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Greek and Roman Theatre


Greek and Roman Theatre A look into theatre s history Dramatic Literature Miss Powell/2008 Greek Comedy Structure of the Comedy: Part One: prolog - chorus gives ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Greek and Roman Theatre

Greek and Roman Theatre
  • A look into theatres history
  • Dramatic Literature
  • Miss Powell/2008

The Greeks
  • Twenty-five hundred years ago, two thousand years
    before Shakespeare, Western theatre was born in
    Athens, Greece.
  • Between 600 and 200 BC, the ancient Athenians
    created a theatre culture whose form, technique
    and terminology have lasted two millennia, and
    they created plays that are still considered
    among the greatest works of world drama.
  • Their achievement is truly remarkable when one
    considers that there have been only two other
    periods in the history of theatre that could be
    said to approach the greatness of ancient Athens
    - Elizabethan England and, perhaps the Twentieth
  • The greatest playwright of Elizabethan England
    was Shakespeare, but Athens produced at least
    five equally great playwrights. The Twentieth
    Century produced thousands of fine plays and
    films, but their form and often their content are
    based on the innovations of the ancient

Map of Ancient Greece
  • The theatre of Ancient Greece evolved from
    religious rites which date back to at least 1200
  • In northern Greece, in an area called Thrace, a
    cult arose that worshipped Dionysus, the god of
    wine, fertility and procreation. This Cult of
    Dionysus, which probably originated in Asia
    Minor, practiced ritual celebrations which may
    have included libation, promiscuous activities,
    human and animal sacrifices, and comedic

  • The cult's most controversial practice involved,
    it is believed, uninhibited dancing and emotional
    displays that created an altered mental state.
    This altered state was known as 'ecstasis', from
    which the word ecstasy is derived. Dionysiac,
    hysteria and 'catharsis' also derive from Greek
    words for emotional release or purification.
    Ecstasy was an important religious concept to the
    Greeks, who would come to see theatre as a way of
    releasing powerful emotions through its ritual
  • Though it met with resistance, the cult spread
    south through the tribes of Greece over the
    ensuing six centuries. During this time, the
    rites of Dionysus became mainstream and more
    formalized and symbolic. The death of a tragic
    hero was offered up to god and man rather than
    the sacrifice of say, a goat. By 600 BC these
    ceremonies were practiced in spring throughout
    much of Greece.

The Dithyramb
  • An essential part of the rites of Dionysus was
    the dithyramb. The word means 'choric hymn'.
  • This chant or hymn was probably introduced into
    Greece early accompanied by mimic gestures and,
    probably, music. It began as a part of a purely
    religious ceremony, like a hymn in the middle of
    a mass describing the adventures of Dionysus.
  • In its earliest form it was lead off by the
    leader of a band of revelers, a group of dancers,
    probably dressed as satyrs dancing around an

  • The hymn was performed by a chorus of about fifty
    men dressed as satyrs -- mythological half-human,
    half- goat servants of Dionysus.
  • They played drums, lyres and flutes, and chanted
    as they danced around a statue of Dionysus.
  • Introduced into Athens shortly before 500 BC,
    dithyramb was soon recognized as one of the
    competitive subjects at the various Athenian
  • For more than a generation after its introduction
    the dithyramb attracted the most famous poets of
    the day. By this time, however, it had ceased to
    concern itself exclusively with the adventures of
    Dionysus and begun to choose its subjects from
    all periods of Greek mythology.
  • Over time the dithyramb would evolve into stories
    in 'play' form drama.

What are thespians?
  • In about 600 BC, Arion of Mehtymna (Corinth)
    wrote down formal lyrics for the dithyramb.
  • Some time during the next 75 years, Thespis of
    Attica added an actor who interacted with the
  • This actor was called the protagonist, from which
    the modern word protagonist is derived, meaning
    the main character of a drama.
  • Records give credit to Thespis, and even gives
    him a date he is said to have performed Athens
    about 534 BC.
  • Whether this is true of not, his name has
    achieved immortality in theatrical jargon -
    'actors' and 'Thespians' are synonymous.

All the worlds a stage!
  • In 534 BC, Dionysian Festivals were changed to
    drama competitions.
  • Thespis is said to have won the first competition
    in 534 BC. In the ensuing 50 years, the
    competitions became popular annual events.

  • During this time, major theatres were
    constructed, notably the theatre at Delphi, the
    Attic Theatre, and the Theatre of Dionysus in
  • The Theatre 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 theatre and
    amphitheatre derive from the Greek word theatron,
    which referred to the wooden spectator stands
    erected on those hillsides.
  • Similarly, the word orchestra is derived from
    the Greek word for a platform between the raised
    stage and the audience on which the chorus was

  • Plays were performed in the daytime.
  • The annual drama competitions in Athens were
    spread over several, entire days.
  • Actors probably wore little or no makeup.
    Instead, they carried masks with exaggerated
    facial expressions.
  • They also wore cothornos, or buskins, which were
    leather boots laced up to the knees.
  • There was little or no scenery.
  • Initially, most of the action took place in the
  • Later, as the importance shifted from the chorus
    to the characters, the action moved to the stage.

Costumes and Scenery
The parts of the theater
  • Orchestra The orchestra (literally, "dancing
    space") was normally circular. It was a level
    space where the chorus would dance, sing, and
    interact with the actors who were on the stage
    near the skene. The earliest orchestras were
    simply made of hard earth, but in the Classical
    period some orchestras began to be paved with
    marble and other materials. In the center of the
    orchestra there was often a thymele, or altar.
    The orchestra of the theater of Dionysus in
    Athens was about 60 feet in diameter.

