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Lesson 15

The beginning of Drama

Drama is the most natural of the arts, being based on imitation.
Many people believe that the first drama was based on four things: the mimetic faculty, sympathetic magic, a belief in gods, and a fear of starvation.
Here you have acting, here you have a plot; action (fighting) leads to a climax (death of the god) and the climax leads to a happy end resurrection.
We shall see religion and drama closely mixed throughout the early history of the art in Europe. With the Greeks, two thousand five hundred years ago, drama had reached a more sophisticated stage of development than the mere representation of the death and resurrection of a god, but it had its beginnings in very crude village ceremonies: tragedy comes from tragos, (the Greek word for a goat), and perhaps the first tragedies were merely dances round a sacrificial goat, or songs from a chorus dressed as goats. (The goat has an interesting history in the older religions: it was regarded by the Greeks as the most lustful of the animals and hence, perhaps, the most fertile: animal fertility was closely connected with the fertility of the earth. The Hebrews used, symbolically, to load a goat with their sins and drive it out into the desert; Christ is sometimes compared to this scapegoat.) Comedy comes from komos, meaning a revel, the sort of rough country party which honoured the god Dionysus'a god of vegetation, a suffering god, who dies and comes to life again, particularly as a god of wine.
The great Greek tragic dramatistsAeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripideswrote religious dramas which were concerned with the moral relation between gods and men and usually had an instructive moral purpose.
But there is one big difference between the Greek conception of tragedy and the Shakespearian. The Shakespearian hero has the power of choice; he has free will. But with the heroes of Greek tragedy there is no free will. The gods control a man's destiny, and one cannot fight the gods.
It is because of the big difference between the Greek view of life and the Christian view of lifethe difference between fate and free will that the Greek tragedies have had so little influence on English drama. When Englishmen began writing tragedies they needed a model of some kind, but the Greek model was not attractive. What was attractive was the work of a Roman playwright, Seneca (4 B.C.-65 A.D.). He modelled his tragedies on the great Greeks, The gods are still in complete control, but man, has the right of free This peculiar attitude is sometimes known as a stoical one, and it seems to havehad a great attraction for Shakespeare and his fellows. Certainly, the essence of stoicism is free will.
They imitated not only classical imagery, but also the style of declamation: blank verse, which kept the breaking up of the line, the use of repetition, and effects of echo.
-Sceptrone nostro famulus est potior tibi?
-Quo iste famulus tradidit reges neci.
-Cur ergo regi servit et patitur iugum?
These were Normans who were the first to introduce drama in England and this drama was the part of Church ceremonial. There appeared very popular Miracle plays about the Gospel characters which first were played in the churchyard and then moved into town.
Then there were Mystery plays based on the scenes from the Bible. These were played by different craftsmen (mystery craft, comp. Fr. metier ) who united into acting guilds. Each guild chose the episode from the Bible:
The Creation, by the Drapers
The Last Supper, by the Bakers
The Descent into Hell, by the Cooks
After Mystery plays there appeared Morality plays which taught some moral lesson through allegory. The 16th century play Everyman tells of the Death that came to a Man to take him to the next world. The Man asks his friends Beauty, Strength, Wits - to accompany him, but only Good-Deeds are ready to go with him to the grave.Thus the Man learns that only spiritual strength can support at his last hour.

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