—the sense that reality is itself unreal. In their plays human beings often portrayed as dupes, clowns who, although not without dignity, are at the mercy of forces that are inscrutable.

Probably the most famous plays of the theater of the absurd are Eugene Ionesco's Bald Soprano (1950) and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1953). The sources of the theater of the absurd are diverse; they can be found in the tenets of surrealism, Dadaism (see Dada), and existentialism; in the traditions of the music hall, vaudeville, and burlesque; and in the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Playwrights whose works can be roughly classed as belonging to the theater of the absurd are Jean Genet (French), Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (Swiss), Fernando Arrabal (Spanish), and the early plays of Edward Albee (American). The pessimism and despair of the 20th cent. also found expression in the existentialist dramas of Jean-Paul Sartre, in the realistic and symbolic dramas of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Anouilh, and in the surrealist plays of Jean Cocteau.

Somewhat similar to the theater of the absurd is the so-called theater of cruelty, derived from the ideas of Antonin Artaud, who, writing in the 1930s, foresaw a drama that would assault its audience with movement and sound, producing a visceral rather than an intellectual reaction. After the violence of World War II and the subsequent threat of the atomic bomb, his approach seemed particularly appropriate to many playwrights. Elements of the theater of cruelty can be found in the brilliantly abusive language of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), in the ritualistic aspects of some of Genet's plays, in the masked utterances and enigmatic silences of Harold Pinter's "comedies of menace," and in the orgiastic abandon of Julian Beck's Paradise Now! (1968); it was fully expressed in Peter Brooks's production of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade (1964).

During the last third of the 20th cent. a few continental European dramatists, such as Dario Fo in Italy and Heiner Müller in Germany, stand out in the theater world. However, for the most part, the countries of the continent saw an emphasis on creative trends in directing rather than a flowering of new plays. In the United States and England, however, many dramatists old and new continued to flourish, with numerous plays of the later decades of the 20th cent. (and the early 21st cent.) echoing the trends of the years preceding them.

Realism in a number of guises—psychological, social, and political—continued to be a force in such British works as David Storey's Home (1971), Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy (1974), and David Hare's Amy's View (1998); in such Irish dramas as Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) and Martin McDonagh's 1990s Leenane trilogy; and in such American plays as Jason Miller's That Championship Season (1972), Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly (1979), and John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation (1990). In keeping with the tenor of the times, many of these and other works of the period were marked by elements of wit, irony, and satire.

A witty surrealism also characterized some of the late 20th cent.'s theater, particularly the brilliant wordplay and startling juxtapositions of the many plays of England's Tom Stoppard. In addition, two of late-20th-century America's most important dramatists, Sam Shepard and David Mamet (as well as their followers and imitators), explored American culture with a kind of hyper-realism mingled with echoes of the theater of cruelty in the former's Buried Child (1978), the latter's Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), and other works. While each exhibited his own very distinctive voice and vision, both playwrights achieved many of their effects through stark settings, austere language in spare dialog, meaningful silences, the projection of a powerful streak of menace, and outbursts of real or implied violence.

The late decades of the 20th century were also a time of considerable experiment and iconoclasm. Experimental dramas of the 1960s and 70s by such groups as Beck's Living Theater and Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Laboratory Theatre were followed by a mixing and merging of various kinds of media with aspects of postmodernism, improvisational techniques, performance art, and other kinds of avant-garde theater. Some of the era's more innovative efforts included productions by theater groups such as New York's La MaMa (1961-) and Mabou Mines (1970-) and Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Co. (1976-); the Canadian writer-director Robert Lepage's intricate, sometimes multilingual works, e.g. Tectonic Plates (1988); the inventive one-man shows of such monologuists as Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, and John Leguizamo; the transgressive drag dramas of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater, e.g., The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984); and the operatic multimedia extravaganzas of Robert Wilson, e.g. White Raven (1999).

