Theater and Ritual

     It is often difficult not only to demarcate the boundaries between theater and other dissertation writing services forms of entertainment but also to differentiate theatrical performance from ritual performance. The ultimate origins of Chinese theater must be sought in ritual performance. Furthermore, traditional Chinese theater retained many ritual functions even into the twenty-first century. One of the major features of Chinese popular religion, from the palace to the village, from the dawn of Chinese civilization to the present, consists of exorcistic rites, in which a specialist in religious affairs cleanses the local community (a house, a palace, a village, a city) of all evil by ritually turning himself into a god and killing or chasing away all demons—the demons may be represented by effigies or by assistants who act the part, while the religious specialist may be assisted by hosts of ghostly soldiers of his own, not only in his imagination but also in the flesh. The best-known of these rites was the great No (Exorcism) ceremony celebrated at the end of each year, as recorded since the time of Confucius. These rites were conspicuous for their terrifying chants, deafening music, colorful costumes, and spectacular action. The many martial plays in the repertoire of the traditional Chinese theater, in which great heroes of the past (who, often at the same time, are venerated as gods, e.g., Kuan Yü massacre multitudes of enemies and drive off foreign foes, can be seen as a direct continuation of this exorcistic tradition. Stage characters such as Chung K'uei to this day perform primarily as exorcists. Some other types of plays are related to yet other types of rituals. The insistence on a happy ending in full plays can be seen as a reflection of the restoration of cosmic order that concludes many rituals.

    Plays also were (and are) primarily performed on ritual occasions, as part of the ritual. The play can constitute the ritual by itself or can be tied to the occasion in other ways. The overwhelming majority of the population attended theatrical performances only on such occasions. Plays were performed at certain yearly festivals of a community (a family, a lineage, a neighborhood, a village) and whenever such a community felt a special need for divine assistance; plays might also be mounted to thank the gods for favors shown. Most major temples were provided with their own fixed stage, located opposite the main temple hall because the deity was the prime spectator. When such a fixed stage was not available, a temporary stage of fitting proportions was erected for performances, and if this could not be positioned opposite the main hall of the temple, the statue of the god might be moved to a temporary seat of honor. While the play was performed outside by the actors, other ritual specialists performed their ritual inside the temple. When the occasion called for it, a theater troupe might also be invited to perform at the house of the sponsors. This Chinese tradition of communal Thesis and Dissertation Preparation religious drama can in many ways be fruitfully compared to the late medieval European tradition of communal religious drama.

28.4.11 14:45


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