- Slides: 11
Introduction to Greek Theater 2500 years ago, 2000 years before Shakespeare, Western theater was born in Athens, Greece. Between 600 and 200 BC, the ancient Athenians created a theater culture whose form, technique and terminology have lasted 2 millennia. They created plays that are still considered among the greatest works of world drama.
The Cult of Dionysus Ancient Greek Theater evolved from religious rites dating back to at least 1200 BC In 500 BC, in Northern Greece (Thrace) a cult arose that worshipped Dionysus (god of fertility and procreation) An essential part of the rites of Dionysus was the dithyramb Dithyramb means “choric hymn” This chant or hymn was accompanied by mimic gestures and music The dithyramb was performed by a chorus of about 50 men
Dithyramb The performers wore costumes, danced, and played drums, lyres and flutes, They described the adventures of Dionysus. The dithyramb was given a regular form and raised to the rank of artistic poetry about 600 BC. It became one of the competitive subjects at the various Athens festivals. It attracted the most famous poets of the day.
Thespis The "inventor of tragedy" was born in Attica, and was the first prize winner at the Great Dionysia in 534 BC. Thespis was an important innovator for theater, since he introduced such things as the independent actor (as opposed to the chorus) as well as masks, make up and costumes.
Athenian Drama Competitions In 534 BC, the ruler of Athens, Pisistratus, changed the Dionysian Festivals and instituted drama competitions. In the next 50 years, the competitions became popular annual events. During this time, major theatres were constructed , notably theater at Delphi, the Attic theater and the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.
Greek Amphitheatres Theater of Dionysus, built at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, could seat 17, 000 people. During their heyday, the competitions drew as many as 30, 000 spectators. The words theater and amphitheater derive from the Greek word theatron, which referred to the wooden spectator stands erected on the hillsides.
Amphitheatres w. Artistic replica of the Theater at Dionysus w. Current day Theater at Dionysus w. Delphi Theater reconstruction and current day ruins
How plays were performed Plays were performed in the daytime. Since women were not allowed to take part, male actors had to play female roles. The playing of multiple roles, both male and female, was made possible by the use of masks. The masks prevented the audience from identifying the face of any actor with one character in the play. The masks had exaggerated facial expressions, different lengths and color hair, and helped the audience identify the sex, age, and social rank of the characters.
Actors The actors in tragedy were hired and paid by the state and assigned to the tragic poets probably by lot. By the middle of the 5 th century 3 actors were required for the performance of a tragedy. In descending order of importance of the roles they assumed they were called the protagonist “first actor”, (a term also applied in modern literary criticism to the central character of a play), deuteragonist “second actor” and tritagonist “third actor”.
Actors The protagonist took the role of the most important character in the play while the other 2 actors played the lesser roles. Since most plays have more than 2 or 3 characters (although never more than 3 speaking actors in the same scene), all 3 actors played multiple roles. The fact that the chorus remained in the orchestra throughout the play and sang and danced choral songs between the episodes allowed the actors to exit after an episode in order to change mask and costume and assume a new role in the next episode without any illusion-destroying interruption in the play.