This issue interested me because of its historical aspect and I felt like I could use my knowledge in pre historic material in favour of writing this essay. I started by looking for exact definition for ritual, I found out that although I could find books that try to define theatre and ritual, most of them end up in dead end. If there was a definition it didn’t cover the broad range of rituals. Oscar G. Brockett in his book “The History of the Theatre” has few examples of what rituals may have been used for.
Ritual may have been a form of knowledge. It might be the way to pass knowledge and preserve it before written language was invented. Rituals may be intended to influence certain events like the rainfall or the change of the seasons. They are often performed to glorify a supernatural power, victory in hunting or in a war. And finally rituals may entertain or give pleasure. As those examples show rituals are used widely and in very varied occasions and purposes and that makes the difference between ritual and theatre very difficult to define.
Despite the fact that the difference between ritual and theatre is hard to define many historians have tried to explain how theatre became into existence. One might have suggested that theatre evolved from ritual or from storytelling or perhaps they both slowly side by side became their own way of expressing ideas and emotions or what ever was necessary at the time. I originally thought that rituals were the starting points for theatre. Now that I have read about the different theories about its origins I have found myself wondering about the other possibilities.
But as Oscar G. Brockett recognises there is a problem not only because it is hard to define theatre from ritual but because of lack of written evidence. In seeking to describe the origin of theatre, the historian must rely heavily upon theory, since reliable evidence is lacking. To answer the question ‘how did the theatre come into existence?’ he must try to imagine a time before there were theatrical elements, and then theorise about how they may have been discovered (The history of the theatre 1986, 1,2)
Perhaps story telling was the original source of theatre? Although the theory about ritual being the original source for theatre is popular one can easily imagine how theatre may have developed from storytelling. As stories were told to entertain or to educate people they became well known and the ones telling them started acting first with their face and their hands, but finally with their whole body. But would that be theatre or ritual’stories would have been educational and entertaining but could that be identified to be theatrical performance?
Theatre evolved alongside ritual, this theory is more recent and has many weaknesses. It suggests that theatre and ritual were different from the beginning and the difference for example in some African culture was basically the audience. Rituals were performed in the night to the gods and theatre then performed at daytime for amusement to the whole village wearing different costumes. The obvious weakness of that theory is the fact that if theatre were performed ritual at night-time to the gods, where did the demand for public performance come from? They must have had a ritual that people wanted to see, or a theatre performance that they thought that gods might get amusement out of. So either theatre or ritual must have been first in order to develop the demand for the other.
Finally the most common theory is that ritual is the primitive form of theatre. Anthropologists are the first who started to study the origins of the theatre in the late 19th century led by Sir James Frazer and popularised the idea of theatre developing from ritual. One theory suggested that since primitive humans couldn’t comprehend the powers of nature they developed rituals in order to have control over them. But as their society became more sophisticated they left the religious context and so rituals became theatre as it was performed out of its religious context. This theory has its weaknesses as well, since these scholars thought that all cultures go through same cultural stages in history. As we look at culture around the world one can clearly see that every culture develops on individual unique way. I have noticed that as I arrived to a new culture here in England and so will anyone who might visit a country with different geographical location or culture.