Realism as a theatre movement emerged in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. As a genuine theatre style, realism was a reaction against romanticism and the sensationalism of melodrama which dominated the stages of Europe and America for much of the 1800s. Audiences began to seek more believable plots, characters, sets and costumes on stage. Realism is not to be confused with naturalism, which demanded a slice-of-life authenticity in its construction and performance. Characters in realistic plays were more middle class than those in naturalistic dramas, the subject matter was less sordid, the dialogue that of everyday speech, and plots were typically psychologically driven with a cause and effect relationship between scenes. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (A Doll’s HouseHedda Gabler) is often considered the father of modern realism, writing a number of realistic social dramas, or problem plays, in the process perfecting the well-made play formula. Unlike naturalism, the realistic movement continues to influence theatre to this day. This page contains a curated collection of realism theatre resources for students and teachers. Justin Cash

Easy-to-understand overview of the characteristics and conventions of realsim in the theatre and the distinct differences between realsim and naturalism.

Excellent overview of the introduction of the realist movement on the European stage in the mid-1900s.

Wikipedia entry on realism theatre resources detailing the emergence of the realistic theatre movement in Russia and the United States.

Brief summary of 20th century “American realism” from Oxford Research Encyclopedia.


Useful summary of the key conventions of theatrical realism at a glance.

Overview of the realism including the emegence of the movement and key playwrights.

Explanation of the well-made play formula adhered to by many realist playwrights.

Theatre is a concentrate of life as normal. Theatre is a purified version of real life, an extraction, an essence of human behaviour that is stranger and more tragic and more perfect than everything that is ordinary about me and you.

Eleanor Catton