In almost all the countries drama has been cradled by religion. This is true about England too. Drama is deeply rooted in the religious instincts of man. The ancient Greek drama never lost its kinship with religion. Thus in Europe the cradle of the drama rested on the alter. It was difficult to understand the services of the church. It is because they were in Latin. So they illustrated the Gospel stories by a series of pictures. Later on these pictures were replaced by the performers. They acted the stories in dumb show.

The mysteries and miracles: The next step of the development came when the actors spoke. These early plays were called mystery plays or miracle plays. They came into being in the 14th century. The mystery plays were the dramatic representations of the stories from the Bible. Even in the 10th century these mystery plays existed. These plays were performed by the priests in the church. These plays became popular and the number of the themes increased.

            In the miracle plays the lives of the saints were staged. Perhaps these miracle plays were more popular because of their variety, human characters and urbane style. These plays were both serious and comic. They prepared the ground for the Elizabethan drama.

The morality plays and Interludes: The third stage of the development is remarkable. At this stage we find the advent of the morality plays and interludes. In the earlier plays the serious and comic elements were mixed. Now they parted. The morality plays had serious tone and didactic purpose. The interludes were comic and amusing. The morality plays showed the struggle between good and evil in human soul. The characters were allegorical and aimed at teaching. The aim of interludes was amusement and entertainment. They were full of humour, which was generally coarse. It was a short play, which introduced real characters. It was far superior to morality plays. Heywood was the most gifted writer of the interlude.

The English tragedy: The next stage was the beginning of the English tragedy. The first tragedy in English literature was Gorboduc. It was written by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton. It earned praise from Sidney. It was followed by other tragedies like The Misfortunes at Arthur and Tancred and Gismunda.

The English Comedy: The next stage was the beginning of English comedy. In 1541 Nicholas Udall, the headmaster of Eton, produced Ralph Roister Doister. By writing this comedy he earned the title of the father of English comedy. This play was not the adaptation of any particular play. Here humour was not coarse. The characters had been taken from life. The next notable comedy was 'Gammer Gurton's Needle'. It was written about 1560 by Mr. S. This comedy is a great landmark in the history of English drama. These comedies were written on the classical model.

The University Wits: The drama found its full flowing with the dramatists called the university wits. Marlowe was the central sun of this group. Others were Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge, Nash and Kyd. Lyly was a comic playwright. He is well known as the author of Euphues. Peele’s work has great variety. His The Old Wive's Tale is the first English play of dramatic criticism. Green was an expert in the art of plotting. The English tragedy moves on its way with Kyd. With Marlowe the drama reaches the highest point of its glory. His contribution is memorable. In many ways he showed a path to Shakespeare.

            The English drama has a long history. It passed through various stages. In the age of Shakespeare it reached the highest point of its glory. 


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