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Ancient Greek Drama

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Oakland Theatre

on 30 November 2018

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Transcript of Ancient Greek Drama

The Beginning of Theatre
Must have personal motivations connected to the plot

Protagonist should begin renowned and prosperous, then turn conflicted

Hubris: arrogance

Hamartia: a tragic flaw

Must be some sort of dramatic irony against the protagonist


The way the incidents are presented to the audience
Must have a beginning, middle, and end
Must be complete and have “unity of action”



Only ancient playwright that we have complete manuscripts for

Wrote during the Old Comedy time period

He is thought to have written about 40 plays in all
Eleven of his plays exist today

Comedic Playwrights

Famous playwrights of the time

Satyr plays were short plays performed between the acts of a tragedy meant to make fun of the tragic event unfolding onstage

Served the function of comedic relief

Basis for the modern word “satire”

Satyr Play

one or more characters introduce the drama and explain the background

The Chorus enters and describes the scene

Three or more cycles of
(stage action) followed by a
(the Chorus explains the development of the scene to the audience

The dissolution of the action
Many times resolved by an “almighty power”

Structure of a Tragedy

The word comedy comes from the greek word kamos which means “band of revelers.”

Ancient Greek comedy traditionally divided into three categories:

Old Comedy
Made famous through the surviving works of the playwright Aristophanes

Middle Comedy
Revived greatly later on in Sicily and Magna Graecia, but no complete texts survive

New Comedy
No complete plays survive, but the most famous playwright in Menander


Types of Greek theatre

Later few non-speaking roles were allowed to perform on-stage.

Due to limited number of actors allowed on-stage, the chorus evolved into a very active part of Greek theatre.

The chorus were unpaid citizens of Athens who volunteered as part the “civic duty.”

The rehearsal period for one of the plays in ancient Greek theatre was normally 4 or more months.

The Chorus

The actors

- the audience of the amphitheatre
Where we get the word theatre
Literally means “the watching place

- the lower stage of the amphitheatre
Literally means “the dancing place”

- Used for entrances and exits
Literally means passageway

- considered the “backdrop” of the amphitheatre
had 3 symbolic doors on the back

Parts of a Greek Theatre

Diagram of the Amphitheatre

How did it begin?

Ancient Greek Drama



The world’s first theatre critic is long considered to be the Greek philosopher Aristotle

Proposed in his work, Poetics, that there were six main elements to a great play

The first theatre critic


Considered the “Father of Tragedy”

Seven surviving plays, the most famous of which the trilogy, the

The Oresteia includes:
Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, & Eumenides (The Furies)


Seven of his 123 written plays survive today

The “winningest” tragic writer of the festival of Dionysus
Most famous plays include:
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, & Antigone


At least eighteen of plays survive
The Trojan women
are two of his most famous surviving plays

Tragic Playwrights

The basis of tragic plots were most often famous Greek myths

The most important and recognized authors of tragedies were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides

Greek tragedies were strictly structured


The role of the chorus was as the narrator of the action onstage

There were typically between 12-15 members in the later years of Greek theatre.

The Chorus (cont.)

At the early Greek festivals, the actors, directors, and dramatists were all the same person. (Think “one man show” type deal.)

Thespis was a Greek poet who was considered the first actor. (This is where we get the term “thespian” for the modern actor.)

After some time, only three actors were allowed to perform in each play.

Women were not allowed to perform onstage.

Each of the three actors played multiple parts, so they employed the use of masks.

Who were the actors?

The Parados

The people began honoring the god Dionysus each year with a festival.

Primarily between 500 and 220 BCE, the festival was held in the city-state of Athens every year

The theatre competition was the most important part, with three playwrights who were invited to compete with a trilogy of tragic plays and one comedic play

The festival lasted 3 days; one day for each playwright

The audience would vote for the best playwright at the end of the festival

City of Dionysus

King of gods
King of sea
King of the underworld
God of war
God of fire
God of sun
Messenger to the gods
God of wine
Queen of gods
Goddess of harvest
Goddess of hearth
Goddess of wisdom
Goddess of love
Goddess of hunting

Gods of ancient Greece:

The Greek theatre history began with festivals honoring their gods.



Satyr Play

Three types of Greek Theatre

- “the thing that rolls”
A small wagon platform that rolled onto the stage to show off a corpse to the audience

In Greek theatre tradition, all killings in a play were to be done offstage and be reported to the audience by a chorus member or messenger

- a crane used for special
effects.Usually used to “fly” in a
“god” at the end of the play to
resolve human conflict.

This is where the term “deus ex machina”
(god of the machine) comes from.

Other Theatre Components

Notice the similarities to the modern day movie theatre seating.

- The rounded shape assisted in the sound of the actors.

- The seats were raised for better viewing for the audience.


The orchestra was where the majority of the action with the chorus took place during the play

Skene was a permanent structure in ancient Greek theatre.

Used as a backdrop for the play and help the mechane.


Greek word for mask= persona

Thespis was the first Greek to employ the use of a mask.

Only one tiny hole drilled where the pupil was for sight.

Usually made of wood or leather and
Decorated with real human hair.

Used to help the
audience differentiate between male and female characters and to allow actors to play more than one character.

Mouth was funnel-shaped to improve the volume of actor’s voice.

The importance of the Greek mask.

Represented highest level of person: kings/rulers
Represented the middle class: merchants, priests, etc
Represented lowest level of person: servants, slaves, and women
Full transcript