What is the relationship of imitation and ritual to theatre

From Ritual Drama to Ancient Theater | fabula-fantasia.info

Drama's stirring of emotion falls into the realm of ritual as it submits the soul to a in religious and social ritual and that the stage participates in imitation ritual. action moved from ritual to theatre (Turner ) and why it so often moves .. Ritual performance not only symbolizes a social relationship or change; it also explained that a play is an imitation of action, not the action itself. When re. he turns abruptly from a description of mankind's "instinct for imitation (mimesis )" out of which . In essence, Aristotle looked at theatre-like entertainments and ritual closely enough to posit a cause-and-effect relationship, as Aristotle does.

He lived much closer in time to early Greek drama than we do and, to judge from the dramas he cites and quotes, had access to fifth-century classical plays we do not. Furthermore, he spent at least some of his life in ancient Athens and was personally involved in Athenian culture. Whether or not he did, he certainly could have gone to the ancient theatre, so he speaks from at least the assumption of having seen Greek tragedy in action in its day, something beyond our grasp.

While these do, in fact, seem like overwhelming advantages, on close inspection none are so imposing that we cannot question his thesis. Aristotle lived from to BCE, which is about two hundred years after the period he is discussing. If that does not seem like a long time, especially in the great sweep of history, one should remember how long two centuries can be. By our standards that is like going back to the early days of the United States. How much would a person today be able to remember about that period without historical records to go on?

Credible oral histories cannot exist at such a remove. So it is fair to assume Aristotle is dependent on what data he can collect from that period or, to put it another way, The Poetics is by definition secondary evidence — not primary! Nor does it help those who would defend him as an authority on primordial Hellenic drama that in all of The Poetics he does not quote from one piece of primary historical evidence written in the sixth century BCE: He either did not have access to such information or chose not to reference his sources in The Poetics.

If he did have access to data about early drama, it seems likely a researcher who is otherwise so meticulous would have explored those avenues and included them in his finished work.

The greater likelihood is that all but no records of early drama had survived to his day. To see the point here, it may help to think of this situation in modern terms. For instance, in several centuries or more from now there will probably no longer exist comprehensive records of the very earliest phases of film-making: De Mille's first silent version of The Ten Commandments.

In the absence of clear data, will they be able to see its dependence on theatre, the novel, opera and artistic movements like impressionism? So, any way you look at it, Aristotle's primacy as a researcher of early Greek theatre is not as great an advantage as it might appear at first. Nor is his cultural advantage as great as it might seem on the surface.

The Athens he knew was very different from that into which drama was born. Between the days of early tragedy and Aristotle's lifetime, the Classical Age had come and gone, leaving in its wake a very changed civilization and view on life.

Aristotle, without doubt, was acculturated to see the world through eyes quite different from those which had directed and witnessed the birth of Greek drama. Moreover, lacking immediate experience with the full cultural framework of the time in which drama first came to light, he was as prone as anyone to make misassessments about the inclinations and motivations of his remote ancestors in the Pre-Classical Age.

Granted, even if faulty, his reconstructions of the past probably appeared sensible to him and his peers—and perhaps to many today, too—nevertheless, his conclusions will have diminished validity if they do not address directly the age in question. In other words, Aristotle was at some risk of making the same mistake all historians are: How right is Aristotle about the origin of tragedy? With all that in mind, let us examine Aristotle's hypothesis about the origin of Greek drama.

In essence, Aristotle looked at theatre-like entertainments and ritual celebrations that were not tragedy as such and that had survived to his day and seemed "primitive" to him—remember his words: The postulates underlying The Poetics—that is, Aristotle's assumptions about what constitutes historical data in the case of early theatre and how it should be ordered—are remarkably similar to those adopted by Frazer in The Golden Bough.

And that opens Aristotle up to the same criticisms as those which have been directed at Frazer. Basically, Aristotle assumes that something which looks "primitive" to him must be "early," that ritual leads to theatre and that there is inevitable "progress" toward more complex forms: Without a clear and documented basis in data, such assumptions cannot carry much weight.

