The history of the drama may be divided into two classes, the
Christian, which began with the Mystery and Morality plays; and
the Greek, which was eminently classic. These two types were the
foundation of all that came after them.
The first dawn of the drama was in Greece; for although the
Hindus also had dramatic poetry, it did not arise until there had
been a lengthened intercourse between Greece and India, so that
the latter undoubtedly borrowed from the former. The learned
writers of ancient times agree that both tragedy and comedy were
originally choral song. It has been said that poetry and song are
divided into three periods of a nation's history, that the Epic
has to do with the first awakening of a people, telling of their
legends, or of some great deeds in remote antiquity. This is
followed by the second stage, which embraces elegiac and lyric
poetry and arose in stirring and martial times, during the
development of new forms of government, when each individual
wanted to express his own thoughts and wishes; and the third is
the drama, which can only be born in a period of civilization,
and which, it has been said, implies a nation.
Hence Greek drama arose at the height of Grecian civilization and
splendor. It originated in the natural love of imitation, of
dancing and singing, especially at the Bacchic feasts. The
custom at these feasts of taking the guise of nymphs and satyrs,
and of wearing masks while they danced and sang in chorus, seems
to have been the beginnings of the Greek drama.
Ancient tragedy was ideal, and had nothing to do with ordinary
life; it arose from the winter feasts of Bacchus, while comedy
was the outcome of the harvest feasts, and the accompanying
Bacchanalian processions, which were more in the nature of a
frolic than of real acting.