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Greek Theatre

Humanities I
Mrs. Cave-Mattie
The Roots of Drama

Ancient Rituals

(Google Images)

 Drama is a Greek word meaning “to do” or “to act”.

 Drama is rooted in sacred ritual.
 It has been built on traditions that are up to 2500 years old.
 The earliest forms of civilization acted out activities that were important to them before
engaging in them.
 They believed that this form of drama would grant them success in meeting their real
needs. They felt that by imitating the intended act, they would increase their chances of
success in the act.
 Many plays were performed by these people to teach the young boys about the rituals they
would soon partake in (hunting, fishing, war, etc.).
 Can you think of how individuals in today’s society might do the same thing?
 Since most people were not able to read, religious plays were performed to teach important
religious beliefs that the particular culture held in highest esteem.
 Are religious plays performed in our society? (“History of Theatre”)
Ancient Festival

(Theater Animations)

 Many cultures made use of choral hymns and dances in their worship. This
practice parallels what we commonly see in musicals that are performed in
today’s society.
 Classical forms of tragedy and comedy are said to have sprung from these
folk celebrations.
 Today’s drama is the direct descendant of primitive ritual, teaching
ceremony and ancient festival.
 Isn’t it interesting how although so much has changed, so much has also
remained the same?
 Do you think this will be true 100 years from now? (“History of Theatre”)
Greek Theatre
 The Classic, or Golden Age of Greece (500-400
BC) brought about the greatest tragedies of all
time. The legacy of Greek Theatre has never
been surpassed—even to this day.
 Greek drama has its roots in Greek religion.
 Celebrations were held in honor of the god of
wine and fertility, Dionysus. During these
celebrations, dancers would chant around the
 This chanting evolved into Greek Tragedy, and
the dancers became known as the “chorus”.
 Tragedy competitions were held in Athens each
spring between many playwrights.
 By the 5th century, BC, a man named Thespis
of Attica “invented” acting by designating one
member of the chorus to stand out from the
chorus and respond to them. This is why actors Statues of Greek actors
are often called Thespians. (Google Images)

(“History of Theatre”)
Greek Theatre
 Special practices of drama are called conventions and are based upon the traditions and
customs of that particular time period.
 Greek Conventions:
 Chorus
 Plays were performed outdoors
 Acting area was called the orchestra
 Theatres sat up to 17,000 people The Greek Chorus
 Actors wore thick shoes to appear taller (Google Images)
 Only three actors played all major roles
 Long speeches were the rule, rather than quick exchanges of dialogue
 Speeches were delivered more to the audience than other characters, taking away
even more of the realism we expect today
 Rule: ALL VIOLENCE MUST TAKE PLACE OFFSTAGE. Acts of violence must be out of
sight by the audience. Usually a messenger or other character would enter and tell
about the murder, suicide, or whatever had happened.
 Masks were constructed so that the mouthpiece amplified the actor’s voice
 Plays were based on myths and legends that the audience already knew about. The
audience usually knew in advance how each play would end. This allowed the
audience to concentrate on appreciating the poetry of the speeches, the skill of the
actor’s presentations, and the spectacle of masks, costumes, and movements of the
(“History of Theatre”)
Greek Playwrights
 Aeschylus (525-456 BC)
 Often called the Father of Tragedy
 Plays dealt with the interaction between gods and men,
with emphasis on the inevitability of suffering.
 Known for his Orestia trilogy
 Sophocles (496-406 BC)
 Responsible for the addition of the third actor on stage
 He wrote over one hundred plays
 He won the City Dionysia prize 18 times
 Only seven of this plays have survived Sophocles
 Known for Oedipus Rex (Google Images)
 Euripedes (480-406 BC)
 Youngest, most modern, and least popular of the three great writers of tragedy.
 Emphasized psychological motivation and social consciousness
 Appealed to the emotions by including in his plays a look at the small details of the
daily lives of his characters

Aeschylus wrote about gods, Sophocles wrote about heroes, and Euripedes wrote about men.

(“History of Theatre”)
Greek Playwrights
 Aristophanes (448–380 BC)
 The eleven surviving plays are the only examples we
have of what is called “Old Comedy”.
 Wrote very funny and popular social satire
 He poked fun at public figures such as Socrates and
 He was not above having the gods come out second
best in plays.
 Menander (342-291 BC)
 He is known for “New Comedy”.
 The only surviving work of this style was written by
 He wrote comedies dealing with daily life and domestic
situations Aristophanes
 His plays featured characters such as clever servants, (Google Images)
protective fathers, and young lovers—types who have
been standards in the comic theatre ever since.
(“History of Theatre”)