ANCIENT drama was not realistic. The ancients idealized their characters in tragedy, and caricatured them in comedy. They evidently saw no point in the accurate portrayal of ordinary life on the stage, and nothing of this sort was attempted in the theatre until late in the nineteenth century. For the ancients a play was a ceremony of special character, which had its own reality, hardly to be confused with the reality of life. Renaissance drama, on the other band, rested on the realistic tradition of the medieval stage. It was therefore more seriously involved with questions of verisimilitude, and the history of drama since the Renaissance shows, in general, a steady development in the direction of realism and the theatrical illusion.
For the Renaissance dramatist, tragedy involved the misfortunes of people of consequence. The adversities of people of no consequence furnished, so far as the theatre was concerned, only matter for comedy. The reasons for this interesting distinction relate to the nature of the tragic and comic modes, and the styles of expression considered appropriate to them.1