The Origin of Theatre
By Sheldon Fairfoot
“It is unlikely that anyone will ever know just how theatre emerged” (Grose & Kenworthy, 1985: 3). Though there is little certain evidence, strong indications, scattered throughout our history, point to theatre finding its origins in the ancient rituals of shamanism.
One might argue that theatre finds its origins quite clearly in ancient Greek theatre seeing as they have many written and still surviving plays and strong standing theatres, but George Freedley (1941) would argue otherwise. The oldest records of plays, stage directions and possibly even scripts are found not in ancient Greece but in Egypt, and they date back till as early as 4000 B.C. in examples of drama such as the Pyramid Texts (Freedley, 1941: 2). We can even directly link Egyptian and Greek performance by noting that a historian of the theatre, Herodotus, recorded “the religious festivals and the origin of the worship of Dionysos(sic) which was later to be transferred to the dramatic festivals in Greece” (Freedley, 1941: 1). This suggests that theatre as we know it actually finds its roots in ancient Egyptian festivals and dramas preformed in celebration of the gods.
A common element seen in both Egyptian and Greek culture, be it on stage or not, is the ritualistic nature of their performances. This fact suggests that the origin of their version of performance and theatre is found in ritual and its significant role in society. “...the earliest information about the presence of such drama comes from the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, most notably Egypt” (Grose & Kenworthy, 1985: 6). As the quote suggests, ritual as a means of drama is found all over the world, but clearly not in the same form as ancient Greek and Egyptian theatre. Therefore, one must look for other examples of ritualistic practises and performance in the world that predate even these ancient cultures. Left is but one known possible source from which theatre...
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