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Ancient Greek Theater


Ancient Greek Theater This is where it all began: the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. Scope of Influence The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens and flourished ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ancient Greek Theater

Ancient Greek Theater
Theater of Dionysus
  • First performed on the stone threshing floors, a
    circular dancing place or orchestra in the
    country side of Greece.
  • Moved to the foot of a temple of the god being
    honored. The temple served as a background for
    early performances.
  • 5th Century, completed design included its early
    connections to the rural stone threshing floors.

This is where it all began the Theatre of
Dionysus in Athens.
Scope of Influence
  • The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens
    and flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE
    have influenced nearly all subsequent Western
    drama, starting with that of the Romans.
  • What parts of ancient Greek theater are still
    recognizable today?

  • 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 Dionysus
    which we can see in Athens today date to Roman
    times and not the 5th century BCE.

The Theatre of Dionysus was first dug out of the
slope beneath the south side of the Acropolis in
the late 6th century BCE, possibly while Athens
was still under the rule of the Peisistratid
dynasty. It was rebuilt and expanded many times,
and so it is difficult to tell exactly what its
original shape was.
  • Theater is a ritualistic art form which
    celebrates the Olympian gods who often appeared
    as characters.
  • Dionysus, god of wine and procreation, was
    honored at the dramatic festivals.
  • Legendary kings and heroes were often portrayed
    as well.

Theater and the Common Man
  • Business and activities were suspended during the
    week-long festivals held three times per year.
  • It was considered a CIVIC DUTY for people to
    participate in the productions in some way.
  • The plays were to give a lesson to the people -

The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater
  • The theatron held benches on which the audience
    sat. The semi-circular theatron was specifically
    built in to a hillside to provide good views of
    the action.
  • The orchestra was the circular dancing place for
    the chorus.
  • The parados were two broad aisles which allowed
    the chorus to enter the theater. Parados is also
    the term for the entrance song of the chorus.
  • The skene was a rectangular building with three
    doors which provided a generic backdrop for
    entrances and exits of the characters.
  • The proskenion was a small platform in front of
    the skene to give actors more visibility to the

The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater
  • Approx. 15,000 people fit in the Theater of
    Dionysus in Athens.
  • No sets, props, etc.
  • Actors lines marked the passage of time and the
  • Design of theatron was important for acoustics
    no microphones.

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.

Performance Characteristics
  • Plays were initially held with just the chorus
    singing/chanting the lines.
  • In 534 BCE Thespis was credited with creating the
    first actor (thespians). The character spoke
    lines as a god.
  • This begins the concept of DIALOGUE the
    character interacts with chorus.

The Role of the Actor
  • Aeschylus earliest Greek tragedy writer brought
    idea of second actor.
  • Sophocles brought third actor no more than
    three actors on stage ever in a Greek tragedy.
  • Euripedes also used three actors after
  • Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes each wrote a
    version of the Oedipus tragedy, but Sophocles
    version is the most famous.

Costumes Props
  • Actors needed to be LARGER THAN LIFE and thus
    easy to see.
  • Size was symbolic of their social status.
  • Chiton a long, flowing robe, padded at the
    shoulders for width, selected in symbolic colors
  • Cothurni platform shoes for added height

Greek Actor
The Greek Actor
  • Participation is a civic duty many volunteered
    for the chorus.
  • Experienced speakers became actors (often govt.
    officials or imp. businessmen)
  • Actors were revered and exempt from military
  • Women were excluded from acting and had to sit in
    the higher seats in the theatron.

Declamatory Acting Style
  • Actors could not move easily, so lines were
    delivered in a speech style.
  • Broad sweeping gestures.
  • General movements to express emotions Bowed
    head grief beating chest mourning
    stretching arms prayer.
  • Minor props scepter king, spear warrior,
    elderly cane.

Greek Theater Masks
  • The large size of the theatre 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 hidden by masks.
  • The masks worn by the actors looked more
    'natural' than bare faces in the Theatre of
  • The masks of tragedy were of an ordinary,
    face-fitting size, with wigs attached, and open
    mouths to allow clear speech.

Masks, contd
  • Theatrical masks were made of wood, leather, or
    cloth and flour paste .
  • 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 pottery.

Paradox of the Mask
  • The most distinctive feature of the mask was its
    ability to limit and broaden at the same time.
  • It identified a specific character, but it also
    had generalized features which gave an Everyman
  • This allowed the audience to get the personal
    message intended for each member of the audience.

Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King)
  • Written by Sophocles in 430 B.C.E.
  • Based on a great legend of western culture from
    Ancient Greece.
  • Greatest Greek tragedy drama of extreme tension
    one person rules action
  • Sophocles version deals with the discovery of
    Oedipus fate.

  • Tragedy lies in Oed. learning of his guilty deeds
    rather than the committing of them.
  • Shows Oed. at war with himself
  • Tension lies in the first realization of outcome
    and his push for full truth and proof.
  • Free will cannot blame fate.
  • Reason is mans greatest possession and power.

  • Oedipus shows how mans strength becomes his
  • Loss of eyesight is symbolic regarding Oed.s
    abuse of Teresias, Oed.s own blindness to his
    fate, and our blindness to our own calamities.

Important Vocabulary Terms
  • Hubris overweening pride which results in the
    misfortune of the protagonist in a tragedy
  • Harmartia tragic flaw which brings down
    character hubris is a form of harmartia
  • Peripeteia reversal of fortune, example event
    that should bring good news turns out to actually
    confirm bad news.

Important Vocab cont.
  • Apostrophe addressing a concept as if it were
    human. Ex. Ah miserable or Oh Light
  • Pastoral imagery images that glorify the rustic
    life, esp. of shepherds
  • Anagnorisis recognition or enlightenment when
    the tragic hero realizes his fate.

Important vocab cont.
  • Golden Mean- Greek belief in moderation, balance,
    and proportion in all aspects of life.
  • Catharsis emotional release audience
    experiences at the end of a tragedy

Modern Cultural Allusions
Sigmund Freuds Theory
Oedipus for Everyday Living
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