Skip to main content

Theatre and drama

Theatre and drama. Theatre, both East and West, has been, and often still is, closely connected to religious ritual: the development of theatre and dramatic form is equally connected to liturgy. Conversely, liturgy and ritual share much in common with theatre and drama. In religious theatre, as in ritual and liturgy, meaning is expressed through the body, especially through the hands, often in coded and non-verbal languages, at least as much as it is through text—indeed, frequently there is no spoken text at all—hence the links with ballet: see DANCE. These connections remain particularly obvious in E. religions. In India, there is a continuing tradition of dance, which is not simply derived from ritual but is still an expression of it. The spread of Hinduism into SE Asia led to an integration with indigenous rituals, leading to many characteristic forms of ritual drama—e.g. in Bali and in Java in the ‘shadow theatre’ (a type of puppet theatre, wayang kulit or wayang purwa).

In Christianity, theatre remained closely connected to ritual through liturgical drama which issued eventually in the miracle plays (dramatizations setting forth the life, miracles, and/or martyrdom of a saint), the mysteries (cycles of plays in which the story of humanity was set forth from the fall of Lucifer to the Last Judgement), and the moralities (dramatized allegories; early examples are The Castle of Perseverance and The Summoning of Everyman, more usually known simply as Everyman). In Spain, the auto sacramental was an even more direct development from the medieval morality plays, and led to the powerful transformations of the form effected by Calderón (1600–81). He wrote more than seventy autos, which expounded the meaning of faith, but which were devotional as well. In the 20th cent., there have been notable attempts in the theatre to explore Christian faith by dramatists who have strongly held Christian beliefs themselves, notably T. S. Eliot and Charles Williams, and less successfully (because more obviously) Graham Greene.

See also RITUAL and DANCE; for Japan see NO DRAMA; for Shīʾa passion plays see TAʿZIYA.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Theatre and drama." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 14 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Theatre and drama." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . (February 14, 2019).

"Theatre and drama." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved February 14, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.