So, what's a play for, then?
To entertain? Or to terrify? To harrow, or educate, or persuade?
All these answers, obviously, involve some communication with the audience - but what if a play is deliberately designed not to have an audience?
This is the idea behind closet drama, which is a play designed to be read, either in isolation or with a small group.
And what's the point of that?
Well, the writer may wish to avoid imprisonment for treason, blasphemy or obscenity; or the writer may not happen to have a theatre handy to put on his or her play. It might be that the writer is of too low status to attract an audience (she may be a woman, perhaps); or perhaps the writer wants to write a play that simply isn't stageable.
Closet dramas were written in England from Elizabethan times onwards, and came into their own during the Puritan Commonwealth when all theatres were closed.
But they persisted even after the return of the monarchy. In the early 1800s, when theatrical fashion turned against serious verse drama and towards sensation and melodrama, anyone wanting to write a literary play was more or less obliged to make it a closet drama. Goethe, Shelley and Pushkin all wrote in the closet drama form.
Nowadays some of the needs of closet drama are met by producing performances on the radio.
Sadly, though, even radio can't do anything to solve the ongoing and still serious problem of censorship.
Word To Use Today: closet. This word comes from the Old French clos, which means enclosure.