The Origin of the European Mediaeval Drama
By P. Wijith Rohan Fernando
International Journal of Scientific Research and Innovative Technology, Vol. 3:1 (2016)
Introduction: The starting point of drama is religion. The root of the modern drama is based on the ritualistic resources of primitive religions. “Such is the case of the notion of ‘ritual drama’, the idea that serious drama is historically grounded in sacred ritual and may still draw on ritualistic resources for its substance.” The ritualistic character of religion is found not only in Greek theatre but in the dramas of other countries as well.
“Scholars had long known and accepted the Greek theatre (and analogous traditions in Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, Japan, China, and India) had roots in religion and ritual. Aristotle and other commentators had canonized that fact. Indeed Aristotle’s classic statements from the Poetics – that tragedy originated from the leader of the sacred (presumably Dionysian) dithyramb ritual and comedy from the leader of the phallic processions – provided the starting point for every study of the origins of drama.”
Thus, the origin of the modern theatre goes back as far as the Greek ritual plays centred on the altar of Dionysus, the wine-god and the god of fertility and procreation, around 1200 BC. The chant or the hymn that was sung in praise of god Dionysius is known as Dithyramb. It is a choric hymn which is considered as the root of Greek drama. It was Thespis who introduced an actor (Protagonist) in the Dithyramb around 594 BC. With Thespis thus began the classical Greek drama. The first playwright is Aeschylus (524 BC.), then Sophocles (496 BC.), Euripides (484 BC.), Aristophanes (448 BC.), and finally Menander (342 BC.)
Top Image: Frontispiece showing the stage design for a mystery play, The Passion and Resurrection of the Savior, a Passion play performed in Valenciennes in 1547.