In seeking to describe the origins of theater, one must rely primarily on speculation, since there is little concrete evidence on which to draw. The most widely accepted theory, championed by anthropologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, envisions theater as emerging out of myth and ritual. The process perceived by these anthropologists may be summarized briefly. During the early stages of its development, a society becomes aware of forces that appear to influence or control its food supply and well-being. Having little understanding of natural causes, it attributes both desirable and undesirable occurrences to supernatural or magical forces, and it searches for means to win the favor of these forces. Perceiving an apparent connection between certain actions performed by the group and the result it desires, the group repeats, refines and formalizes those actions into fixed ceremonies, or rituals.
Stories (myths) may then grow up around a ritual. Frequently the myths include representatives of those supernatural forces that the rites celebrate or hope to influence. Performers may wear costumes and masks to represent the mythical characters or supernatural forces in the rituals or in accompanying celebrations. As a person becomes more sophisticated, its conceptions of supernatural forces and causal relationships may change. As a result, it may abandon or modify some rites. But the myths that have grown up around the rites may continue as part of the group’s oral tradition and may even come to be acted out under conditions divorced from these rites. When this occurs, the first step has been taken toward theater as an autonomous activity, and thereafter entertainment and aesthetic values may gradually replace the former mystical and socially efficacious concerns.
Although origin in ritual has long been the most popular, it is by no means the only theory about how the theater came into being. Storytelling has been proposed as one alternative. Under this theory, relating and listening to stories are seen as fundamental human pleasures. Thus, the recalling of an event (a hunt, battle, or other feat) is elaborated through the narrator’s pantomime and impersonation and eventually through each role being assumed by a different person.
A closely related theory sees theater as evolving out of dances that are primarily pantomimic, rhythmical or gymnastic, or from imitations of animal noises and sounds. Admiration for the performer’s skill, virtuosity, and grace are seen as motivation for elaborating the activities into fully realized theatrical performances.
In addition to exploring the possible antecedents of theater, scholars have also theorized about the motives that led people to develop theater. Why did theater develop, and why was it valued after it ceased to fulfill the function of ritual? Most answers fall back on the theories about the human mind and basic human needs. One, set forth by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., sees humans as naturally imitative—as taking pleasure in imitating persons, things, and actions and in seeing such imitations. Another, advanced in the twentieth century, suggests that humans have a gift for fantasy, through which they seek to reshape reality into more satisfying forms than those encountered in daily life. Thus, fantasy or fiction (of which drama is one form) permits people to objectify their anxieties and fears, confront them, and fulfill their hopes in fiction if not fact. The theater, then, is one tool whereby people define and understand their world or escape from unpleasant realities.
But neither the human imitative instinct nor a penchant for fantasy by itself leads to an autonomous theater. Therefore, additional explanations are needed. One necessary condition seems to be a somewhat detached view of human problems. For example, one sign of this condition is the appearance of the comic vision, since comedy requires sufficient detachment to view some deviations from social norms as ridiculous rather than as serious threats to the welfare of the entire group. Another condition that contributes to the development of autonomous theater is the emergence of the aesthetic sense. For example, some early societies ceased to consider certain rites essential to their well-being and abandoned them, nevertheless, they retained as parts of their oral tradition the myths that had grown up around the rites and admired them for their artistic qualities rather than for their religious usefulness.
由于几乎没有具体材料可供研究，探寻戏剧的起源只能凭推测。19 世纪末 20 世纪初为人类学家们所拥护的一种理论得到了世人的广泛认同；这种观点认为戏剧起源于神话和宗教仪式，这些人类学家们推论过程可简要概括如下：在社会发展早期，人们相信有股力量可以影响甚至操控他们的食物供应和幸福生活。在对自然原因并不十分了解的情况下，他们把希望或不惜希望发生的事情都归咎于超自然的或魔幻的力量，并且试图寻找各种途径赢得这些力量的厚爱。当他们意识到自己的某些行为和期许的结果之间存在明显的联系以后，人们便开始重复并且完善这些行为，最终形成固定的典礼或宗教仪式。
为了进一步探寻戏剧的起源，一些学派开始从人类发展戏剧的动机上建立理论。为什么戏剧会发展，为什么在戏剧完全脱离宗教仪式以后还有这么大的价值？大部分答案都回到那些关于人类心智和人类基本需求的理论中。首先，亚里士多德在公元前 4 世纪提出，人们天生好模仿，并从模仿他人、事物和动作以及观看模仿中获得乐趣。另外，20 世纪提出的先进理论认为人类擅长幻想，通过幻想将日常生活中的现实重塑成更加令人满意的形式。因此，人们通过幻想或虚构（戏剧的一个形式）把他们的焦虑和恐惧具体化，再通过这种方式面对焦虑和恐惧，并从虚构中满足他们现实中无法实现的愿望。所以，戏剧成为了一种帮助人们认识和理解这个世界，或是帮助人们逃避不满现实的工具。
首先应该弄清楚championed是谁发出的动作，其修饰的成分是什么.具体来说，championed表示被动的 含义，由anthropologists发出这个动作，而theory是这个动作的承受者。那么我们可以理解为，人类学家们 _了这个理论。注意前一句说的是：Inseeking to describe the origins of theater, one must rely primarily on speculation, since there is little concrete evidence on which to draw.探寻戏剧的起源只能凭借推铡，因为没有太多具体材料可供研究。由于只能凭借推铡，所以所有人都会说出自己的观点，而能够被widely accepted的观点，就是被大家所支持的。