The historical drama may be defined as the dramatic treatment of authentic historical characters and events, with a serious regard for historical truth in the larger sense, though mere incidental facts may be ignored. Dramatic treatment means such rearrangement and interpretation of the historical material as shall, through the medium of dialogue and action upon the stage, make the characters and their relations clear to the audience, develop a conflict, and show its definite result. The historical drama thus defined has had a larger place in German literature than in any other, though its development in Germany has been comparatively recent, following two hundred years after that of the English historical drama.
The great awakening of national sentiment in England during the latter half of the sixteenth century gave rise to an extensive literature dealing with the history of the country. The chronicle plays of the Elizabethan period were the most important literary expressions of this new national interest; and they mark the beginning of the English historical drama. Most of the Elizabethan dramatists cultivated this form, which soon found its highest development in Shakespeare's "Histories." But the efflorescence of the form in England was as brief as it was sudden; since the time of Shakespeare the historical drama has appeared only sporadically in English literature.