53 Greatest Playwrights in History

53 Greatest Playwrights in History

The greatest playwrights in history have been able to capture the essence of human experience and transform them into a work of art.

Some of the most influential, timeless, and masterful plays of all time include William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” and Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

You will be a better actor after reading the work of any of these great playwrights.

Most Important Plays Every Actor Should Read


Betrayal is a play written by Harold Pinter in 1978. It is his most important work and the one he is most well-known for.

This play is about the relationship between two men and how they betray one another.

You will learn how to find the most efficient, clear, and effective way to deliver the vision to the audience and communicate with them.

The Cherry Orchard

Chekhov’s masterpiece, The play first opened in 1904 in Moscow.

The Cherry Orchard will undoubtedly be part of many actors’ rehearsals and/or performances.

Richard III

Richard III is a historical tragedy play written by William Shakespeare on late 1500s.

It is the conclusion to Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, which includes Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, and Richard II and is considered one of the most important plays every actor should read.


Hamlet is a modern retelling of the classic tale of the prince of Denmark.

Hamlet, son of the late King Hamlet, is convinced to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle, King Claudius.

Hamlet must decide whether to follow his father’s wishes and take revenge or to feign madness and live as a coward.

Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler is a play written by Henrik Ibsen about a woman who has grown tired of her marriage and decides to end it.

“Ibsen’s message centers on what literary critics have described as ‘the common good.'”

This is a must-read for all students of literature, drama, and philosophy. It is a classic that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Williams’ most popular work.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a beautiful story of love, lust, and loneliness. It’s a drama of the human spirit, a portrait of a woman who has lost her way.

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Look Back in Anger is a play written in 1956 by John Osborne.

It is a realist play with a dark and cynical tone.

It focuses on the life and marital struggles of an intelligent man named Jimmy Porter.

The Clean House

Matilde is a Brazilian maid who’s been hired to clean the house of a career-oriented doctor, Lane.

But Matilde has a secret that could change everything: she wants to be a comedienne.

Lane is deserted by her husband, Charles, who left her for another woman.

As they attempt to coexist in this new reality, they both struggle with the mundane tasks of cleaning and cooking as well as the emotional consequences of their respective relationships.

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest is a trivial comedy for serious people, first performed on the 14th of feburary 1895 at the james’s theatre in london.

Its all about love, friendship and the pursuit of happiness.

The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The play School for Scandal is a comedy of intrigue and deception.

In the play, Sir Oliver, who has no children, attempts to gather information about his nephews so that he can decide which one to leave his fortune to.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Written by: Edward Albee

It is a play that explores the themes of marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. It follows the story of Martha, a housewife who goes on a date with George, her next-door neighbor.

The play depicts the difficulties of maintaining a relationship while living in a society that is still highly patriarchal.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun is a play about an African American family aspiring to move beyond segregation and disenfranchisement in 1950s Chicago.

The play is a universal message of the desire for social progress amid the differing opinions on how to achieve it.

Clybourne Park

In this modern take on Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, the action takes place in a working-class Chicago neighborhood.

The story follows Walter Younger, an African American man who is about to lose his house to foreclosure.

His world is turned upside down when he meets his white neighbor, Katherine Copeland, who offers him a deal: if he will help her win a beauty pageant, she’ll help him save his home.


Written in the early 19th century

Georg buchners Woyzeck is a tragic tale of a poor military barber named Woyzeck, who was driven to stab his beloved common-law wife, Marie, for her infidelity.

Uncommon Women and Others by Wendy Wasserstein

Uncommon Women, and Others is an unforgettable story of the choices and frustrations of a group of young women attending an exclusive women’s college in the early 1970’s.

It’s a time of social change in which the traditional family expectations for young women were giving way to a new era.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

By Bertolt Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play about a simple peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents.

This drama is highly recommended for actors of all ages.


Machinal is a play that resonates today because of its themes of suppression of women, freedom from societal expectations, and mechanization and industrialization, which overwhelm Helen with all the stress she has been experiencing in her life.


Agamemnon is a masterpiece of Aeschylus, one of the great Greek playwrights.

Agamemnon was a warrior king who influenced the success of the war for Troy.