The dithyramb, what Aristotle cites as the art form from which tragedy arose, also poses several obstacles to the construction of a coherent case for some sort of linear development in the performing arts of early Greece. To begin with, no early dithyrambs survive from antiquity.

Indeed, until recently we did not have any dithyrambs at all, but in the last century a few have emerged from the sands of Egypt. Unfortunately for our purposes here, they are later dithyrambs by a classical—not pre-classical! It is enough to note that Bacchylides' dithyrambs do not employ spoken language—they are meant to be sung entirely—nor do they entail elaborate characterization, as tragedy usually does.

That means it is questionable even whether dithyrambs represented institutional theatre, much less served as the predecessor of tragedy. Indeed, one of Bacchylides' dithyrambs includes only a single character, while another has no characters at all, only a chorus, something unheard of in extant tragedy. Moreover, these dithyrambs are episodic, meaning they do not have conventional plots with a clear beginning, middle and end, again unlike all known Greek tragedies. What they seem to be are short "epics" cast in the form of lyric poems to be performed by a chorus, with language poetic and elevated, focusing on the genealogies and epithets of heroes and, as such, peopled by characters huge and lofty, mostly gods and heroes, not the desperate, stricken mortals who dominate the tragedies available to us.

Before entertaining such a notion, we must admit that it would be foolish to cast away lightly the opinion of one of the finest minds ever and, even if his report constitutes secondary evidence, a researcher who stands much closer to the actual event in question than we are.

But let us assume for a moment that Aristotle is mistaken. It is still incumbent on his prosecutors to show how and why, and to present some better case than he does—no small task!

Suppose, then, that we had access to all the dithyrambs ever written in early Greece and we could see for ourselves that there were, in fact, no dithyrambs which resembled tragedy closely enough to posit a cause-and-effect relationship, as Aristotle does. He is not an idiot or liar, so it is incumbent on us to find some reasonable explanation for his misconstruction of the data.

Fortunately, that is not an insurmountable challenge. The Poetics does not focus on the issue of origins with nearly the sort of attention modern theatre historians might wish for. There is, in fact, very little in this work about the origin of drama and, to judge from the fractured density of Aristotle's language—if it is even his language and not the notes of someone listening to his lectures, as some scholars suppose!

Thus, it seems fair to say that the question of the origin of drama was not central in his mind. To wit, he does not cite the sources on which his opinion is based, including not even a single quotation from an early dithyramb or anything which would ground his argument in compelling, primary data. Now let us assume the converse, that Aristotle is correct and evidence actually once existed that there were dithyrambs that looked like tragedies, at least on paper.

He could, after all, never have seen such dithyrambs performed since he lived so long after the fact and so it still does not argue for an evolutionary link between these types of performance. Aristotle could be making an error to which many historians of theatre are susceptible. That is, he has assumed a connection between theatrical genres which happen to look alike in written form—in this case, dithyrambs and tragedies both include choruses, lyrics, characters, scenes, dramatic tension, climax and so on—but, when seen in theatres in performance, they probably looked and were very different.

Much the same could be said for opera and oratorio. Perhaps, a more modern analogy will help clarify the situation. For instance, compare the screenplays of animated films and live-action movies. They look, in fact, very similar, but the finished products in performance are worlds apart and, as we know, grew out of vastly different artistic milieux.

All in all, if it is true that Aristotle is projecting a hypothesis based primarily on evidence from his own day and not the Pre-Classical Age, he shows himself to have been a purveyor—but not necessarily a spectator—of plays who has made a classic "reader's error.

It is possible to see that same sort of error elsewhere in The Poetics. Aristotle claims—or seems to claim since the text is gravely abbreviated—that "Sophocles introduced? Sophocles' career had begun only a decade earlier ca.

It seems unlikely that a novice, before even having earned his dramatic stripes, would have been allowed to reformulate the rules in as rigidly controlled an environment as the prestigious, award-granting religious festival of the City Dionysia.