The Orchestra
The parts of the theater
  • Theatron The theatron (literally,
    "viewing-place") is where the spectators sat. The
    theatron was usually part of hillside overlooking
    the orchestra, and often wrapped around a large
    portion of the orchestra (see the diagram above).
    Spectators in the fifth century BC probably sat
    on cushions or boards, but by the fourth century
    the theatron of many Greek theaters had marble

The theatron
The parts of the theaterThe Skene
  • Most of the surviving plays also make use of a
    building, the skene (tent or hut) or scene
  • This was used as a changing-room for actors and
    as a sounding board, but also served to represent
    the palace or house in front of which most plays
    are set.
  • Chiefly actors made entrances on horse-drawn
    chariots. The roof of the building could be used
    as an acting area, for watchmen, gods and others.
  • There is some oblique suggestion in two texts of
    the period that permanent screens with
    architectural images were used, not sets for
    specific plays, but permanent fixtures.
  • It is conceivable, too, that there was some
    rather underground passage, allowing ghosts to
    appear from below.

The Skene
Parts of the theater
  • Parodos The parodoi (literally, "passageways")
    are the paths by which the chorus and some actors
    (such as those representing messengers or people
    returning from abroad) made their entrances and
    exits. The audience also used them to enter and
    exit the theater before and after the

The Parados
Skenes and Scenery
Special FX
  • The sun provided lighting.
  • Torches were used, more as properties in order
    to heighten the power of the appearance of
    certain passages or characters, the furies, for
  • The actor was dwarfed by his surroundings.
  • Tiny movements and the nuance of facial
    expression used by modern actors would have been
    invisible to the audience. Gestures had to be
    large and sweeping and costumes had to be large
    and flowing in order to allow free, athletic
    movement, and to make a strong visual impression
    upon the audience.
  • As facial expression would have been lost beyond
    the first few rows, masks were used. They were
    broadly and simply designed to be visible a long
    way off.
  • The principal traits of the characters portrayed
    could be expressed in the mask, and a simple
    convention arose whereby types of character had
    their own types of mask.
  • Stereotypical character originated and have since
    been used in theatre around the world.

Greek Masks
Stock Characters
  • The Insincere Man (Eironeia)
  • The Flatterer (Kolakeia)
  • The Garrulous Man (Adoleschia)
  • The Boor (Agroikia)
  • The Complaisant Man (Areskeia)
  • The Man without Moral Feeling (Aponoia)
  • The Talkative Man (Lalia)
  • The Fabricator (Logopoiia)
  • The Shamelessly Greedy Man (Anaischuntia)
  • The Pennypincher (Mikrologia)

Stock Characters
  • The Offensive Man (Bdeluria)
  • The Hapless Man (Akairia)
  • The Officious Man (Periergia)
  • The Absent-Minded Man (Anaisthesia)
  • The Unsociable Man (Authadeia)
  • The Superstitious Man (Deisidaimonia)
  • The Faultfinder (Mempsimoiria)
  • The Suspicious Man (Apistia)
  • The Repulsive Man (Duschereia)
  • The Unpleasant Man (Aedia)
  • The Man of Petty Ambition (Mikrophilotimia)
  • The Stingy Man (Aneleutheria)
  • The Show-Off (Alazoneia)

Stock Characters
  • The Arrogant Man (Huperephania)
  • The Coward (Deilia)
  • The Oligarchical Man (Oligarchia)
  • The Late Learner (Opsimathia)
  • The Slanderer (Kakologia)
  • The Lover of Bad Company (Philoponeria)
  • The Basely Covetous Man (Aischrokerdeia)

Let me entertain you
  • The ancient Greek theatre consisted of loud
    music, bright colors, and extensive dancing.
    Their plays showed
  • violence and daily life
  • social and ethical plays
  • war
  • murder
  • lust
  • betrayal

Parts of a Play
  • An ancient Greek play consisted of three major
  • The play began with a prologue, a simple speech.
  • Then, there was the entrance of the chorus.
  • Finally, there were major episodes, scenes or
    acts, of the play.

Types of Greek Plays
  • There were two major types of Greek plays
  • There was tragedy, which was derived from the
    word tragos and means goat.
  • A tragedy received its name from how it was
    performed. A tragedy had actors who wore
    goatskins and danced like goats. The best
    performers were given a kid goat as a prize
  • The other one was comedy, which was derived from
    the word ode and means song.

Greek Comedy
Our first play
  • Aulularia ( The Pot of Gold) was written by
    Roman playwright, Titus Maccius Plautus.
  • Throughout time the end of the play was lost
  • We as the readers get to decide how the
    characters shall end their story!!

Greek Comedy
  • Structure of the Comedy
  • Part One
  • prolog - chorus gives debate or "agon" over
    merits of the ides
  • parabasis - a choral ode addressing the audience,
    in which a social or political problem in
  • Part Two
  • scenes show the result of the happy idea final
    scene (komos) - all reconcile and exit to feast
    or revelry in 404 B.C., Athens was defeated in
    the Peloponnesian War social and political
    satire declines.

A pot of gold, an unmarried daughter, a planned
marriage, and an unplanned pregnancy! How will
our play end?
  1. Where did the term thespians originate?
  2. What festival started dramatic activities prior
    to the creation of a play?
  3. What style of theater is used in Greek drama?
  4. What is significant about costumes in Greek
  5. Briefly describe the use of the stage.

  • List three stock characters used in Greek drama.
  • Why did stock characters originate?
  • What are the three main parts of a Greek theater?
  • How did actors typically enter the stage?
  • Around what year do our records date back
    informing us of the first days of Greek drama?

The End!