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Theatre and drama

Theatre and drama. Theatre, both East and West, has been, and often still is, closely connected to religious ritual: the development of theatre and dramatic form is equally connected to liturgy. Conversely, liturgy and ritual share much in common with theatre and drama. In religious theatre, as in ritual and liturgy, meaning is expressed through the body, especially through the hands, often in coded and non-verbal languages, at least as much as it is through text—indeed, frequently there is no spoken text at all—hence the links with ballet: see DANCE. These connections remain particularly obvious in E. religions. In India, there is a continuing tradition of dance, which is not simply derived from ritual but is still an expression of it. The spread of Hinduism into SE Asia led to an integration with indigenous rituals, leading to many characteristic forms of ritual drama—e.g. in Bali and in Java in the ‘shadow theatre’ (a type of puppet theatre, wayang kulit or wayang purwa).

In Christianity, theatre remained closely connected to ritual through liturgical drama which issued eventually in the miracle plays (dramatizations setting forth the life, miracles, and/or martyrdom of a saint), the mysteries (cycles of plays in which the story of humanity was set forth from the fall of Lucifer to the Last Judgement), and the moralities (dramatized allegories; early examples are The Castle of Perseverance and The Summoning of Everyman, more usually known simply as Everyman). In Spain, the auto sacramental was an even more direct development from the medieval morality plays, and led to the powerful transformations of the form effected by Calderón (1600–81). He wrote more than seventy autos, which expounded the meaning of faith, but which were devotional as well. In the 20th cent., there have been notable attempts in the theatre to explore Christian faith by dramatists who have strongly held Christian beliefs themselves, notably T. S. Eliot and Charles Williams, and less successfully (because more obviously) Graham Greene.

See also RITUAL and DANCE; for Japan see NO DRAMA; for Shīʾa passion plays see TAʿZIYA.

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