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Western theatre, history of the western theatre indigenous its origins in pre-Classical classical times to the present.

For a conversation of drama as a literary form, see dramatic literature and the articles on individual nationwide literatures. For detailed information on the arts of theatrical performance and also stagecraft, see theatre, directing, acting, and theatrical production.


Find her seat and also settle in for a long night of reflecting what you know around plays, playwrights, theatres, and other elements of theatrical background (mostly, but not entirely, in Britain).

The origins of western theatre

Pre-Classical antiquity

Notwithstanding its good diversity the styles, forms, themes, and also functions, the theatre of today has its roots in a straightforward impulse to embody expression mimetically. Theatre is a social art based upon explorations of the cycles of nature, the development from bear to death, and the pressures that compel our behaviour.

The absence of documentary evidence makes it impossible to determine specifically how theatre began, though it is generally thought to have developed from religious rituals. It is an overwhelming to decide at which allude ritual came to be theatre. Essential clues regarding the nature the theatre in prehistoric times can, however, be discovered by examining the plenty of patterns of drama and ritual that exist transparent the human being today.

Nature worship

The most widely organized theory about the beginnings of theatre is that it evolved from rituals created to act out natural occasions symbolically, thereby bringing them down to human being scale and also making the unknown an ext easily accessible. Individuals would to express themselves with rhythmic movement using some sort of accessory to enhance the expressive selection of the body. The earliest known proof of this is in the cave paintings and engravings in ~ Les Trois Frères in southern France. Dating from the so late Paleolithic duration (about 40,000–10,000 bce), these old manifestations of art depict half-human, half-animal numbers in animated poses. The figures appear to it is in dancers attract the heads and also skins that animals, suggesting the beforehand use of mask and also costume. Definitely the mask has been among the most potent means of transcending one’s own being or that representing other planes of existence, and in numerous parts the the people it holds great power and fascination to this day.

As component of this rituals, the natural elements were provided personalities, i m sorry were subsequently abstracted together spirits and also gods. By put on masks and moving in details patterns, individuals can impersonate these deities. Spiritual dances were performed to affect the food of nature—to carry rain, come facilitate a an excellent harvest or a hunt, and also to drive the end evil. Yet one the the most vital patterns to be the it spreads widespread of the bicycle of the seasons, dramatized by a fight in i m sorry winter gave means to spring. This ceremony connected a year-king figure who to be ritually killed and also supplanted by a brand-new king. At first this was most likely a human sacrifice the propitiation; later the killing was mimed. In a further advance of this theme, as part of other rituals, the two queens were reduced to a solitary figure that underwent a procedure of repetitive death and also resurrection. This interpretation is provided to define the mock war in such folk traditions together the europe mumming dram or the multiple deaths and also rebirths of such figures as the Padstow steed in Cornwall, England.


A 2nd theory proposes the theatre advanced from shamanistic rituals that manifested a supernatural presence to the audience, as opposed to giving a symbolic depiction of it. In this case the shaman, as actor/priest, was able to fall into a trance and also become a tool with the other world. The shaman was believed to travel in the spirit world or to in reality be own by spirits. One of the main tasks of shamanism, which is still exercised today, is the exorcism of angry spirits; this can frequently involve trance dances in i beg your pardon the shaman performs acrobatics, juggling, or vigorous dancing for lengthy periods, demanding a facility and stamina the seemingly would not usually be possible. Fire-walking, fire-eating, and other plot of apparent self-torture, performed while in a trance, are taken as further demonstrations the the supernatural. They stand for the opposite pole indigenous illusionism, in which such acts are completed by trickery. Occasionally puppets are provided by shamans as manifestations of supernatural pressures in the giving of divinations or oracles. Masks also are critical part the shamanism: the is believed that by putting on a mask the dancer i do not care possessed by the heart represented and also takes on the attributes of the spirit. The use of human body paint and elaborate costumes helps more in the personification that the soul or demon.

These ritual aspects gave climb to one archetypal genre well-known as the demon play, a primitive run drama in i beg your pardon the force of great exorcises the pressure of evil. The demon play is quiet performed in miscellaneous guises in parts of Asia. An amazing component, which also occurs in later on Western theatre, is the usage of clowns—often deformed—to parody the much more serious figures.

Shamanism emphasizes the special an abilities that actors have actually traditionally developed and also that set them except the rest of society. It also shows the means the actor’s approaches can assist to carry the audience’s imagination beyond the actual an are where the performance takes place. The “nature worship” concept expresses the idea that disguise is just one of the basic aspects of the actor’s art. Indeed, when an individual addressing a collection modifies the manner, voice, or illustration of one expression, the event becomes theatrical quite than actual. This additionally conforms to Aristotle’s an interpretation of theatre together “an imitation of an action”—i.e., no the action itself. Shamanism, ~ above the various other hand, is not an imitation but a direct manifestation.

In cultures where the ritual elements of theatre have remained intact—in south India and also Bali, because that example—the performances of plays and also dance television series have got an aura the deep respect and nearly awesome strength over your audience. However, wherein the ritual has continued in empty kind long ~ the full significance of its content has been lost, as in contemporary performances that mumming dram or the Padstow Horse, it becomes little an ext than a strange entertainment. The development of west theatre lies between these 2 extremes and also polarizes into its 2 primary types of experience—tragedy and comedy.

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, religious ritual relocated toward a more explicitly theatrical enactment. The pantheon of animal-headed gods and also the stories of the soul’s journey after fatality into the various other world detailed rich product for ceremonies and also rituals. Clergymans were assumed to have impersonated the deities by put on stylized masks and reciting hymns and prayers; carvings illustrating masked dancers, date at 3500 bce, have actually been discovered in Egypt.

The so-called Pyramid Texts have actually been assembled from pieces of prayers found sculpted on the wall surfaces of royal tombs of the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–c. 2160 bce). The most important of these connected the god Osiris. He to be the subject of what was known as the Abydos passion play, a yearly routine performed native the duration of the Old Kingdom until around 400 ce. The Abydos passion play depicts the slaying the Osiris and also his pendant by his brothers Seth, the it spreads widespread of which supposedly resulted in numerous real deaths. The number of Osiris, symbolically stood for in the play, is climate torn to pieces by Seth, after i beg your pardon his stays are gathered by his mam Isis and son Horus, that subsequently regain him come life. The play thus follows the sample of birth, death, and also resurrection, and also it additionally echoes the cycle of the seasons.

Ritual dramas favor this to be performed to ensure the fertility that women, cattle, and crops and also to invest the spirit of the community and also its leaders with vitality for the new year. Myths relating to Osiris and also Horus were especially important because the pharaoh, when alive, was believed to it is in an incarnation that Horus, and, after his death, the was believed to it is in Osiris. By the moment the Greek historian Herodotus saw the Abydos enthusiasm play on a visit to Egypt in 450 bce, he can record that there was also a heritage of famous drama that supplied comic elements (e.g., Horus, born as a baby yet growing to huge size and also developing a voracious appetite), despite it still confined itself to religious themes.

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During the 19th century, investigators discovered one more text kept on papyrus scrolls. Well-known as the publication of the Dead (from around 1800 bce), the reads very much prefer an oratorio. Although there is no evidence that it was actually performed, the ritual is full of theatrical elements. It defines the journey of a soul, carried after fatality by the jackal-headed god Anubis right into the room of Truth, where the dead man’s love is weighed versus a feather. If the heart, made irradiate by goodness, does not outweigh the feather, then the soul is brought prior to Osiris and granted immortality.