Primitive Drama Summary


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In virtually every culture, drama—both Western and non-Western—seems to have evolved from religious practice. However, because primitive drama came into being during prehistory, its precise forms are not well documented and must be studied through the anecdotes and legends that eventually led to each society’s transcribed literary history.

Drama, even the secular drama of the present day, resembles a religious ceremony in a number of ways. Both the religious service and the play are ritualistic. The communicants participate in the service largely through the performance of an intermediary, a priest or preacher. The members of the audience also participate in the play through the performance of intermediaries, the actors. As the service features music, so the play often features music (song and dance appear to have provided the bulk of most primitive drama). Finally, the play demands of the playgoers a certain act of faith. The audience knows that what they are seeing on the stage is not literally true but they willingly suspend their disbelief for the duration of the performance to experience whatever intellectual or emotional pleasure the play provides.

It is interesting to note that when the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century c.e., the highly developed, sophisticated drama produced by the Greeks and Romans utterly disappeared. When, after an absence of nearly five hundred years, a crude drama gradually reappeared in Europe, it was in the liturgy of the medieval church.