In Germany traces of the drama first appeared in the thirteenth century, when rude attempts to imitate the Mystery plays were conducted in churches by the priests. But when the populace tried to introduce the Burlesque, the performances were banished to the open fields. Students in the universities took part in them, and they continued until after the Reformation. Brought into Europe from Constantinople by the Crusaders and pilgrims, the Mystery plays became the chief amusement of an illiterate age. Christianity was first thoroughly impressed on the mind of Northern Europe by means of them; and the first missionaries familiarized the rude Goths and Huns with Biblical incidents at a time when reading was unknown outside of the Cloister. No change in German drama occurred until the seventeenth century, when operas after the Italian superseded the Mysteries and Moralities. The production of this age, however, were characterized by bad taste and pedantry; and it was not until Goethe brought his genius to bear on the subject, that the Germans acquired any drama worthy of the name. Whether in his national play Gotz von Berlichingen or in his classical drama of Iphigenia, this great German master stands at the summit of his art. Lessing attacked French drama as enacted in Germany prior to Goethe, and brought forward the Shakespearian plays as a model.
Schiller's Wallenstein obtained a worldwide reputation, and among the Romantic dramatists Werner's Attila and Grillparzer's Ancestress are the best examples of the extravagant and fertile mind of the German romanticist.
Modern German drama has found the highest art it has ever attained in the compositions of Richard Wagner, whose operas are entirely German and National, and mostly founded on the old German legends. Tannhauser is taken from the epic poem of "Parzifal," written by Wolfram von Eschenbach in the Middle Ages. Lohengrin, which is touched on in the "Parzifal," Wagner also found in the poem of an obscure Bavarian poet; and a more complete account of the celebrated "Swan Knight" appears in a collection of stories edited by the brothers Grimm. Lohengrin is a Knight of the Holy Grail, so part of the legend is borrowed from ancient Britain.