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The Origins of Drama and Theatre

Preparation for ELECTRA

Matt Plant

on 14 September 2012

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Transcript of The Origins of Drama and Theatre

Preparation for ELECTRA The Origins of Drama and Theatre photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli by SOPHOCLES Much of what we know about the origins of comedy and tragedy have been influenced by the theories of ARISTOTLE. He looked partly at the plays of SOPHOCLES. His writings on tragedy have shaped the theatre of the Western world. This belief that all forms of theatre stem from sacred rites and festivals is very strong in the English theatre in particular. This is not always the case and the more recent European performance traditions such as CARNIVAL, COMMEDIA DELL ARTE, MUSIC HALL and MUSICALS celebrate the original performance intentions of the Greeks. It was during these times that the two classical dramatic genres of tragedy and comedy were first developed into the earliest forms of comedy and tragedy. The masks suggests that these origins are to be found in the golden age of Athenian drama during the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The common recognition of these signs tells us something about the story of theatre and the origins of the performances that we see now in our own time. How often have you seen these masks? Oooh! Exciting! The Origins of Drama and Theatre a representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotions. ARISTOTLE defined tragedy as: In this short definition, Aristotle establishes certain features of tragedy, which we can still recognise in some genres and styles of today's theatre. Many plays are based on the serious exploration of a SIGNIFICANT ACTION taken by the central character, which brings about their downfall or changes them and those around them in some profound way. In ARISTOTLE'S analysis, actions in tragedy were not by chance or accident; they were made inevitable or necessary because of the characters and situations in the drama. Many plays still work on this idea of showing that characters behave as they do because of the social and psychological circumstances that they face. Theatre, while it may often tell a story, is the art of actions - things happen rather than being merely described as they might be in a novel. CAN YOU NAME ONE? ARISTOTLE said that the central action should be of some amplitude. We now speak of certain kinds of action as being DRAMATIC and by that we often mean LARGER THAN LIFE. Often plays and other forms of drama depend on some big event to grab our interest and stir up the lives of the characters involved. In MACBETH a king is murdered. In disaster movies, some terrible natural calamity changes the course of people's lives. Sometimes we are struck by the magnitude of human choices which lead to death and destruction; sometimes by the tragedy of cataclysmic natural disasters and their effects. Look closely at Ismene’s speech beginning: Oimoi…
Why are the lines set out in this way?
What is intended by the line breaks?
How can the intentions of the written format be played in performance?
What is the effect? The idea of ‘consistency’ of character would become one of the principles of Stanislavski’s system of acting. In modern times character is more usually discussed in terms of the psychology and morality of a character and the social relations between characters. What clues are there that the characters will behave consistently for the rest of the play? Both Antigone and Ismene are aristocrats. Many plays until the nineteenth century were about princes, kings and queens and other aristocratic heroes. What are Ismene and Antigone’s moral purposes in this scene? What does each consider to be the right/wrong thing to do? In what ways are Ismene and Antigone ‘typical’? What kind of person does each represent? The Prologue offers the exposition of the play’s plot. This is essential information about characters’ past lives and relationships and a foreshadowing of events to come.

What events are retold?
What events are there?
What crises and climax do you think there will be later in the play? The Greeks used very little in terms of scenery and other visual clues of the play’s setting. The main scenery was provided by the skene. This was a wooden building at the back of the orchestra or stage. The skene looked like a real house and was the territory of the female characters as it was in Athenian culture.
Which other elements of setting or props might you introduce into modern production that would be in keeping with the play’s setting and themes? Opsis was not an important category for Aristotle but the visual elements of a play are now seen as being essential to the ‘theatre’ of a performance and both music and spectacle are of great importance in genres such as pantomime, opera, musicals and physical theatre. SPECTACLE
(opsis from which we get ‘optics’ and ‘optical’) Is there a ‘melody’ in the language? As you read through were you conscious of the rhythm, or sound, of the words? What music or other sound effects might you add to this scene in a modern production? Aristotle didn’t dwell on melos but a consideration of the ‘acoustic’ elements of a performance – what we hear in terms of music and other sounds – has become increasingly important in modern theatre. MUSIC
(melos from which we get ‘melody’) This describes the literary aspects of the drama – how it is written, the language and poetry, the imagery and metaphors of speech. DICTION
(lexis from which we get ‘lexicon’ meaning a dictionary or vocabulary) A character should be ‘good’ which often meant being of noble birth;
Being ‘good’ also meant that characters should have moral purpose for their actions;
Characters should be ‘typical’ of the people they represent rather than odd or different;
They should be ‘real’ not fantastical or magical and they should be ‘consistent’ – they should behave ‘in character’, as we would say – their actions should be probable, credible and plausible. CHARACTER
(ethos from which we get ‘ethics’): there were FOUR aspects of character This was ‘the soul of tragedy’ for Aristotle and referred to the incidents and sequence of events of the play which would include crises, conflicts, reversals of fortune, climaxes, tensions and suspense, exposition and denouement. Aristotle also suggested that the plot should have a beginning, middle and end. PLOT
(mythos – from which we get the word myth)
We still use these in discussion of today’s theatre. ARISTOTLE broke down the structure of tragedy into six parts (five of which we will discuss).
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