Nagoya Sanzaburō monogatari ('The Take of Nagoya Sanzaburō'), a handscoll painting

From the 1620s onwards, the government attempted to bring the theatre and prostitution, which were considered morally corrupting influences on society, under strict control. However, they realised that both were necessary and so did not try to outlaw them totally. Women performers were banned from the Kabuki stage in 1629, and young male prostitutes in 1652. Kabuki began to develop as drama from this time, since it could no longer rely solely on the attractiveness of its performers.

The theatre reached an early peak of maturity from the mid-1680s until around 1715. This period saw new types of plays, the first appearance of dedicated playwrights, and great advances in acting. Japan's most famous playwright, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) wrote for Kabuki during this period.

During the 1730s and 1740s, the rival puppet theatre enjoyed a boom in popularity, and one writer remarked that, 'it is as though Kabuki no longer exists'. However, it soon enriched itself by adapting the long, complex puppet plays, and even some of their stage techniques. Many of today's most popular Kabuki plays were in fact first written for the puppet theatre.