Theatre of ancient Greece - Wikipedia

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Bahn and Bahn write, "To Greeks the spoken word was a living thing and infinitely preferable to the dead symbols of a written language. For these reasons, among many others, oral storytelling flourished in Greece. Greek tragedy as we know it was created in Athens around the time of BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor.

Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held in Athens, he was the exarchon , or leader, [4] of the dithyrambs performed in and around Attica, especially at the rural Dionysia.

By Thespis' time, the dithyramb had evolved far away from its cult roots. Under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre. Because of these, Thespis is often called the "Father of Tragedy"; however, his importance is disputed, and Thespis is sometimes listed as late as 16th in the chronological order of Greek tragedians; the statesman Solon , for example, is credited with creating poems in which characters speak with their own voice, and spoken performances of Homer 's epics by rhapsodes were popular in festivals prior to BC.

The dramatic performances were important to the Athenians — this is made clear by the creation of a tragedy competition and festival in the City Dionysia. This was organized possibly to foster loyalty among the tribes of Attica recently created by Cleisthenes. The festival was created roughly around BC. While no drama texts exist from the sixth century BC, we do know the names of three competitors besides Thespis: Choerilus, Pratinas, and Phrynichus.

Each is credited with different innovations in the field. More is known about Phrynichus. He won his first competition between BC and BC. He produced tragedies on themes and subjects later exploited in the golden age such as the Danaids , Phoenician Women and Alcestis. He was the first poet we know of to use a historical subject — his Fall of Miletus , produced in , chronicled the fate of the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. Herodotus reports that "the Athenians made clear their deep grief for the taking of Miletus in many ways, but especially in this: Until the Hellenistic period , all tragedies were unique pieces written in honour of Dionysus and played only once, so that today we primarily have the pieces that were still remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became fashionable the accidents of survival, as well as the subjective tastes of the Hellenistic librarians later in Greek history, also played a role in what survived from this period.

After the Great Destruction of Athens by the Persian Empire in BCE, the town and acropolis were rebuilt, and theatre became formalized and an even greater part of Athenian culture and civic pride. This century is normally regarded as the Golden Age of Greek drama. The centre-piece of the annual Dionysia, which took place once in winter and once in spring, was a competition between three tragic playwrights at the Theatre of Dionysus.

Each submitted three tragedies, plus a satyr play a comic, burlesque version of a mythological subject. Beginning in a first competition in BC each playwright submitted a comedy. Apparently the Greek playwrights never used more than three actors based on what is known about Greek theatre. Tragedy and comedy were viewed as completely separate genres, and no plays ever merged aspects of the two.

Satyr plays dealt with the mythological subject matter of the tragedies, but in a purely comedic manner. The power of Athens declined following its defeat in the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans.

From that time on, the theatre started performing old tragedies again. Although its theatrical traditions seem to have lost their vitality, Greek theatre continued into the Hellenistic period the period following Alexander the Great 's conquests in the fourth century BCE.

However, the primary Hellenistic theatrical form was not tragedy but ' New Comedy ', comic episodes about the lives of ordinary citizens.

The only extant playwright from the period is Menander. One of New Comedy's most important contributions was its influence on Roman comedy, an influence that can be seen in the surviving works of Plautus and Terence. The plays had a chorus from 12 to 15 [10] people, who performed the plays in verse accompanied by music, beginning in the morning and lasting until the evening.

The performance space was a simple circular space, the orchestra , where the chorus danced and sang. The orchestra, which had an average diameter of 78 feet, was situated on a flattened terrace at the foot of a hill, the slope of which produced a natural theatron , literally "seeing place". The coryphaeus was the head chorus member who could enter the story as a character able to interact with the characters of a play.

The theatres were originally built on a very large scale to accommodate the large number of people on stage, as well as the large number of people in the audience, up to fourteen thousand.

Mathematics played a large role in the construction of these theatres, as their designers had to be able to create acoustics in them such that the actors' voices could be heard throughout the theatre, including the very top row of seats. The Greek's understanding of acoustics compares very favourably with the current state of the art.

The first seats in Greek theatres other than just sitting on the ground were wooden, but around BCE the practice of inlaying stone blocks into the side of the hill to create permanent, stable seating became more common. They were called the "prohedria" and reserved for priests and a few most respected citizens. In BCE, the playwrights began using a backdrop or scenic wall, which hung or stood behind the orchestra, which also served as an area where actors could change their costumes.

A paraskenia was a long wall with projecting sides, which may have had doorways for entrances and exits. Just behind the paraskenia was the proskenion. The proskenion "in front of the scene" was beautiful, and was similar to the modern day proscenium. Greek theatres also had tall arched entrances called parodoi or eisodoi , through which actors and chorus members entered and exited the orchestra. The upper story was called the episkenion.

Some theatres also had a raised speaking place on the orchestra called the logeion. The Ancient Greek term for a mask is prosopon lit. Most of the evidence comes from only a few vase paintings of the 5th century BC, such as one showing a mask of the god suspended from a tree with decorated robe hanging below it and dancing and the Pronomos vase, [13] which depicts actors preparing for a Satyr play. Nevertheless, the mask is known to have been used since the time of Aeschylus and considered to be one of the iconic conventions of classical Greek theatre.

Masks were also made for members of the chorus, who play some part in the action and provide a commentary on the events in which they are caught up. Although there are twelve or fifteen members of the tragic chorus, they all wear the same mask because they are considered to be representing one character.

Illustrations of theatrical masks from 5th century display helmet-like masks, covering the entire face and head, with holes for the eyes and a small aperture for the mouth, as well as an integrated wig.

These paintings never show actual masks on the actors in performance; they are most often shown being handled by the actors before or after a performance, that liminal space between the audience and the stage, between myth and reality.

Therefore, performance in ancient Greece did not distinguish the masked actor from the theatrical character. The mask-makers were called skeuopoios or "maker of the properties," thus suggesting that their role encompassed multiple duties and tasks.

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