restricted access The Roots of Theatre: Rethinking Ritual and Other Theories of Origin (review)
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462ComparativeDrama temporary Christian community. The strength of this nuanced approach is its utility in deciphering the mechanics ofthis process and the role played therein by persuasion, emotion, and the living embodiment of theology onstage. Eschewingthemonsters,devils,andvillainsofmedievaltheaterfromone'sstudy, however, does more than merely deny favorite characters to those of us who have come to love the delightfully diabolical characters ofHerod, Lucifer, and their wicked ilk. But the establishment of a unified Christian community in medieval Europe necessitated a terrible by-product; the legitimization of violence against those placed outside the proscribed boundaries of that community ."Compassion and devotion"may have defined this culture's highest ideals, but the historical record demonstrates that human behavior unfortunatelyvery often fell short of the saintly. As Jody Enders, Victor Scherb, Miri Rubin, and many others have demonstrated, medieval playmaking was as much a part of the mechanisms that sponsored the Crusades, pogroms,judenschlacterbands, witch-hunts, burnings of heretics, massacres, expulsions, and other forms of violence against outsiders and women as were papal bulls and the epistles of prelates. Scoville's study could have benefited greatly from at least an acknowledgment of the cost that must be paid in exchange for the Christian utopia of the plays he examines. In the final analysis,however,Scoville's close study ofthe rhetoric ofsaint's plays is as revelatory about the medieval Christian imagination's highest aspirations as some other studies have been about its worst failings. Meticulously researched and with its welcome emphasis on theatrical practice as much as dramaticwriting,Saintswouldmake anexcellentadditionto anygraduatecourse in medieval drama, and would certainly enhance the library ofany medievalist who appreciates passionate and dedicated scholarship. Michael Chemers Carnegie Mellon University Eli Rozik. The Roots of Theatre: Rethinking Ritual and Other Theories of Origin. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002. Pp. xix + 362. $49.95. In this challenging book, Eli Rozik sets out to offer a "semiotic" and interdisciplinary theory of theater's "roots" as opposed to its ritual origins. Two questions are immediatelyraised: 1) Do we need another argument against the ritual origins oftheater? and,2)What does Rozikmeanby"roots"? These questions are linked, of course, since in order to make his case for "roots" Rozik Reviews463 must assume that arguments for the ritual origins oftheater are still dominant in the field, and then he must show how these arguments are wrong. But the logic ofthis approach is problematic. For why must a positive argument for the roots of theater rely on a negative assessment of a theory that is already discredited ? While I agree that it isworth asking about the emergence oftheater as a cultural form, Rozik's thesis is the kind ofuniversalism that leads to reductive thinking about the problem. In part 1,"Theories of Origins," Rozik reviews the "theatre out of ritual" approach, its persistence, and its weaknesses.A principal weakness, says Rozik, is the failure to differentiate between ritual and theater,thus leading to the possibilitythat "everything is a ritual" (12).Against this proposition, he argues that theater is a distinct kind of medium that, while it may function like certain kinds of rituals, can also undermine the sorts of traditional beliefs that ritual enforces. Drawing on his previous work, Rozik maintains that a general theory ofwhat theater is and what it does requires a "semiotic" definition: "The basic unit of the theatre medium is an image, as a basic unit of signification, which requires imprinting on real matter,because otherwise it would be an intangible figment of the imagination that could not be communicated. An imprinted image is usually termed an'iconic image"" (19). This notion ofan "iconic image" is central to Rozik's overall claims about theater's roots. In a discussion of acting that qualifies this definition, Rozik goes on to argue that "real actors' acting . . . requires a clear distinction from humans 'doing' real things in the real world" (21). This distinction seems natural but, for this very reason, begs some serious q uestions. As the work of Judith Butler and other philosophers and theorists has shown, the notion of"reality" that Rozik invokes here constitutes a defense of cultural and political conformity ; when he talks about humans doing "real things in the real...