Thematically, the social upheavals of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s—particularly the civil rights and women's movements, gay liberation, and the AIDS crisis—provided impetus for new plays that explored the lives of minorities and women. Beginning with Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1959), drama by and about African Americans emerged as a significant theatrical trend. In the 1960s plays such as James Baldwin's Blues for Mr. Charley (1964), Amiri Baraka's searing Dutchman (1964), and Charles Gordone's No Place to Be Somebody (1967) explored black American life; writers including Ed Bullins (e.g., The Taking of Miss Janie, 1975), Ntozake Shange (e.g., For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, 1976) and Charles Fuller (e.g., A Soldier's Play, 1981) carried these themes into later decades. One of the most distinctive and prolific of the century's African-American playwrights, August Wilson, debuted on Broadway in 1984 with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and continued to define the black American experience in his ongoing dramatic cycle into the next century.

Feminist and other women-centered themes dramatized by contemporary female playwrights were plentiful in the 1970s and extended in the following decades. Significant figures included England's Caryl Churchill (e.g., the witty Top Girls, 1982), the Cuban-American experimentalist Maria Irene Forńes (e.g., Fefu and Her Friends, 1977) and American realists including Beth Henley (e.g., Crimes of the Heart, 1978), Marsha Norman (e.g., 'Night Mother, 1982), and Wendy Wasserstein (e.g., The Heidi Chronicles, 1988). Skilled monologuists also provided provocative female-themed one-women shows such as Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues (1996) and various solo theatrical performances by Lily Tomlin, Karen Finley, Anna Deveare Smith, Sarah Jones, and others.

Gay themes (often in works by gay playwrights) also marked the later decades of the 20th cent. Homosexual characters had been treated sympathetically but in the context of pathology in such earlier 20th-century works as Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour (1934) and Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy (1953). Gay subjects were presented more explicitly during the 1960s, notably in the English farces of Joe Orton and Matt Crowley's witty but grim portrait of pre-Stonewall American gay life, The Boys in the Band (1968). In later years gay experience was explored more frequently and with greater variety and openness, notably in Britain in Martin Sherman's Bent (1979) and Peter Gill's Mean Tears (1987) and in the United States in Jane Chambers' Last Summer at Bluefish Cove (1980), Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy (1981), Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (1986), David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly (1988), which also dealt with Asian identity, and Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (1993). Tony Kushner's acclaimed two-part Angels in America (1991-92) is generally considered the century's most brilliant and innovative theatrical treatment of the contemporary gay world.


See A. Nicoll, World Drama from Aeschylus to Anouilh (1950); J. Gassner, Masters of the Drama (3d ed. 1954); M. Bieber, The History of Greek and Roman Theatre (2d ed. 1961); B. Clark, ed., European Theories of the Drama (rev. ed. 1965); G. Freedley and J. A. Reeves, A History of the Theatre (3d ed. 1968); M. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961, repr. 1969); J. Gassner and E. Quinn, ed., The Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama (1969); G. E. Wellarth, The Theatre of Protest and Paradox (2d ed. 1970); C. J. Stratman, Bibliography of Medieval Drama (2d ed. 1972); S. Cheney, The Theatre (rev. ed. 1972); R. Gilman, The Making of Modern Drama (1974); J. L. Styan, ed., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice (3 vol., 1981-83); G. Loney, Twentieth Century Theater (2 vol., 1983); J. Roose-Evans, Experimental Theater (1984); P. Hartnoll The Theatre: A Concise History (rev. ed. 1985) and, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Theatre (rev. ed. 1990); R. and H. Leacroft, Theatre and Playhouse (1988); O. G. Brockett and R. R. Findlay, Century of Innovation: A History of European and American Theatre and Drama Since the Late 19th Century (2d ed. 1990); G. R. Kernodle, The Theatre in History (1990); F. H. Londre, The History of World Theater (1991); E. Wilson and A. Goldfarb, Theater: The Lively Art (2d ed. 1991); G. Wickham, A History of the Theatre (2d ed. 1992); D. Rubin, ed., The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre (5 vol., 1994-98); M. Banham, ed., The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (rev. ed. 1995); O. G. Brockett, History of the Theatre (7th ed. 1995); R. Drain, ed., Twentieth-Century Theater: A Sourcebook of Radical Thinking (1995); M. C. Henderson, Theater in America (1996); D. B. Wilmeth and L. T. Miller, ed., The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre (1996); D. B. Wilmeth and C. Bigsby, ed., The Cambridge History of American Theatre (3 vol., 2000); G. Bordman and T. S. Hischak, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre (3d ed. 2004).

