I. Origins of Theatre
Little information about the origin of theatre has survived. The information we do have comes from wall paintings, decorations, artifacts, and hieroglyphics that show the importance of successful hunts, seasonal changes, life cycles, and stories of the gods. From these we see the necessity of passing along the experiences of the old to the young through art, storytelling, and dramatizing events. This practice gave the youth of a culture a guide and a plan for their own lives.
Theatre emerged from myth , ritual, and ceremony. Early societies perceived connections between certain actions performed by the group or leaders in the group and the desired results of the whole society. These actions moved from habit, to tradition, and then on to ceremony and ritual. The formulation of these actions, and the consequent repetition and rehearsal, broke the ground for theatre.
According to the mythologist Joseph Campbell, rituals are related to three basic concerns: pleasure, power, and duty. Power- influencing and controlling events- was often the intention of rituals such as ceremonies to guarantee a successful crop or to please the gods. Usually societies had rituals that glorified supernatural powers, victories, and heroes. Often supernatural forms would be represented using costumes and masks. Rituals that were practiced as duty to the gods, also brought entertainment and pleasure.
These rituals are accompanied by myths. The myths enter the storytelling tradition, gaining a life beyond the original rites. This new life allows the myths to move towards entertainment and the esthetic. These stories now are performed for their own sake and move towards theatre.
Through these rituals, leaders, or actors of sorts, emerged. These acting/leadership roles were often filled by elders and priests. In addition, the beginnings of acting spaces or auditoriums developed as a result of more elaborate rituals.
The earliest example of ceremony and ritual evolving towards theatre comes from ancient Egypt. "Pyramid texts" dating from 2800 to 2400 B.C., contain dramas sending the dead pharaoh off to the underworld. These dramas also the continuity of life and the pharaoh's power. There is also the Memphite Drama, recounting the story of the death and resurection of the god Osiris, and the coronation of his son Horus. The most important Egyptian drama, though, was the Abydos passion play. Like the Memphite drama, the Abydos passion play concerns the story of Osiris. The paramont egyptian myth, this drama was enacted at the most sacred place in Egypt, Abydos- the burial site of Osiris. .Performed annualy from 2500 to 550 B.C. and full of spectacle, this passion play is the first of its kind ever recorded and is the first example of theatre.
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