The drama of the Jesuit schools was similar to other forms of scholastic drama and had a specific didactic purpose. The first plays were performed as part of the school curriculum. They were in Latin and their subjects were religious (or sacred): for instance, stories of people like Saul, Herod, Absalom, Judith, Esther, and St Catherine the martyr. The plays were designed to inculcate moral virtues.
The first recorded performance was at Messina in 1551. In the next ten years or so plays were performed at Cordoba, Ingolstadt, Munich, and Vienna. By 1587 (only $3 years after the foundation of the Society of Jesus by St Ignatius Loyola), there were 148 Jesuit colleges in Europe and at least one play was performed at them every year. In 1586 the Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum provided for the acting of tragedies and comedies. Gradually, partly because of the influence of secular drama, ballet and opera, the plays became more ambitious and spectacular. Great pains were taken in perfecting the technique of presentation. Though plays were still written in Latin, the use of the vernacular became quite common. The range of subject matter was widened to include themes from national history and classical legend and history (e.g. the defeat of the Saracens at Messina in 1068, the liberation of Vienna in 1683, the lives of Pompey, Brutus, Croesus and Damocles).
This form of drama prospered throughout Europe during the 17thc. Productions became more and more sumptuous and elaborate, and technical effects increasingly ingenious and lavish. Such a standard of excellence was achieved that the plays were performed increasingly for the general public and at courts. During the 18th c. this form of drama fell gradually into desuetude.