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Greek Theatre

Senior Drama - History of ancient Greek Theatre.
by

Skye Tranter

on 14 May 2011

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Transcript of Greek Theatre

ANCIENT GREEK THEATRE The architecture of the ancient greek
theatre consists of three major parts:
* The Orchestra
* The Scene
* The Main Theatre (Koilon) The Orchestra This was situated at the front of the scene (stage) facing
the audience. At the center of the orchestra was situated the
THYMELI, which at the early years was meant to be an alter
and later on, a place, where the leader of the chorus (koryphaios) was standing. The circular shape of the orchestra was meant to have supernatural powers. (Dionyssiac cult) PROSCENIO Actors eventually
moved from the
Orchestra to the
"scene" or Proscenio.
Dionysus was the god of fertility and wine. The etymology of the name can give us a lot of information as far as the origin of the cult is concerned. "Dionysus" consists of two components: "dios"and "Nyssos". Dios is the genitive of Zeus, which exact translation would be: Zeus's."Nyssos" is a word of frygic-thacic origin, synonym of the word "kouros". So Dionysus is the Kouros of Zeus, therefore the son of Zeus.
In Thrace, Dionysus was considered to be the god of fertility and he was worshiped with orgies and ceremonies not compatible with the Greek tradition. As his worship spread to the South met with the Greek worship of Dionysus, where he was considered as the god of wine. The two forms of the same worship got mixed and the new worship of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine got born.
The Dionyssiac Cult Structure of a Greek Tragedy The three basic parts of a Greek tragedy:
The Prose
The Lyrics
Dancing
. The tragedy begins with Prologue, spoken before the chorus enters the scene. The Prologue helps the audience to understand the historical or mythological background of the plot. After that the chorus enters the orchestra singing an ode, called Parodos. The chorus also sings between the dialogic parts of the play other songs called Stassima in ensemble or devided in two groups (Semechoria).
The songs for the chorus were written in doric dialect. Beside these songs there were also other songs performed by one actor (Monodia) or two (Diodia). Parodos, stassima, monodies and diodies composed the lyric part of tragedy.
The prose begins with the Prologue. The plot develops with the Episodes. Right after each episode the actors leave the scene and the chorus enters singing the Parodos. The play ends with the Exodus, performed by the chorus.
Prologue, Episodes and Exodus were written in attic dialect and in verses. As far as the metrics is concerned these parts were written in Iambic Trimetron.
The poets were also composing the music for their plays. The songs were performed by an orchestra composed by flute, phormigx, drums and sometimes guitar (Kithara).
Types of plays Comedy
Comedy originates from Dionysian cult and more specifically from the hymns devoted to Dionysus, called "phallic hymns".
The peasants, during their rural festivities, were forming parades wandering around the fields holding torches, flourishing phallus-shaped objects and singing hymns to the god called "Comoi". The word in Greek means amusement, entertainment. From this word derives the modern word "comedy", which implies something funny and gay. The peasants were addressing to each other with vulgar lyrics using very raw and mocking language. Thus the precursor of comedy consisted of loose and saucy (maybe offensive) lyrics.
Comedy was supposed to be a mockery of people and situations, a criticism against immorality, avarice and corruption. It was in direct relation with actuality. Its goal was to pass the message of the return to tradition and to the values of the ancestors.
The chorus' disguise depended on the play (birds, frogs etc). Comedy's language may seem vulgar to modern audience but it was not shocking the ancient Greek audience, since it was in harmony with the comedy's rural roots.
Satiric drama
Since the years of Thespis, the writers abandoned the stories about the adventurous life of Dionysus and pointed at stories of heroes (i.e. Hercules), legends and ethography. The chorus of Satyrs had been replaced by old men (or women - men in disguise of course). Still, deep in the hearts of Greeks, tragedy had always been related to Dionysus. A common comment after the performance of a tragedy was "nothing to Dionysus", meaning that the play had nothing to do with Dionysus, in order to criticize the story of the presented tragedy.
Satiric drama was meant to be the Dionysian part of the festivities. In the contests every writer was participating with 3 tragedies and 1 satiric drama.
The chorus consisted of Satyrs, leaded by an old Seilenos (Seilenos had been the closest friend and companion of Dionysus). Although the structure of a satiric drama was similar to the one of the tragedy, it was shorter (in length) and lighter. The stories mocked the lives of heroes or Dionysus, in order to give a chance to the audience to relax after having attended the presentation of 3 tragedies.
The only satiric dramas that have been saved are "The Cyclops" by Euripides and "The Scouts" by Sophocles.
Tragedy
