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An Introduction to Greek Theatre

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Collin Bryant

on 4 March 2014

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Transcript of An Introduction to Greek Theatre

An Introduction to Greek Theatre
Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex)
Athenian tragedy by the
playwright Sophocles

First performed circa
429 BC

First of the three Theban

Major Themes:
- Fate vs. Free Will
- Tragic Hero's Downfall
- Sight vs. Blindness
- Hubris

But first....
- Believed that the earliest forms of Greek drama were linked to religious and ritualistic ceremonies honouring Dionysus, the god of wine, vegetation, creativity, and fertility

- To honour Dionysus, dithyrambs (wild songs and dances) would be performed by a chorus of 50 men for an audience of young women, drunks, and men costumed as various spirits (also probably drunk)

- Accompanied by the slaughter of a goat as sacrifice

- One member of the chorus would also narrate
stories about various gods and heroes
On the Origin of Tragedies
- Tragedy translates to "goat song" - explicit link to religious dithyrambs

- Tragedy = a play in which a central character called the
tragic protagonist
suffers a serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected with the hero's actions."
Essentially, the downfall of the hero is brought upon by his own actions, not chance

- Most tragedies end in misery
and eternal suffering for the hero
Background on Greek Drama
Healthy Competition
- Tragedies first performed for public audiences in 6th c. BC as part of religious festivals

- New, young, hip playwrights would submit their plays to be selected to compete in the festivals

- One playwright would direct four plays in a day, 3 days of plays

- Simple plots, simple settings, one main actor, all-male chorus

- Winner would receive an honoured
reputation, a laurel wreath, and of
course a goat to then be sacrificed
and consumed by the actors.
Top Playwrights of the Time
- Aeschylus (525-456) - Introduced a second actor and major dialogue, primary focus on the gods

- Euripides (480-406) - Studies of human feeling and motive

- Sophocles (496-406) - Larger chorus of 15, more defined characters, added a third main actor, emphasis on the worth and dignity of humans
Looking to the Gods for Inspiration
- All three playwrights used stories taken from myths, history, and legends

- Own spin/interpretation on these old, traditionally oral stories

- Maintained close
association with religion
All the World's a Stage...
- Plays performed in very large, open-air structures

- Theatres often constructed near sanctuaries

- Audience sat in the theatron, the "seeing place"

- Ampitheatre (crescent) shape of theatres

- Amazing acoustics; softly spoken words
could be heard in the top rows

- Plays performed during the day
A Chorus Line
Masking Emotions
Tragedian Structure
Sophocles' Specifics
- Chorus is one of the more foreign elements of Greek theatre to modern theatre

- The chorus would appear in between scenes with songs and dancing

- Actors (all men) wore masks; used to
differentiate characters and distinguish
female characters

- Usually made of linen, wood, or leather.
Also human and animal hair

- Eye holes so actors could see

- Conveyed a great deal of emotion
Common characteristics:

- violence and death off stage
- frequent use of messengers to relate information
- continuous time of action
- often occur in a single place
- interpretations of myth and history
- focus on psychological and ethical attributes of characters, rather than physical and sociological

- emphasis on individual characters

- reduced role of chorus

- emotionally complex characters

- lots of crises and suffering

- clear and logical action

- focus on human's choices

- higher law above man
- Composed of non-professional
actors (12-15 members)

- Also engaged in dialogue with the

- Wore masks and costumes like the
main actors
Full transcript