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Greek Theater

The origins of drama

The earliest origins of drama are ancient hymns, called dithyrambs. These were sung in honor of the god Dionysus. These hymns were later adapted for choral processions in which participants would dress up in costumes and masks.

Word Origin

The modern word drama comes form the Greek word dran meaning "to do"

Greek Theater

Greek tragedies and comedies were always performed in outdoor theaters. Early Greek theaters were probably little more than open areas in city centers or next to hillsides where the audience, standing or sitting, could watch and listen to the chorus singing about the exploits of a god or hero. From the late 6th century BC to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC there was a gradual evolution towards more elaborate theater structures, but the basic layout of the Greek theater remained the same

Parts of the Theater

Orchestra: Orchestra: (literally, "dancing space") A circular and level space where the chorus would dance, sing, and interact with the actors who were on the stage near the skene. Theatron: Theatron: (literally, "viewing-place") This is where "viewingthe spectators sat. The theatron was usually part of hillside overlooking the orchestra.

Parts of the Theater

Skene: Skene: (literally, "tent") The skene was directly in back of the stage, and was usually decorated as a palace, temple, or other building, depending on the needs of the play. It had at least one set of doors, and actors could make entrances and exits through them. Parodos: Parodos: (literally, "passageways") The paths by which the chorus and some actors made their entrances and exits. The audience also used them to enter and exit the theater before and after the performance.

Theatre of Dionysus

The first plays were performed in the Theatre of Dionysus, built in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens at the beginning of the 5th century, These theatres proved to be so popular they soon spread all over Greece.

Word Origin

The modern word theater comes from the Greek word theatron meaning "seeing place"

Why Dionysius?

In Greek Mythology Dionysus was the son of Zeus. He is the only god born of one god and one mortal parent. He was the god of wine, fertility and revelry.

Why Dionysius?
He was raised by satyrs, killed, dismembered, and resurrected (was actually reborn).  Other gods had temples, the cult of Dionysis met in the wood.  It was believed that he could liberate and inspire man. It was also believed that he could endow man with divine creativity. Dionysus, thus, came to be considered a patron of the arts

The City Dionysia

In the sixth century BC, the Athenian ruler, Pisistratus, established the 'City Dionysia', a festival of entertainment held in honor of the god Dionysus.  This festival featured competitions in music, singing, dance and poetry.  The most remarkable of all the winners was said to be a wandering bard named Thespis.

Word origin
Does the name Thespis remind you of anything? Can you guess which modern word goes back to this early actors name? thespian: thespian: 1. Of or relating to drama; dramatic: thespian talents. 2. Thespian Of or relating to Thespis

Four Qualities of Greek Drama:

1. Performed for special occasions (festivals). Athens had four festivals worshipping Dionysus. 2. Competitive--prizes were awarded. Actors and playwrights competed (Oedipus won 2nd place) 3. Choral There was singing; the chorus was made up of men (from 3 to 50). The chorus sang, moved, and danced. They moved the story along. 4. The stories were based on myth or history

Essential pieces of Greek drama


The play The actors The chorus

The Play: Types of Greek Drama


Comedy Tragedy Satyr Plays

Comedy and tragedy were the most popular types of plays in ancient Greece. Hence, the modern popularity of the comedy and tragedy masks to symbolize theater.


not admitted to Dionysus festival till 487-486 B.C. 487late The first comedies were mainly satirical and mocked men in power for their vanity and foolishness. The first master of comedy was the playwright Aristophanes. exaggerated, farcical, sensual pleasures

Structure of the Comedy:

Prologue leading character conceives a "happy idea"  Parados: entrance of the chorus Parados:  Agon: dramatized debate between proponent Agon: and opponent of the "happy idea"

Structure of the Comedy:

Parabasis: chorus Parabasis: addresses audience on poets views on topic Episodes: "Happy idea" Episodes: is put to practical application

The Greek tragedy


Late point of attack Violence and death offstage Frequent use of messengers to relate information Usually continuous time of action Usually single place Stories based on myth or history, but varied interpretations of events Focus is on psychological and ethical attributes of characters, rather than physical and sociological.