Genre of novels and short stories, motion pictures, and television and radio shows set in the American West, usually during 1850–1900, when the area was opened to white settlement. Though basically an American creation, it has counterparts in the gaucho literature of Argentina and in tales of the settlement of the Australian Outback. Conflicts between white pioneers and Native Americans and between cattle ranchers and fence-building farmers form two basic themes. Cowboys, the town sheriff, and the U.S. marshal are staple figures, and lawlessness and gun violence are standard. Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) is regarded as the seminal western novel; the popularity of the genre peaked in the early and middle decades of the 20th century and declined somewhat thereafter.

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or country and western

Musical style that originated among whites in rural areas of the southern and western U.S. The term country and western music was adopted by the music industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory hillbilly music. Its roots lie in the music of the European settlers of the Appalachians and other areas. In the early 1920s the genre began to be commercially recorded; Fiddlin' John Carson recorded its first hit. Radio programs such as Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and Chicago's National Barn Dance fueled its growth, and growing numbers of musicians, such as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, began performing on radio and in recording studios. With the migration of Southern whites to industrial cities in the 1930s and '40s, country music was exposed to new influences, such as blues and gospel music. Its nostalgic bias, with its lyrics about poverty, heartbreak, and homesickness, held special appeal during a time of great population shifts. In the 1930s “singing cowboy” film stars, such as Gene Autry, altered country lyrics to produce a synthetic “western” music. Other variants include western swing (see Bob Wills) and honky-tonk (see Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams). In the 1940s there was an effort to return to country's root values (see bluegrass), but commercialization proved a stronger influence, and in the 1950s and '60s country music became a huge commercial enterprise. Popular singers often recorded songs in a Nashville style, while many country music recordings employed lush orchestral backgrounds. Country music has become increasingly acceptable to urban audiences, retaining its vitality with diverse performers such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett. Despite the influence of other styles, it has retained an unmistakable character as one of the few truly indigenous American musical styles.

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Former U.S. telegraph company and contemporary provider of electronic financial transactions. From its foundation in 1851 as a company formed to build a telegraph line from Buffalo, N.Y., to St. Louis, Mo., in 1856 the expanding business was reorganized as the Western Union Telegraph Co. By the end of 1861 Western Union had built the first transcontinental telegraph line. The company introduced singing telegrams in 1933. Western Union continued to grow, absorbing competitors such as Postal Telegraph Inc. in 1943. As telegraphy was superseded by other methods of telecommunication, Western Union diversified into teletypewriter services, money orders, and mailgrams. It launched the telecommunications satellite Westar 1 in 1974 and was operating five satellites by 1982. In 1988 the company was reorganized as Western Union Corp. to handle money transfers and related services. After declaring bankruptcy in 1993, it sold its financial services arm in 1994 to First Financial Management Corp., and in 1995 that company merged with First Data Corp. The renamed Western Union Financial Services, Inc., became a world leader in electronic (including Internet) transactions.

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or Great Schism

(1378–1417) In Roman Catholic history, a period when there were two, and later three, rival popes, each with his own College of Cardinals. The schism began soon after the papal residence was returned to Rome from Avignon (see Avignon papacy). Urban VI was elected amid local demands for an Italian pope, but a group of cardinals with French sympathies elected an antipope, Clement VII, who took up residence at Avignon. Cardinals from both sides met at Pisa in 1409 and elected a third pope in an effort to end the schism. The rift was not healed until the Council of Constance vacated all three seats and elected Martin V as pope in 1417.

