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For two and a half millennia, theater has played an important role in mankind’s cultural development. Along with providing entertainment, drama, both comedic and tragic, it can offer deep insights into the human condition and psyche.
The ancient Greeks are credited with inventing theater as an art form in the 5th Century BC, with the word itself being derived from the Greek ‘theasthai’ (‘to behold’).
They divided dramatic theater into three types; tragedy, comedy, and tragicomedy. Along with making audiences laugh and cry, plays of this period also offered commentary on contemporary social and political issues.
The dramatic arts were later appropriated by the Romans, who further developed it as an art form.
As the Roman Empire expanded across Europe, it brought the theatrical arts in its wake. By the early Middle Ages, churches across Western Europe were marking their holidays by staging dramatized versions of biblical events.
During the High Middle Ages, ‘Morality plays,’ which told allegorical stories about good’s triumph over evil, became a popular form of entertainment.
In the 16th Century, dramatic themes became increasingly secular in nature. Meanwhile, the advent of public theaters during England’s Elizabethan era brought dramatic works to a much wider audience.
During the Middle Ages, patronage of the theater had been an exclusively aristocratic pastime. But over the last 500 years, it has gradually opened up to the masses, mainly transcending class boundaries.
The steady ‘democratization’ of theater reached its apex in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Today, the dramatic arts are freely enjoyed by all, with modern plays typically dealing with issues that resonate with people of all walks of life.