That increases the probability that Aristotle—if he actually wrote these strangled words—may be incorrect on this point, and the reason for this is also not altogether unfathomable. Though Aeschylus' later plays do, in fact, utilize three speaking actors—and perhaps at one point even four Libation-Bearers ff. If one were to read Aeschylus' dramas quickly, not following closely the assignment of parts demanded by the text which involves imagining the actors' movements backstage, it would be very easy to conclude that Aeschylus never employed more than two speaking actors in the execution of his drama.

Careful scrutiny of Aeschylus' plays, however, belies this presumption. For instance, in the great confrontation between Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the only characters who speak are Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and the chorus, of course. Yet there is another character on stage who speaks later, though not in that scene, Cassandra. Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra refer to her presence on the stage and the latter even attempts to speak to her but Cassandra never says a word to either of them.

In a later scene, however, she does finally talk, and without having exited the stage since her original appearance on stage. So, it must be the same actor portraying this character throughout.

In sum, the case is strong that Aristotle has made a "reader's error"—if, in fact, he wrote the words "Sophocles three" and in saying this meant that the tragedian had introduced the third actor—and has assumed from a cursory overview of Aeschylus' drama what the playwright's scripts called for in terms of performers. That is, Aristotle did not fully envision the requirements which theatrical production requires. It would accord well with his complete neglect of any discussion regarding rehearsal and the physical dimension of stage productions in his day.

All this casts Aristotle's assessment of early theatre in, at best, a mottled light. This type of misconstruction suggests he did not seek out the theatre recoverable in drama. In other words, he reads and perhaps listens to drama in the "theatre" of his mind, but he does not watch it as carefully as the theatre demands, which makes him liable to certain types of critical errors. In the words of Ibn Kahldunhe shows an "inability rightly to place an event in its real context, owing to the obscurity and complexity of the situation.

The chronicler contents himself with reporting the event as he saw it, thus distorting its significance. To wit, the philosopher saw apparent similarities in the written texts of dithyramb and tragedy and from that assumed some sort of evolutionary connection—it is not an illogical conclusion by a "reader's" standards since these texts would have looked alike on "papyrus"—nevertheless, the graphic similarity may not have an equivalent validity in the theatre of pre-classical Athens.

Or, to put it another way, Aristotle is a " lumper " who postulates a direct line of development in the data by linking together forms he knows to have existed early on.

what is the relationship of imitation and ritual to theatre

On the other hand, the data—what few there are! That opens the door to supposing that dithyramb was not the "father" of tragedy, but a similar-looking form of entertainment that grew from the same stalk of the "family tree" as tragedy did. In other words, dithyramb was not necessarily a direct ancestor of tragedy or even a close relative, but rather a sibling or cousin of some sort. All in all, the standard view of the origin of Greek drama in the Pre-Classical Age—whether we orchestrate our hypotheses around Aristotle, Thespis or goats—is hardly unassailable.

It is limited at best, and a real possibility exists that it is simply wrong. What do we know about early Greek drama, where is there room to speculate and what limitations should there be to any speculation? This much at least is certain: Thus, all reasonable evidence suggests that Athens was the cradle, if not the birthplace, of early drama.

His worship was said to have originated in Asia Minor modern Turkey and to have entailed several non-Greek elements, such as "orgiastic" rituals. So, amidst all the conflicting and confusing data, there do exist at least some things we can rely on. If these data do not form a seamless bridge to the truth, they are at least stepping stones on which to cross a very treacherous torrent of conflicting information.

Let us begin, then, by investigating the worship of Dionysus because it may shed light on the nature of early theatre and, perhaps, even help sort out the evidence. The alien nature of Dionysiac worship is reported to have precipitated more than one crisis in Greek society. As many today would also, the ancient Greeks initially distrusted any social force that preached release of inhibitions, promotion of the downtrodden in society—and women, in particular, clearly one audience at whom the cult was directed—and general dancing, drinking and cavorting.

what is the relationship of imitation and ritual to theatre

That the "impersonation" of a human by the god bears some resemblance to what an actor does in performing a drama has led many a scholar to assert an evolutionary connection between this sort of worship and the performance of drama. For this and other reasons, Bieber asserts: To begin with, the festivals of Dionysus regularly included dance, and at the same time the impersonation of deities, the use of masks and parades of celebrants who can be seen to resemble tragic choristers.

