The earliest days of western theater remain obscure, but the oldest surviving plays come from ancient Greece.
Dramatic and theatrical productions in ancient Greece may have come from the revelry of the Bacchanalia, an ancient Greek festival in honor of the god Dionysus. In any case, the modern theater was born in ancient Greece. Important playwrights in ancient Greek theater include:
Aristotle is also important, primarily for his timeless theories on the dramatic arts, although his theories, especially the Three Unities, have been disputed. Some scholars believe they are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive.
The above-mentioned playwrights made some of the most renowned Greek plays, but their staging had little or nothing to do with twentieth-century theater. Their dramas were always part of a series of three performances, where the middle part only was the drama, while the events always ended with dance. The dramas rarely had more than three actors (all male), who played the different roles using masks. There was a chorus on the stage all the time which sang songs and sometimes spoke in unison. As far as we know, each drama was played just a single time, at the traditional drama contest.
The importance of ancient Greek theater came largely in retrospect, as major playwrights like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe tried to recreate classical theater unsuccessfully. Another attempt to revive classical theater argued that Greek actors did not speak, but sang. From this school came the opera.
The theatre of ancient Rome was heavily influenced by the Greek tradition, and, as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander.
Theater began in Asia during a period of 1000 years, roughly from a.d. 350 to 1330, a time when there was little theater in Europe. The cultures of Asia reached a high point in philosophy and religion during this period, which left a permanent impression on Asian theater.
Seeking further articles on non-western theatre.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, theater was a vital part of people's civic, economic, and religious lives. 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 one at Oberammergau, which is still performed every 10 years), and the great cycle plays (massive, festive wagon-mounted processions involving hundreds of actors, and drawing pilgrims, tourists, and entrepreneurs) 1 (http://www.uwec.edu/jerzdg/psim/intro.htm). The morality play and mystery play (as they are known in English) were two distinct genres. These plays did not have a script as such, but were passed on by memory and might exist, and be written down, in many different forms.
In an age when religion influenced nearly all aspects of public and private life, there was little formal audience for secular theater; nevertheless, wandering minstrels and folk plays developed even as the religious pageants expanded.
Since many of the most theatrically successful medieval religious plays were designed to teach Catholic doctrine, the Protestant Reformation targeted the theater, especially in England, in an effort to stamp out allegiance to Rome. See Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400-c.1580 (1994).
seeking articles on theatre 1600-1900