vadriana with background sky

All The World's A Stage

Western Drama from Ancient Greece to Shakespeare's England


Greek theater looking up to the sky

Teacher Resources
Student Resources

Task and Product Assessments Questions Gather
and Sort
Organize Conclusion

Research Scenario

timeline of western theatre

How is your entertainment influenced by earlier media? Does the music you listen to borrow melodies or lyrics from older songs? Do the blockbuster movies of today benefit from the innovations of past filmakers? Take a look at the simplicity of the following early film clip from the Thomas Edison collection at the Library of Congress (Faust and Marguerite). Few people today would find the special effects in the clip to be convincing, yet they were surely novel techniques for the day.

The truth is that our entertainment evolves and often becomes richer as a result of blending cultural influences and new techniques, and Shakespearean theater is no exception.

As a developing Shakespeare scholar, you will notice a variety of such influences in his work. Through this research model, you will investigate how the historical periods on the timeline in the left margin affected Shakespeare's plays and answer the Essential Question:


How did Western drama evolve from ancient Greece to Shakespeare's England?

Task and Product



drama definition image

First, you will need to build some background knowledge about this topic.

Click here for a more detailed overview of drama forms.

Think you have mastered the forms? Take the Quiz to be sure!

In the Western world, the theater originated in ancient Greece during the "golden age" or classical period. Elements of Greek theatre were then borrowed and adapted by the Romans. Although theatrical performances were suppressed by the church and others in power in Europe at various times, a variety of dramatic forms evolved during the medieval period known as the Middle Ages. Shakespeare's plays were written and originally performed during the Elizabethan era, when Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the English throne.

As a member of a research team, your task will be to research one type of drama from the Western dramatic tradition through Shakespeare's time. Each member of your team should select one form of drama from the following list:

Greek Drama
Roman Drama
Morality Plays
Miracle & Mystery Plays

 Interludes & Farces

 Commedie dell 'Arte

Elizabethan Drama  


After researching your topic, members of your team will work together to combine your research findings and create one exhibit to educate the rest of your class. Your team's information should be presented in chronological order as a timeline with text and visuals, using one of the following formats:

  • Poster timeline - Each team-member creates one poster on the drama form they researched; posters are placed in chronological order to form the team's timeline. Your team may want to try an online poster creator, such as Glogster, to create each piece in the timeline.
  • Multimedia timeline (such TimeToast, Capzles, VoiceThread, or PowerPoint) - Each team-member creates several "slides" about the drama form they researched; all members' slides are sequenced in chronological order to form the team's timeline.
  • Video timeline - Each team member assumes a role as either the interviewer/moderator or an expert on a particular time period for a tv news/interview.
  • Virtual timeline (Web page) - Each team-member creates one Web page about the drama form they researched; all members' Web pages are linked to a team Home page, with a timeline serving as the table of contents.


jester on wooden stick

The following scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process and your final product and presentation.

Research Process Assessments:

Group Collaboration Assessments:

Final Product Assessments: 



Essential Question:

How did Western drama evolve from ancient Greece to Shakespeare's England?

"Jump-start" Your Thinking: Consider the following additional questions while reading about your topic.

  1. When and where were these forms of drama first written and performed?
  2. Who wrote these plays?
  3. What were performance venues (theaters, stages, etc.) like?
  4. Who were the actors in these performances?
  5. What were the defining characteristics of these plays? What were typical plots, settings, and characters?
  6. What kinds of costumes were worn?
  7. Who were the audiences for these plays? Why did they enjoy the plays?
Gather and Sort

Greek bust made of stone or marble

Use a variety of sources from the Student Resources page to gather information about your topic.

Record and sort your research findings using this note-taking organizer or note cards.

Ask yourself:
Will your notes be sufficient to create a meaningful, detailed timeline that answers the essential question?

Revisit the Student Resources page links or look for additional resources using other BCPS online databases listed.

Be sure to avoid plagiarism and remember to cite your sources.


mime in front of a man imitating him

Analyze your research notes:
Do you have information pertaining to each of your questions?
Do you have additional information that would be of value to your audience?
Is there any unrelated or unimportant information you should eliminate?

Synthesize your research findings:
Meet with the other members of your team to decide on the format for your group project and presentation. Then, click on your chosen presentation format for a Synthesizing and Evaluating Checklist.

your finished product using the appropriate scoring tool for your presentation format.



William Shakespeare portrait painting


  • Present your team's research timeline to your class.
  • After giving your own presentation, self-assess your Team's work using the scoring tool for Group Work.

Choose one Shakespearean play with which you are already familiar. You may want to read summaries of some plays in order to prepare for this activity. Then create a web (mind mapping software such as MindMeister or Inspiration may be useful) in order to label and describe the features of that play that reflect the forms of Western drama your team described on its timeline.

Alternatively, during reading of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, look for elements from the earlier drama forms presented in the timeline projects. Use post-it notes in your play text or your sourcebook to note any elements you find in Shakespeare's play.

Extension Activity:
Select a scene from a Shakespearean play with which you are already familiar. Revise that scene to emphasize one of the Western drama forms you studied, but be sure not to alter the mood or meaning of the scene. You may use a video recording, a comic strip creator, such as BitStrips or Make Beliefs Comix, or another venue of your choosing.

Alternatively, after reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, respond to the following question in a sourcebook entry or constructed response:

  • What elements from earlier forms of Western Drama are evident in Shakepseare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream? Give specific examples from both the timeline projects and the play to support your answer.