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Ancient Greek Theater


... many of the masks used at the Carnival of Venice, and many masks made for modern ... characters in these plays wore tragic masks and costumes, but the ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ancient Greek Theater

Ancient Greek Theater
This is where it all began the Theatre of
Dionysos in Athens.
  • According to legend, late in the sixth century
    BCE a man named Thespis first had the idea to add
    speaking actors to the performances of choral
    song and dance which occurred on many occasions
    throughout Greece. (That's why actors are
    sometimes called 'thespians'.) Masked actors
    performed outdoors, in daylight, before audiences
    of 12,000 or more at festivals in honor of
    Dionysos, the god of theatre.

  • The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens
    and flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries
    BC have influenced nearly all subsequent Western
    drama, starting with that of the Romans. When the
    Romans conquered Greece they brought Greek
    literature back to Italy and set about making it
    their own.

  • The Romans, with their love of spectacle, soon
    took over the existing theatres in Greece and
    began renovating and rebuilding them for their
    own spectacles, which included everything from
    pantomime (closer to ballet than to the
    children's 'panto') to mock naval battles. Most
    of the remains of the theatre of Dionysos which
    we can see in Athens today date to Roman times
    and not the fifth century BC.

The tragedies and comedies of the fifth and
fourth centuries BC that remain to us today were
almost all written for performance in the Theatre
of Dionysos at Athens. The Theatre of Dionysos
was first dug out of the slope beneath the south
side of the Acropolis in the late 6th century BC.
The Precinct
  • The Theatre of Dionysos was only one part of the
    precinct of Dionysos. Initially, the precinct
    contained only the Older Temple of Dionysos and a
    sacrificial altar. Later a hall, or stoa, was
    added, incorporating the Older Temple, and a
    second temple built further south. The highest
    row of seats in the Theatre of Dionysos was 125
    feet above the lowest part of the precinct, and
    before the construction of the stoa and the stage
    building (skene), the audience could easily see
    the temples and the sacrificial altars from the
    theatre. More importantly, from the Athenian
    point of view, Dionysos himself (represented by
    his cult statue, which was seated in the front
    row) could observe not only the choral
    performances being given in his honor but the
    sacrifices which were made at his altar.

The Precinct
(No Transcript)
  • Pericles also introduced the Theoric Fund to
    subsidize the cost of theatre tickets for the
    poor. The price of a ticket to the Theatre of
    Dionysos was two obols, as much as a laborer
    earned in a day.

The Players
  • Because Greek tragedy and comedy originated with
    the chorus, the most important part of the
    performance space was the orchestra, which means
    'a place for dancing' (orchesis). A tragic chorus
    consisted of 12 or 15 dancers (choreuts), who may
    have been young men just about to enter military
    service after some years of training. Athenians
    were taught to sing and dance from a very early
    age. The effort of dancing and singing through
    three tragedies and a satyr play was likened to
    that of competing in the Olympic Games.

  • In contrast with the chorus of 12 or 15, there
    were only three actors in fifth-century Athenian
    tragedy. The original word for 'actor' was
    hypokrites, meaning 'answerer,' for the actor
    answered the chorus. Thespis is said to have
    introduced (and been) the first actor, later
    called protagonistes (literally 'first
    competitor'). The introduction of a second actor
    is attributed to Aeschylus and the third to

Four Qualities of Greek Drama
  • Occurred during special occasions or festivals
  • Competitive. Prizes offered for best plays
  • Use of Chorus involved singing
  • Closely related to religion

Seven Qualities of Greek Tragedy
  • Late Attack
  • Violence/death occurs offstage
  • Use of messengers to relay information
  • Continuous time of action
  • Setting is a single place
  • Based on myth or history
  • Focus is on psychological, not physical or

  • Greek Theater Masks

  • The large size of the theatre (in its final form
    it seated 20,000 people) and the distance of even
    the nearest spectators from the performers (more
    than 10 meters) dictated a non-naturalistic
    approach to acting. All gestures had to be large
    and definite so as to 'read' from the back rows.
    Facial expression would have been invisible to
    all but the closest members of the audience the
    masks worn by the actors looked more 'natural'
    than bare faces in the Theatre of Dionysos. The
    masks of tragedy were of an ordinary,
    face-fitting size, with wigs attached, and open
    mouths to allow clear speech. Contrary to some
    later theories, there were no 'megaphones' in the
    masks, and their decoration and expression was
    quite subtle, as vase paintings from the 5th and
    4th centuries attest.

  • Theatrical masks were made of wood (like the
    masks of Japanese Noh drama), leather (like the
    masks of the Commedia dell' arte, or cloth and
    flour paste (like many of the masks used at the
    Carnival of Venice, and many masks made for
    modern productions today). Various theories are
    advanced in favor of each material, but no
    originals remain, only stone carvings which may
    have been used as mask-molds and the paintings on

  • Each set of three tragedies was followed by the
    performance of a satyr play, a short spoof of a
    myth related to the theme of at least one of the
    tragedies. The ordinary human characters in these
    plays wore tragic masks and costumes, but the
    chorus of half-human satyrs wore pug-nosed,
    pointy-eared, bearded masks, and furry shorts.

The masks of Greek Old Comedy were distorted
caricatures, sometimes of real people. They were
meant to be ugly and silly in keeping with the
ludicrous padded costumes worn by comic actors.
While tragic actors wore elaborate pattern-woven
garments which were similar to the robes of
priests and musicians.