The Greek tragedy

Tragedy dealt with love, loss, pride, the abuse of power and the fraught relationships between men and gods. Typically the main protagonist of a tragedy commits some terrible crime without realizing how foolish and arrogant he has been. Then, as he slowly realizes his error, the world crumbles around him. The three great playwrights of tragedy were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Word Origin

The word tragedy came to be derived from the Greek tragos (goat) and ode (poem). Tragedy literally means goat song or goat poem.

The Structure of Greek Tragedy


Prologue, Prologue, which described the situation and set the scene Parados, Parados, an ode sung by the chorus as it made its entrance Five dramatic scenes, each followed by a Komos, an scenes, Komos, exchange of laments by the chorus and the protagonist Exodus, Exodus, the climax and conclusion Tragedies were often presented in trilogies. Interspersed between the three plays in the trilogy were satyr plays, in plays, which satyrs (men dressed as half-goats) made fun of the halfcharacters in the surrounding tragedies.

Tragic flaw
a flaw or mistake that brings about the downfall of the hero of a tragedy  The Greek term "harmartia," typically translated as "tragic flaw," actually is closer in meaning to a "mistake" or an "error," "failing," rather than an innate flaw.  The character's flaw must result from something that is also a central part of their virtue, which goes somewhat arwry, usually due to a lack of knowledge.

Satyr Plays

These were short plays performed between the acts of tragedies. They made fun of the plight of the tragedy's characters. The satyrs were mythical halfhalfhuman, half-goat servants of halfDionysus.

Word Origin

Does the term Satyr remind you of any modern day term? The Satyr and the Satyr plays spawned the modern word satire. satire.

The Actors

All of the actors and playwrights were men. Women were not allowed to participate. The actors played multiple roles, so a mask was used to show the change in character or mood. Gestures and body movements were controlled and stately If playing female role need for female appearance wore the prosternida before the chest and the progastrida before the belly

The Chorus
Functions of the chorus  an agent: gives advice, asks, takes part  establishes ethical framework, sets up standard by which action will be judged  ideal spectator - reacts as playwright hopes audience would  sets mood and heightens dramatic effects  adds movement, spectacle, song, and dance  rhythmical function - pauses / paces the action so that the audience can reflect.


Sophocles: (496-406 B.C.) The (496-

son of a wealthy merchant, he would enjoy all the comforts of a thriving Greek empire.  By the age of sixteen, he was chosen to lead a choir of boys at a celebration of the victory of Salamis.  By age 28 his studies complete, and he was ready to compete in the City Dionysia--a festival held Dionysia--a every year at the Theatre of Dionysus in which new plays were presented.


won 24 contests, never lower than 2nd Added a third actor and scenery Concerned with the relationship between gods and human fate Concerned with tragic irony, the contrast between human fate and human ignorance Concerned with the importance of free will/moral choice Struggle even if struggle is hopeless; each character embodies a certain moral ideal Portrays humans as they OUGHT to be Believed evil/moral failings stemmed from ignorance

Characteristics of Sophocles' plays:


complex characters, psychologically well-motivated wellemphasis on individual characters characters subjected to crisis leading to suffering and self recognition - including a higher law above man exposition carefully motivated scenes suspense fully climactic action clear and logical poetry clear and beautiful few elaborate visual effects theme emphasized: the choices of people

We will be looking at:

Oedipus:  The story of Oedipus was well known legend to Sophocles audience.  Aristotle used this play and its plot as the supreme example of tragedy  Sigmund Freud famously based his theory of the Oedipal Complex on this story Antigone:  Antigone was probably the first of the three Theban plays that Sophocles wrote, although the events dramatized in it happen last.  Antigone is one of the first heroines in literature, a woman who fights against a male power structure, exhibiting greater bravery than any of the men who scorn her.

The Final Curtain

By the time of Sophocles' death in 406 BC (128 years after Thespis' victory in the first Athenian drama competition) the golden era of Greek drama was ending. Athens, whose free-thinking culture had spawned the freebirth of theater, would be overrun in 404 BC by the Spartans, and would later be torn apart by constant warring with other city states, eventually falling under the dominion of Alexander the Great and his Macedonian armies. Theater continued, but it would not return to the same creative heights until Elizabethan England two millenia later.