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officially Independent State of Samoa formerly Western Samoa

Island country, central South Pacific Ocean, among the westernmost of the island nations of Polynesia. Area: 1,093 sq mi (2,831 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 185,000. Capital: Apia (on Upolu Island). The people are mainly Polynesian, closely akin to Tongans and to New Zealand's Maori. Languages: Samoan, English (both official). Religion: Christianity (mostly Protestant; also Roman Catholic, other Christians). Currency: tala. Samoa is part of the Samoan archipelago and consists of two major islands, Upolu and Savai'i, both of which are volcanic. There are also seven small islands, two of which, Apolima and Manono, are inhabited. Samoa has a developing economy based mainly on agriculture, with some light manufacturing, fishing, lumbering, and tourism. It is a constitutional monarchy with one legislative house; the paramount chief is the head of state, and the head of government is the prime minister. Polynesians inhabited the islands for thousands of years before Europeans arrived there in the 18th century. The islands were contested by the U.S., Britain, and Germany until 1899, when they were divided between the U.S. and Germany. In 1914 Western Samoa was occupied by New Zealand, which received it as a League of Nations mandate in 1920. After World War II it became a UN trust territory administered by New Zealand. It achieved independence in 1962. In 1997 the word Western was dropped from the country's name.

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officially Territory of American Samoa

Unincorporated U.S. territory (pop., 2007 est.: 64,400), south-central Pacific Ocean. It includes the islands of Tutuila (the largest, with over two-thirds of the territory's land area and almost all of its population), Aunuu, Rose, Swains, and the Manua group. Area: 77 sq mi (200 sq km). Capital: Fagatogo (legislative and judicial); Utulei (executive) (both part of Pago Pago urban agglom., on Tutuila). Languages: Samoan, English (both official). Religion: Christianity (mostly Protestant; also Roman Catholic, other Christians). Currency: U.S. dollar. Most of the islands are rocky, formed from extinct volcanoes, and are surrounded by coral reefs. Tutuila and the islands of Manua are dominated by central mountain ranges. Fishing and tourism are major industries, but the U.S. administration is the main employer. The great majority of the population is of Samoan ancestry. The islands were probably inhabited by Polynesians 3,000 years ago. Dutch explorers became the first Europeans to visit the islands in 1722. Missionaries began arriving in the islands in the 1830s. The U.S. gained the right to establish a naval station at Pago Pago in 1878, and the U.S., Britain, and Germany administered a tripartite protectorate in 1889–99. In 1899 Britain and Germany renounced their claims over the eastern islands. The high chiefs ceded the eastern islands to the U.S. in 1904. American Samoa was administered by the U.S. Department of the Navy until 1951 and afterward by the Department of the Interior. Its current constitution was approved in 1967, and in 1978 the territory's first elected governor took office.

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formerly Spanish Sahara

Territory, northwestern Africa. Area: 97,344 sq mi (252,120 sq km). Population (2004 est.): 417,000. Capital: Laayoune. Little is known of the area's prehistory, though rock engravings in southern locations suggest a succession of nomadic groups. In the 4th century BCE there was trade across the Mediterranean Sea between the region and Europe, but there was little European contact afterward, until the 19th century. In 1884 Spain claimed a protectorate over the Río de Oro region. Boundary agreements with France were concluded in 1900 and 1912. Spain formally united the area's northern and southern parts into the overseas province of the Spanish Sahara in 1958. The Polisario Front, a Saharawi separatist group formed in 1973, led an insurgency against Spanish colonial rule. In 1976 Spain relinquished its claim; the region then was divided between Mauritania and Morocco. That same year, the Polisario Front declared a government-in-exile, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. Sporadic fighting between Moroccan and Mauritanian forces and the Polisario Front began in the mid-1970s. Although Mauritania relinquished its claim in 1979, Morocco promptly annexed their portion. Despite a 1991 cease-fire and a number of United Nations-sponsored talks between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government, at the beginning of the 21st century the issue of Western Sahara's status remained unresolved. Western Sahara has vast phosphate deposits and some potash and iron ore.

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Tract of land, northeastern Ohio, U.S. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, it formed part of the western lands of Connecticut not surrendered to Congress in 1786. It covered about 3,500,000 ac (1,417,500 ha) and was sold in part to immigrants from Connecticut (1786–1800). Ceded in 1800 to Ohio, it was later divided into several counties.

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Association of 10 European countries to coordinate matters of European security and defense. The WEU was formed in 1955 as an outgrowth of the Brussels Treaty of 1948. Composed of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Britain, it works in cooperation with NATO and the European Union and is administered by a council of the foreign affairs and defense ministers of the member countries. There are also several associate members, observers, and associate partners. It is headquartered in Brussels.