Besides its innate theatricality, Dionysian religion was also a later import to Greece and thus, unlike better established cults with age-old rituals, it was open to new formulations in its worship, celebrations that might involve all sorts of "entertainment" epic narration, lyric singing, choruses, and so on.

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Furthermore, the story of Dionysus as told in myth is varied and full of different events, indeed a rich storehouse of different-looking episodes that would make a fine arena for theatre, if a playwright were inclined to dramatize them.

In sum, looking on the surface of things, one is forced to agree with Bieber that Dionysus' world in early Greece seems like the perfect womb for fetal drama. Now all that's needed is strong evidence corroborating that was what actually happened. Unfortunately, for all the sense Bieber's argument makes to many today, the corroborating evidence that what she proposes did, in fact, take place is simple not there.

Moreover, when one looks below the surface, there are powerful counter-arguments to the thesis that drama arose directly or smoothly from Dionysiac cult practices.

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While the rituals attested as Dionysian are indeed theatrical, they are not by any means institutional or autonomous theatre. Yes, there is impersonation, which assumes that there are also watchers and watched, but the nature of the words spoken in these performances is unknown. If the scripts of these ceremonies did not vary but comprised basically the same hymnic praise of the god year after year, it is less like a play than an Easter mass, which is certainly dramatic but not drama as such.

what is the relationship of imitation and ritual to theatre

Finally, for all the possibilities of creating new and innovative scripts which the mythic sagas of Dionysus inherently contained, there is little evidence that such play-texts were ever created in classical drama. It's a fine suggestion but it doesn't seem to have played out that way in antiquity. And there is another problem. A well-known Athenian maxim from the day claimed that Greek tragedy had "Nothing to do with Dionysus.

All but one of the thirty-three preserved classical tragedies deal with myths which do not center around Dionysus. The question, then, is not about the validity of this adage, but how far back in time it applies. Does the tendency well-evidenced in the Classical Age not to perform plays about Dionysus at the Dionysia go back into the Pre-Classical Age, perhaps even to the origin of drama itself? That, in turn, brings up another problem, the very different modes in which Dionysiac ritual, based as it is on ecstatic revelry, and tragedy are conducted.

Almost all the tragedies we have access to are fairly serious in tone, many very serious. If tragedy arose from the riotous, grape-stomping, orgiastic rituals of Dionysus worship, how and when and why did this total about-face in tone and attitude take place?

It would be unwise, therefore, to expect to find in ancient Black Africa types of theatrical performances analogous to European forms although connections to ancient Greek drama are regularly noted by researchers.

Rather than referring to the cultural traditions of Europe then, it seems more sensible to look at the evolution of African culture from within its own unique dynamic and from within its own history.

Rather than referring to the cultural traditions of Europe then, it seems more sensible to look at the evolution of African culture from within its own unique dynamic and from within its own history It is the functioning of society itself which most directly dictates artistic expression in Africa, whose theatre is rooted in myths, rites and folk celebrations, which externalize the beliefs, passions and concepts that preoccupy any given group. The fact is that early Africans never invented a generic term to designate these representations.

They did not name their theatre; rather, they lived it. In their scheme of things theatre was taken for granted. Theatrical art in Africa, therefore, is very ancient, its origins lost in prehistory.

what is the relationship of imitation and ritual to theatre

Yet, it is part of every day in public places and at home. Everywhere theatricality is evident. The slightest pretext often gives rise to complex theatrical events where music, dance and verbal parody figure in equal parts. The African has always lived in close accord with theatre and the theatrical; the performative, to use a contemporary term, is an integral part of his or her identity. Gule Wamkulu a secret cult, involving a ritual dance practiced among the Chewa in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique In this sense, early Africa offers an example of perfect harmony between theatre and society.