He is portrayed as a great warrior but also as a selfish ruler who upset his invincible champion Achilles.

It’s a must-read for any actor who wants to master the craft of acting.


Fences by August Wilson, is a gripping drama that captures the struggles of a family trying to survive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set in the 1950s, and centers on a former Negro league baseball pitcher struggling to provide for his family and battling against his bitterness.

Death of a Salesman

The tragic story behind Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, follows Willy Loman, an average man who ultimately has to face his own inabilities that cause his life to crash and ruin.

Received the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

The Homecoming

First produced in England on June 3, 1965.

The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter, is a play about family, love, and the struggle to find a sense of belonging. It’s about the bonds that tie us together and the power of love to help us heal.

In the Blood – Acting Edition

Ever wondered what it’s like to live in poverty?

In The Blood by suzan-lori parks is an intimate story about a family struggling to survive in a world that doesn’t give them a fair chance.

Uncle Vanya

First published in 1898.

Uncle Vanya is a classic play by Anton Chekhov that follows the visit of primary antagonist Professor Serebryakov and his beautiful second wife Yelena to the familial estate which supports their lifestyle.

Long Day’s Journey into Night

Long Day’s Journey into Night is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Eugene O’Neill.

The play tells the story of a young man, who struggles with life and love.

It was written in four acts and focuses on O’Neills’ life from his childhood to his adulthood.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is a harrowing, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful account of an explosive home life with a morphine-addicted mother and alcoholic father.

Tartuffe by Moliere

Enter the world of Molière’s classic play Tartuffe, in this beautifully illustrated edition.

In a time when religion and politics are intertwined, the title character, Tartuffe, poses as a holy, pious man who is welcomed into the home of Orgon and his wife, Elmire.

Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man is an 1894 comedy and Shaw’s first commercial success and one of his earliest plays.

It is a play by George Bernard Shaw that explores the consequences of war from the perspective of a soldier who, after witnessing his comrades killed in battle, decides to sue for peace.

It deals with themes such as nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, honor, and the futility of war.

The Normal Heart

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer is a standalone drama that takes place in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City between 1981 and 1984.

A Doll’s House

by Henrik Ibsen

Is a play by Henrik Ibsen, which is a classic example of realism and naturalism in dramatic literature.

Is about a woman named Nora who has been married to her husband Torvald for 12 years.

The story explores the themes of marriage, gender roles, social class, and domestic violence.

Awake and Sing!

A play by Clifford Odets, about three generations of a Bronx Jewish family and each one’s pursuit of the American Dream.

This is a, deeply emotional and thought-provoking play about the American Dream.

Waiting for Godot

A Waiting for Godot a play by Samuel Beckett presents a play of time and place that is simultaneously timeless and timely.

Samuel Beckett’s existentialist play tells the story of two men, Vladimir and Estragon, who meet at a tree in the middle of nowhere to wait for the man known by the name “ Godot” who will change everything.

Waiting for Godot is a play about the futility of life and the meaninglessness of existence.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

A play by Tom Stoppard.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of the most popular characters in Shakespeare’s world.

They’re also two of the most complicated, and their story is one of the most captivating in all of literature.

These two childhood friends of Hamlet are summoned by Claudius to distract the prince from his apparent madness and if possible to ascertain the cause of it.

But when the time comes for them to leave, they find themselves in a complicated situation, unable to escape without revealing their true identities.

Angels in America by Tony Kushner

The play Angels in America is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by American playwright Tony Kushner that addresses the AIDS crisis.


Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori parks, is the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers who share a dysfunctional relationship.

Haunted by their past, the brothers will do anything to escape it and find a better future.


Medea is a powerful, dark, and tragic play by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides.

Medea is a story about the power of revenge. This is a tale of passion, love, and betrayal.

Medea’s husband Jason has betrayed her by leaving her for another woman, and she has no other choice but to exact her revenge on him.

Life With Father

Of all the plays on this list, this might be the “sturdiest” and probably the most old-fashioned.

In Life With Father, a Wall Street broker learns to let go of his controlling ways as he watches his wife and children grow up.

You should also look at the 1947 movie version as well.

What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton

What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton, is a hilarious and darkly satirical play about mental health that takes place in a British sex farce.