Definition of tragedy (by Aristotle, Poetics) : Tragedy is an imitation of an important and complete action, which has a specific length, written in an embellished language, with its separate parts set in order and not randomly, in active and not narrative form, tending through pity and fear to the catharsis of passions.
Analysis of the definition :
• "imitation of an important and complete action" : Tragedy is the imitation of life itself, a mimisis of important things, emotions and passions
• "specific length" : Tragedy's story must have a start, a medium point and an end. It cannot be too long nor too short.
• "embellished language" : the language must have rhythm, melody and harmony. Vulgarity must be excluded.
• "its separate parts set in order and not randomly" : The lyrics, the dancing and the prose must be set in the right proportion.
• "in active and not narrative form" : Action characterizes tragedy. Action is achieved through dialogic parts. Monologues can be used only as an exception.
• "tending through pity and fear to the catharsis of passions" : The spectator watches the leading actor to raise in arrogance and fall in despair. He feels pity and mercy for him, because he has been the innocent tool in the hands of fate. His insulting behaviour towards the divine element merits a punishment. This punishment though will purify him and at the end the spectator feels that justice has been served.
The Actors At first in dithyramb, there were no actors. Thespis was the poet who introduced the first hypocrite, Aeschylus the second and Sophocles the third one. Besides these actors, who were playing the leading parts, there were also some other persons on the orchestra (=stage), playing "dumb" roles (the "followers").
At the beginning the actors have been chosen by the poets (they -sometimes- played the roles themselves). Later, when theatre competition became tough, the need of professional actors emerged. Some actors tended to attach themselves to a poet. Still in the 5th century, when the success of a production depended on the actors as well, they were being chosen by the State.
The hypocrites were always men, even if they were playing female roles. In order to have a female appearance, they were playing wearing the "prosternida" (before the chest, imitating a woman's breasts) and the "progastrida" before the belly. In order to look taller and more impressive they were wearing "cothornous" (wooden shoes with tall heels). These shoes were the same for both legs (no right and left). They were dressed in long robes with vertical stripes.
The most essential part of their disguise was the mask. These masks were made ad hoc and they had big holes for the mouth and the eyes. The mask was absolutely necessary as it was necessary in the Dionysian religion.
Actors and especially the ones who played the leading parts ("protagonists") were persons of high respect, not only to the Athenian society but worldwide. Some of them have been addressed as ambassadors. In the 5th century they had become significant members of the greek society and they have been very rich, since they were very well payed.
The Chorus Up to the point when Sophocles imported his innovations in drama, the chorus had 12 members. Sophocles added three more. The 15 members of the chorus were entering the orchestra in rows ( usually face=3, depth=5 ), which means that although in old dithyramb the chorus was making a circle, in ancient theater the chorus was making squares. The leader of the chorus ("Coryphaios") was in the middle of the first row. Coryphaios was a professional dancer and singer. The rest of the chorus consisted of amatures chosen by the poet and payed by the sponsor (choregos)
The chorus was entering from the two "parodoi". His appearance was depending on the play. For the tragedy the chorus was very solemn and it was called "emmelia". In comedies it was funny and it was called "codrax", when in satiric drama it was scoptic and it was called "sicinnis".
The chorus, was considered to be the mouthpiece of society (in its humble form) and morality, and they were suffering along with the heroes. Its role (very important at first) was fading during the time.
Masks in Greek Theatre The use of masks in ancient Greek theatre draw their origin from the ancient Dionysian cult. Thespis was the first writer, who used a mask. The members of the chorus wore masks, usually similar to each other but completely different from the leading actors. Some people claim that the masks had one more significance : they added resonance to the voice of an actor so that everyone in the huge ancient theater could hear him (Baldry 1971). I do not quite agree with that point of view. I think it's enough for someone to attend a modern performance of a play in the ancient theater of Epidaurus to feel the perfection of the acoustics in an ancient theater. Even the audience of the last row can hear a whisper from the orchestra.
An interesting idea (Wiles 1991) is that the mask could give to the character some sort of universality, creating an average figure, so that the audience would judge him on his actions and not his appearance. Certainly that was a result of the use of the mask but I am not quite convinced that it was one of the purposes of its use.
Usually the masks were made of linen, wood, or leather. A marble or stone face was used as a mould for the mask. Human or animal hair was also used. The eyes were fully drawn but in the place of the pupil of the eye was a small hole so that the actor could see.
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