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Russian Zapadnaya Dvina Latvian Daugava

River, north-central Europe. It rises in Russia's Valdai Hills and flows 632 mi (1,020 km) in a great arc south through Russia and into Belarus and then northwest across Latvia. It discharges into the Gulf of Riga on the Baltic Sea. An important water route since early times, connected in its upper reaches by easy portages to the Dnieper, Volga, and Lovat-Volkhov river systems, it constituted part of the great trade route from the Baltic region to Byzantium and to the Arabic east. Rapids and the presence of dams have restricted navigation on it.

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Wasteland, northern Western Australia. It extends from Eighty Mile Beach on the Indian Ocean eastward into the Northern Territory and from the Kimberley Downs south to the Tropic of Capricorn and the Gibson Desert. An arid expanse of salt marshes and sand hills, it roughly coincides with the sedimentary Canning basin. Canning Stock Route (1,000 mi [1,600 km] long) spans the region from Wiluna via Lake Disappointment to Halls Creek.

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State (pop., 2006: 1,959,088), western Australia. Covering 976,790 sq mi (2,529,880 sq km), it constitutes one-third of the continent's area but has only about one-tenth of Australia's population; its capital is Perth. The extensive interior region has three deserts: Great Sandy, Gibson, and Great Victoria. The coast along the Timor Sea and Indian Ocean has only a few good harbours; notable inlets are Joseph Bonaparte and Exmouth gulfs. Australian Aboriginal peoples have occupied Western Australia for about 40,000 years. The western coast was first visited in 1616 by the Dutch; it was later explored by Englishman William Dampier in 1688 and 1699. In 1829 Capt. James Stirling led the first group of settlers there to establish Australia's first nonconvict colony. The discovery of gold in 1886 prompted a movement for constitutional autonomy, which was granted in 1890. In 1900 it was the last state to ratify the newly constituted Commonwealth of Australia. Initially it suffered from slow growth, but since 1960 its economy, fueled by agriculture and mining (notably of fossil fuels), has been expanding.

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or Great Schism

(1378–1417) In Roman Catholic history, a period when there were two, and later three, rival popes, each with his own College of Cardinals. The schism began soon after the papal residence was returned to Rome from Avignon (see Avignon papacy). Urban VI was elected amid local demands for an Italian pope, but a group of cardinals with French sympathies elected an antipope, Clement VII, who took up residence at Avignon. Cardinals from both sides met at Pisa in 1409 and elected a third pope in an effort to end the schism. The rift was not healed until the Council of Constance vacated all three seats and elected Martin V as pope in 1417.

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Two mountain ranges forming the edges of the Deccan plateau in southern India. The Eastern Ghats extend about 700 mi (1,100 km) along the southeastern and eastern coast north to the mouth of the Mahanadi River; their average elevation is about 2,000 ft (600 m). The Western Ghats run some 800 mi (1,300 km) along the southwestern and western coast north to the mouth of the Tapti River; their average elevations range from 3,000 ft (900 m) to 5,000 ft (1,500 m). Because they receive heavy rainfall during the monsoon season, the Western Ghats comprise peninsular India's principal watershed.

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Two mountain ranges forming the edges of the Deccan plateau in southern India. The Eastern Ghats extend about 700 mi (1,100 km) along the southeastern and eastern coast north to the mouth of the Mahanadi River; their average elevation is about 2,000 ft (600 m). The Western Ghats run some 800 mi (1,300 km) along the southwestern and western coast north to the mouth of the Tapti River; their average elevations range from 3,000 ft (900 m) to 5,000 ft (1,500 m). Because they receive heavy rainfall during the monsoon season, the Western Ghats comprise peninsular India's principal watershed.

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Western may refer to:

In geography:

  • Western world, a particular group of countries, generally spanning Central and Western Europe and the Americas, also referred to as the "West" or the Occident
  • Western Canada, which includes British Columbia and the Prairie Provinces of Canada
  • Western United States, the Western portion of the United States, sometimes referred to as the "American West"
  • Western, Nebraska, a village in Saline County, Nebraska
  • Western, New York, a town in Oneida County, New York
  • Western Ghats, A mountain range in South East India

In transportation:

Educational institutions:

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