If one considers the genres and styles of theatre in connection with the milieu in which they originated, if one tries to ascertain the specific elements that gave rise to African theatre and if one studies these indigenous forms as such, it can be concluded that theatre in ancient Black Africa can be clearly found in such elements as ritual gesture and communal celebrations by large rural publics where these forms first emerged; artistic forms that synthesize spectacle and the spoken word, rhythm and dance, forms that integrate many modes of expression.

It is to rituals, dances, masquerades, storytelling and folk celebrations with all their theatrical elements, then, that one must look for such an African definition.

Togolese people in traditional clothes dance the religious voodoo dance The fact is that Africa is prodigiously rich in rituals of all kinds. Some are in a lighter vein and give rise to comic expression, but the great majority has their origins in religious expression and magic. Intended as a discourse with supernatural forces—in order to channel them, control them, appease them or honor them—and to ensure the survival and equilibrium of the community, rituals were and still are shields defending the community against evil forces.

In this sense, each of these thousands of rituals constitutes the germ of a theatrical performance in its use of mask, dance and incantation. While it is also true that ritual and theatre are not the same thing, it is evident that theatre, of all the arts, is the one most apt to use the same elements as those found in ritual. It is for this reason that so many African researchers and practitioners put ritual at the centre of both their reflection and their stage practice.

Imbued with symbolic meanings and using a concrete language, rituals delineate spaces that are always seen as symbolic or mythic, places to come together, places for an exchange between the human and the divine, or between human and human.

Created by master-celebrants and shared with participant spectators, such ritual ceremonies designate specific roles—often supernatural—with actions and words rooted not in aesthetics but in their efficacy as part of the whole performance construct. The root here is religion—in this case, animism—which permeates all activities and constitutes the basis for a whole network of customs.

African thought is steeped in animism which places humanity at the centre of its concerns. God, in the African universe, needs people in order to be fully realized. It is people, by their sacrifices, their cultural manifestations and their incantations, who give the gods meaning. In this way, each human being—in conjunction with his or her ancestors—participates in divine creativity. In such traditional ceremonies, for example, the mask is considered the material representation of a spiritual presence assuring the presence of the ancestors among the living.

It can symbolize animals as well as humans. The mask, therefore, is an emblem, a sign which is not only used to erase the personality of the wearer, but which also identifies the wearer with an ancestor or a supernatural being.

Introduction to Theatre -- Origins of Theatre

It can also enable the wearer to take in the appearance of a creature belonging to another species while still retaining ancestral connections. The mask, in this sense, tells a story, as it seeks out a supernatural past or present that it both directs and invigorates, participating in either the cohesion of the group or as an aggressor in a hostile situation.

Always displayed in motion as dance the dramatic function of masking is clear in all African communities. When connected to representations of gods, masking also almost always inspires dance and music, elements of social integration and the most characteristic elements of cultural life on the African continent.

African masks From a standpoint of space, it is also clear that in ancient Africa, no ritual act had meaning separate from the place where it was performed, or apart from the participants involved in it. Ritual space existed, therefore, only by virtue of the forces and the supernatural beings that manifested themselves in it.

It was never neutral and was based on a particular socio-psychological conception of the world. Every ritual act made—and continues to make—reference to cosmic reality and, particularly, to the space that represents in concentrated form the infinite space of the universe.

As a result, everything that is done, said or performed in it is, in its turn, invested with a special energy. Ritual spaces thus acquire the same enhanced value that is found in the platform stage in other parts of the world.

In most African religions, the ritual expresses a need to communicate with supernatural forces, especially with the ancestors whose spirits live on. This need for exchange between the supplicant and the gods is expressed through offerings, sacrifices, entreaties and prayers. The structure of ritual space as marked off by the protagonist always conveys the desire to bring together the celebrants and those who share the same preoccupations.

The circular space itself expresses the desire to bring the participants together and to create between them a fusion, a true physical and psychological interpenetration. It is an attempt at recreating a spatial form in which beliefs and collective conceptions can best be realized.