What is the overall impression of the beginnings of theatre in Egypt?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Egyptians held] public performance of shows, which were mostly pageant-like, religious in character, ritualistic and to a large extent devoid of drama. (Reshafim.org)

Having been nurtured on the Western Aristotelian idea that theater and drama are virtually equal terms (while including comedy), it seems odd to think of a theater that "to a large extent is devoid of drama." Yet, the origin of European theater was similarly based on ritualistic religious pageantry as displayed in the Medieval Passion Plays and the later Morality Plays.

In Egypt, local religious celebrations were accompanied by pageants, shows, and ritualistic performances. Some celebrations were widespread, like the celebration of Osiris, while some were local. Historians tell us that at times locals from antagonistic villages would appear uninvited and unwelcome at another village during a theatrical event and violently disrupt the pageant celebrations for local deities.

Historians also describe how some religious ritual public shows of theater required the acting out of gods or goddesses legends. In one case at Papremis, according to Herodotus, to celebrate the return of the god Ares to the temple of Hera, his mother, priests and members of the populace arm themselves with clubs while the carriers of enshrined Ares idol, in transporting it to Hera's temple, similarly arm themselves. When these groups meet on Hera's temple steps, ritualistic theatrical battle ensues with all the enthusiasm of real war wherein individuals were truly injured or even struck dead.

Thus a contemporary overall impression of Egypt's ancient theater can compare it in form to European Passion and Morality plays but must be somewhat dumbfounded by the reality of the annual ritual displays of worship to gods and goddesses.

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