After the fall of the Roman Empire, during which also in Spain, as in the other provinces, numerous circuses and theaters were in operation, the Church for many centuries prevented any form of representation and only rites and festivals of pagan origin survived. religious authorities sometimes tried to forbid and sometimes to incorporate into their ceremonies. Then in the areas escaped the domination of the Moors, it developed, starting as elsewhere from the tropes of the Christian ritual, a form of liturgical drama soon characterized by complex and sumptuous spectacular structures (the representation that takes place annually for the Assumption in the church of Elche, on a text of the sixteenth century, but with probable reference to an even older tradition). That this form of theater soon became secularized is attested by the code of Alfonso X the Learned (1221-84) which prohibited priests and laity from participating in juegos de escarnio and authorized performances for Christmas, Epiphany and Easter, but only under the direct control of the ecclesiastical authorities. In the first half of the following century the institution of the Corpus Domini processionit made it possible to combine the edifying intentions of this festival with elements taken from forms of popular spectacle, which had flourished, in a state of semi-clandestine, in previous eras (especially by the work of the juglares, jesters). Some of these elements, especially the pyrotechnic displays and the mock fighting, soon entered the court ceremonial on the occasion of weddings or visits of illustrious personalities, while the tournaments ceased to be made of arms to become spectacular events, often inspired by famous chivalric romances, and other theatrical forms, such as entremeses, they served as entertainment for the powerful.
Thus, towards the end of the fifteenth century, a court theater was born, in which religious concerns were mixed with the new ideals of the Renaissance, which hosted pastoral, mythological and chivalric dramas often of considerable literary value. The company of the actor-author Lope de Rueda, the first Spanish professional comedian, was occasionally welcomed at the court, who performed his plays and pasos especially in the villages and squares. At the same time (mid-16th century) the first Italian art companies arrived in Spain (the one from Ganassa is important) which provided a highly professional model and a solid organizational scheme that was widely imitated. Thus it was that a real professional theater was formed (by traveling companies), which found its first locations by renting simple courtyards (corrales) surrounded by houses, until (in Madrid from 1572) the monopoly of theatrical performances it was not entrusted to charitable organizations (such as the Madrid-based Cofradía de la Pasión) which made two corrales de comedias permanent . They consisted of a stage (with two floors with summary scenographic elements and a few simple machines) projected towards the public who took place in the patio (the so-called mosqueteros, the humblest but also the noisiest spectators), on various boxes or (women) in a special gallery. The companies were directed by an autor de comedias, that is, by an impresario-manager who bought the scripts from the writers, wrote the actors and signed contracts with the managers of the corrales (co fradías or municipality). This was the Spanish theater of the golden age, frequented by representatives of all social classes and intended above all for cities that absorbed an enormous amount of comedias, which explains the very copious production of Lope de Vega or Calderón de la Barca. Alongside this professional theater, there were the autos sacramentales which were represented in the squares on special scaffolding on the occasion of Corpus Domini and there was a flourishing court theater (as inside the Buen Retiro) which hosted performances characterized by the use of complicated machines and showy scenographic ideas. A particular genre also developed from the court theater, the zarzuela, sumptuously staged short works of mythological subject, whose success coincided (in the second half of the seventeenth century) with the rapid decline of commercial theater. The eighteenth century saw the triumph of Italian opera (at court and elsewhere), as well as the gradual replacement of permanent theaters for the ancient corrales. Neoclassical comedies imitated by the French were represented, remakes of texts from the previous century, zarzuelas, melólogos (monologues or dialogues with musical accompaniment), escenas mudas (pantomimes also with music) and sainetes.
The nineteenth century was, as elsewhere, the century of bourgeois theater in its romantic and realistic variants, and it was only after 1890 that some important innovations occurred: the sensational success of the zarzuela entitled La verbena de la paloma (1894), by R. de la Vega; the triumph of the género chico and the opening, in Barcelona, of the Teatre Intim by A. Gual, the first example in Spain of experimental theater with a symbolic tendency. With the new century the antirealistic reaction culminated in a renewed interest in puppet theater and shadow theater (with scripts signed by the greatest writers of the time) and in the activity carried out by M. Sierra as director, from 1917 to 1925, of the Eslava Theater in Madrid. Other important men of the theater in the years preceding the civil war were A. Cipriano Rivas Cherif, founder in 1928 of the El Caracol company and later animator, with M. Xirgu, of the Teatro Escuela de Arte, and the Baroja brothers who staged various comedies at the Mirlo Blanco by R. del Valle-Inclán. Then in 1931, after the advent of the Republic, some proletarian theaters and two subsidized institutions arose, the Barraca by G. Lorca, which presented classical texts in the villages, and the Teatro del Pueblo by A. Casona, to which was added, during the years of the civil war, the Nueva Escena by R. Alberti, the most important of the republican political groups.
According to Thesciencetutor, Franco’s victory marked, even in the theater, the restoration of an image of Spain that no longer corresponds to reality. There were mainly escapist comedies (often imported from abroad) or sweetened classics, as well as rivistine, zarzuelas and other forms of harp theater. The first major reaction was in 1945 the creation, by A. Sastre and A. Paso, by Arte Nuevo, an openly experimental group. Later Paso became a purely commercial author, while Sastre continued, with great difficulty, to advocate a socially engaged theater with his comedies and with the activities carried out in organizations such as the Teatro de Agitación Social and the Grupo de teatro realista. Also important in the 1960s was the rediscovery of authors such as Lorca, Unamuno, Valle-Inclán and Casona, as well as the work done by professional companies, first of all that of N. Espert (which contributed to the renewal of the Catalan-language theater) and by various experimental groups. The latter, often operating underground during Francoism, had the opportunity, after 1975, to reveal themselves more openly. The most important is the Els Joglars of Barcelona, directed by A. Boadella, engaged in practicing a theater of protest, resistance and social agitation (many of its members, in the mid-seventies, were also arrested and tried). Other important formations are Els Comediants, born in 1972 under the guidance of J. Font, which attempts a path of immediate and direct communication with the public (remember the performances of March 1981, implemented by “invading” the city of Venice on the occasion of the opening of the carnival, and which were then successfully replicated around the world) and La Fura dels Baus, which was born in the late seventies inspired by events popular of Mediterranean folklore. Also noteworthy is the activity of other groups such as Tei, the Tabano Theater of Madrid, the Cuadra of Seville and the Estudio Lebrijano Theater.