The development of the drama in England was in close connection with the appearance and development of the theatre. Since ancient times there existed in Europe two stages upon which dramatic art developed. The chief place of performance was the church, and second to it was the market place where clowns played their tricks.
The church exhibited Bible-stories, called "Mysteries"; they also had "Miracles" which were about supernatural events in the lives of saints. Both, the miracles and mysteries were directed by the clergy and acted by boys of the choir on great holidays. It has become a tradition since then to have men-actors for heroines on the English stage.
Early in the 15th century characters represented human qualities, such as Mercy, Sin, Justice and Truth, began to be introduced into the miracle plays. The plays were called "Moral plays" or "Moralities". They were concerned with man's behaviour in this life. The devil figured in every ply and he was the character always able to make the audience laugh. Moralities were acted in town halls too.
It was about the time of King Henry VIII, when the Protestants drove theatricals out of the church, that acting became a distinct profession in England. Now the actors performed in inncourt yards, which were admirably suited to dramatic performances consisting as they did of a large open court surrounded by two galleries. A platform projected into the middle of the yard with dressing rooms at the back, There was planty of standing room around the stage, and people came running in crowds as soon as they heard the trumpets announcing the beginning of a play. To make the audience pay for its entertainment, the actors took advantage of the most thrilling moment of the plot: this was the proper time to send the hat round for a collection.
The plays gradually changed; moralities now gave way to plays where historical and actual characters appeared. The popular clowns from the market-place never disappeared from the stage. They would shove in between the parts of a play and talk the crowds into anything.
The regular drama from its very beginning was divided into comedy and tragedy. Many companies of players had their own dramatists who were actors too.
As plays became more complicated, special playhouses came into existence. The first regular playhouse in London was built in what had been the Blackfriars Monastery where miracle plays had been performed before the Reformation. It was built by James
Burbage and was called "The Theatre" (a Greek word never used in England before). Later, "The Rose", "The Curtain", "The Swan" and many other playhouses appeared. These playhouses did not belong to any company of players. Actors travelled from one place to another and hired a building for their performances.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the laws against the poor were very cruel. Peasants who had lost their lands and went from town to town in search of work were put into prison as tramps. Actors were often accused of being tramps, so trave1ling became impossible. The companies of players had to find themselves a patron among the nobility and with the aid of obtain rights to travel and to perform. Thus some players called themselves "The Earl of Leicester's Servants", others-"The Lord Chamberlain's Men", and in 1583 the Queen appointed certain actors "Grooms of the Chamber" All their plays were censored lest there be anything against the Church or the government.
But the worst enemies of the actors were the Puritans. They formed a religious sect in England which wanted to purity the English Church from some forms that the Church retained of roman Catholicism. The ideology of the Puritans was the ideology of the smaller bourgeoisie who wished for a "cheaper church" and who hoped they would become rich one day by careful living. They led a modest and sober life. These principles, though moral at first sight, resulted in a furious attack upon the stage. The companies of players were actually locked out of the City because they thought acting a menace to public morality.
The big merchants attacked the drama because players and playgoers caused them a lot of trouble: the profits on beer went to proprietors of the inns and not to the merchants; all sorts of people came to town, such as gamblers and thieves, during the hot months of the year the plague was also spread strolling actors. Often apprentices who were very much exploited by the merchants used to gather at plays for the purpose of picking fights with their masters.
Towards the end of the 16th century we find most of the playhouses far from the city proper.