Origins of Drama Essay

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The Origins of Drama Twenty-five hundred years ago, two thousand years before Shakespeare, Western theatre was born in Athens, Greece. Between 600 and 200 BC, the ancient Athenians created a theatre culture whose form, technique and terminology have lasted two millennia, and they created plays that are still considered among the greatest works of world drama. Their achievement is truly remarkable when one considers that there have been only two other periods in the history of theatre that could be said to approach the greatness of ancient Athens - Elizabethan England and, perhaps the Twentieth Century. The greatest playwright of Elizabethan England was Shakespeare, but Athens produced at least five equally great playwrights. The Twentieth Century produced thousands of fine plays and films, but their form and often their content are based on the innovations of the ancient Athenians. The Cult of Dionysus The theatre of Ancient Greece evolved from religious rites which date back to at least 1200 BC. At that time, Greece was peopled by tribes that we in our arrogance might label 'primitive'. In northern Greece, in an area called Thrace, a cult arose that worshipped Dionysus, the god of fertility and procreation. This Cult of Dionysus, which probably originated in Asia Minor, practised ritual celebrations which may have included alcoholic intoxication, orgies, human and animal sacrifices, and perhaps even hysterical rampages by women called maenads. The cult's most controversial practice involved, it is believed, uninhibited dancing and emotional displays that created an altered mental state. This altered state was known as 'ecstasis', from which the word ecstasy is derived. Dionysiac, hysteria and 'catharsis' also derive from Greek words for emotional release or purification. Ecstasy was an important religious concept to the Greeks, who would come to see theatre as a

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