In the 1890s, reading turn-of-the-century anthropology, the classicist Jane Ellen Harrison began to develop her theory of the ritual origins of theatre. Embarking on a series of "inconceivably primitive and savage" journeys, she started to leave behind the world of aesthetic antiquarianism and beautiful Greek theatricals, in search of surviving primitive ritual: performances that could efface the boundaries between spectator and spectacle, immerse one in an ecstatic collectivity, and transcend both beauty and theatre itself, which (as she wrote with anti-theatrical gusto) she had come to "loath[e]." This essay explores Harrison's particular version of ritual theory, her creation of an artefact- and performance-based theatre history, and her rejection of theatre ("frivolous mimicry") for the primal dromenon, or rite, which remained for her the true essence of drama, – suggesting her importance for our understanding of theatrical modernism, the twentieth-century performance avant-garde, and what would eventually become some of the central concerns of performance studies.


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