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The two masks associated with drama represent the traditional generic division between comedy and tragedy.
They are symbols of the ancient Greek Muses, Thalia, and Melpomene.
In re-working the Greek originals, the Roman comic dramatists abolished the role of the chorus in dividing the drama into episodes and introduced musical accompaniment to its dialogue (between one-third of the dialogue in the comedies of Plautus and two-thirds in those of Terence).
Plautus, the more popular of the two, wrote between 205 and 184 BC and twenty of his comedies survive, of which his farces are best known; he was admired for the wit of his dialogue and his use of a variety of poetic meters.
Their origins remain obscure, though by the 5th century BC they were institutionalised in competitions held as part of festivities celebrating the god Dionysus.
In English (as was the analogous case in many other European languages), the word "play" or "game" (translating the Anglo-Saxon plèga or Latin ludus) was the standard term used to describe drama until William Shakespeare's time—just as its creator was a "play-maker" rather than a "dramatist" and the building was a "play-house" rather than a "theatre".Only a small fraction of the work of five dramatists, however, has survived to this day: we have a small number of complete texts by the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the comic writers Aristophanes and, from the late 4th century, Menander.Aeschylus' historical tragedy The Persians is the oldest surviving drama, although when it won first prize at the City Dionysia competition in 472 BC, he had been writing plays for more than 25 years.In the 10th century, Hrosvitha wrote six plays in Latin modeled on Terence's comedies, but which treated religious subjects. 1300), one of the earliest known in English, seems to be the closest in tone and form to the contemporaneous French farces, such as The Boy and the Blind Man.A large number of plays survive from France and Germany in the late Middle Ages, when some type of religious drama was performed in nearly every European country.
Characters were often used to represent different ethical ideals.