It’s a darkly comic look at the misadventures of a mental health clinic staffed by some of the most unhinged people you’ll ever meet.

This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan

His Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan, is the story of three lost young souls who steal $15,000 from their abusive, tycoon father and spend forty-eight hours in the wilderness of New Jersey.

They are each desperately trying to find their way, and they end up finding each other.

She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmit, is a hilarious comedy from the 18th century that has been performed over and over again.

It is a clever amalgam of a host of theatrical comedic genres, encompassing romance, satire, and farce.

Cloud 9

“Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill” is a play about the lives of the British elite in Victorian-era India and among a group of modern-day Londoners.

The Glass Menagerie

This haunting play by Tennessee Williams is filled with wonderful material for actors and some of the finest scenes in the Williams canon.

The Glass Menagerie is a beautifully written piece that offers an opportunity to explore the world of an artist, his family and his work.

Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King, first performed at around 429BC, is an epic tragedy written by Sophocles in ancient Greece.

Set in Thebes, Oedipus is a story of the downfall of a king and the struggles of his family.


By Ben Jonson,

A mischievous rogue, Volpone is a man who knows how to make and take advantage of the world around him.

He is a master of disguise, an expert in the art of deception, and an expert at getting what he wants without ever seeming to break the rules.

What’s more important than money, power, and respect? Volpone proves that the search for these things is a fool’s errand. It’s a play about human greed and how it leads to foolishness.

Miss Julie

Miss Julie is a naturalistic play written by August Strindberg in 1888.

Set on Midsummer’s Eve on the estate of a Count in Sweden, the play follows the relationship between two women: Julie and Jean.

Over the course of the play, Jean convinces Julie that the only way to escape her predicament is to commit suicide.

Stuff Happens

“Stuff Happens” is a new play by David Hare.

It is set during the Iraq War and deals with the recent history of terrorism, diplomacy, political power, and vendetta.


By George Bernard Shaw,

As the story opens, Candida is struggling with her life as a Christian Socialist wife of Reverend James Morell, a clergyman who is popular in the Church of England.

She is responsible for much of his success, but she feels that her own life lacks meaning.

Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlow is set in Elizabethan England.

The protagonist, Doctor Faustus, is a doctor who makes a pact with the devil to gain knowledge and power.

Mephistopheles, the devil’s intermediary in the play, is an Italianate sorcerer who has been exiled from hell for his ambitions to become a god.

Playboy of the Western World

Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge sparked riots when it premiered in 1907.

A man who’s heralded as a hero for having killed his father in self-defense only to be reviled by those who had cheered him when it turns out the old man was only wounded.

Our Town

This classic play by Thornton Wilder tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.

It’s a work that has inspired generations of writers and moved theatergoers around the world.

Mother Courage and Her Children

“Mother Courage and Her Children” by Bertolt Brecht is a classic of the theater.

The story’s universal themes about war profiteers and the human cost of warfare have proven remarkably versatile since its premiere in 1939.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but you won’t be able to put it down!


Ruined by Lynn Nottage is a play about the women of Mama Nadi’s bar in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is a play about the struggle to survive in a country ravaged by civil war, where women are made to feel like they have nothing to offer but their bodies.

A powerful story of women surviving the unthinkable.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a romantic comedy that has been adapted for the stage, film, and television.

It is a tale of mistaken identities and love in which two sets of twins are switched at birth.

The play features a dark ending with a homoerotic tone.

Private Lives

by Noel Coward

Private Lives by Noel Coward is a comedy play that explores the comical situations in which a divorced couple find themselves, that they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel.

The second act’s love scene was nearly censored in Britain as too risqué, which inturn intrigues a lot of thespians looking for that type of performance on stage.

American Buffalo

American Buffalo by David Mamet, is a film about a man who’s trying to make some extra cash by stealing a customer’s coin collection from his store.

The film explores the human condition and the nature of trust, as well as the lengths we’ll go to in order to protect what’s ours.


The significance of this article is that it allows you to learn about the lives of those people who have been acknowledged as being some of the best writers of all time.

They have influenced many different people.

They have given us the chance to see the world from a different perspective and enjoy the beauty of the written word.

Leave a comment with your opinion or any questions you may have below…

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