The Reformation, by improving the schools, gave a new stimulus to the school plays. Every German gymnasium dating from that period has its theatrical history, though but little is known of it. Luther was no enemy of the drama; on the contrary, he believed that it was represented in the Old Testament; he thought that the books of Judith and Tobit were originally plays, the former a tragedy, the latter a comedy. He recognized in Terence's plays a fair reflection of the outer world, and favored the representation of them as a good exercise in language. He considered the Religious drama as an instrument for spreading evangelical truth, and only required that it should be serious and moderate in tone, not farcical, as it had been under the papacy. The Church festival plays, especially the Christmas plays, were continued under the Protestant régime; the genuine Passion plays alone were banished from within the sphere of Luther's immediate influence, for he disapproved of the sentimental view of Christ's sufferings. Those dramas, too, which were founded on sacred legends--lugenden, or lyings, they were termed by the controversialists--were banished by the Protestants. On the other hand, the drama acquired a great increase of material through the popularity of the Bible, and all parts of the Scriptures were ransacked to furnish subjects for plays. A great number of polemical dramas, written with a Protestant bias, were also produced, closely resembling in character those satirical dialogues which were called forth in such numbers by the Reformation. Sometimes a polemical coloring was given to an already existing subject; sometimes the polemical element was confined to the moral which was at that time appended to every play.
The various dramatic forms of the fifteenth century can still be clearly distinguished. But the school drama only recognized tragedy and comedy, and in doubtful cases tragi-comedy. The popular Carnival-play formed a class by itself; the Sottie, or clown-play proper, became rarer, but, to make up for this, in some districts the clown and his jokes made their way even into the Biblical plays, notwithstanding Luther's disapproval. The farces received important additions from comic tales and jest-books; the Moralities from the parables of the New Testament; the Mysteries from the history of the children of Israel, from the life of Christ and the apostles, and from the current tales and novels. German history contributed but little material to the drama of this epoch. As in the fifteenth century, play-writers seldom tried to be original in their choice of material, and did not hesitate to make use of former plays on the same subject, the earliest dramatic version of a story often becoming the model for all succeeding ones.
Dramas based upon the story of the Prodigal Son always introduced flattering parasites, after the manner of Terence, and described profligate life, or else they attacked an effeminate and indulgent education, sometimes with a special application to student life at the universities. The stories of Rebecca and of Tobias furnished an opportunity for dwelling on the beauty of family life, courtship and marriage; the parable of Dives and Lazarus brought forward the subject of social inequality; Judith and Holofernes were made to suggest Turks and Christians.