This essay will discuss the development of theatre in the 20th century. It will be discussed in chronological order. It will trace the development of theatre from the late 19th century through realism, naturalism, symbolism, Epic theatre, Existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd. With each new genre it will ask why it emerged, what was it trying to say and how was it saying it? It will also give insight into the many key theatre practitioners that influenced 20th century theatre. The modern theatre dates from about 1875. It is now well into its second century. Realism finds its roots in the political and economic conditions of the later half of the 19th century. The downfall of Napoleon lead to the reinstatement of oppressive political conditions in many European nations. The industrial revolution was highlighting the terrible condition of man. Huge parts of the population deserted the country side to find jobs in the city, living conditions in urban centers became more and more inadequate daily. Many families were found living in the same room, all waste was thrown out onto the street. Crime and poverty was rife. .
The romanticists view of the perfect world in harmony was not relevant to the society of the time. The issues of the day needed to be addressed. Thus the realists emerged. Realism: sought to improve the lot of mankind by coming to grips with the truth". The movement that has had the most influence and long-lived effect on 20th century theatre is, beyond a doubt, realism. Realist writers would strive to create a truthful depiction of the society around them, in this way they believed that their work was moral since "truth is the highest form of morality." Some supporters of realism said that if the audience did not agree with what they saw on the stage they should aim to change the society around them from where the playwright received his inspiration, and not criticize the playwright himself.