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Greek Theater


Greek Theater From Ancient Chant to Modern Theater – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Greek Theater

Greek Theater
  • From Ancient Chant to Modern Theater

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

Ancient Greek Theater
  • Their achievement is truly remarkable when one
    considers that there have been only 2 other
    periods in the history of theater that could be
    said to approach the greatness of ancient Athens
    - Elizabethan England and, perhaps the 20th
    Century. The greatest playwright of Elizabethan
    England was Shakespeare, but Athens produced at
    least 5 equally great playwrights. The 20th
    Century produced thousands of fine plays and
    films, but their form and often their content are
    based on the innovations of the ancient

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

  • 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.

From Dithyramb to Drama
  • As time went on, the dithyramb started to cease
    to concern itself exclusively with the adventures
    of Dionysus and began to choose its subjects from
    all periods of Greek mythology.
  • In this way, over time the dithyramb would evolve
    into stories in play form DRAMA.

Golden Age of Greek Theater
  • The most prominent city-state in Greece by 600 BC
    was Athens where at least 150,000 people lived.
  • In Athens the rites of Dionysus evolved into what
    we know today as theater .

  • In about 600 BC Arion of Corinth wrote down
    formal lyrics for the dithyramb.
  • Some time in the next 75 years, Thespis of Attica
    added an actor who interacted with the chorus.
  • This one actor was called the protagonist.
  • Thespis walked around Athens pulling a handcart,
    setting up a kind of one man plays, where he
    showed the bad behavior of man. The word for
    actor, thespian, comes from his name.

  • 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 the
    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 the theater at Delphi, the Attic
    theater and the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

Greek Amphitheatres
  • The 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.

  • Current day Theater at Dionysus
  • Artistic replica of the Theater at Dionysus
  • Delphi Theater reconstruction and current day

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.

3 Types of Greek Plays
  • Tragedies The first type they invented was the
    tragedy. In tragedies, one or more major
    characters always suffered a disastrous end.
  • Comedies Comedies were invented next. In
    comedies, plays always had a happy end.

3 Types of Greek Plays, cont.
  • Satires Satires were plays that made fun of
    mortal legends and of real people. In ancient
    Greece, you did not poke fun at the gods - not in
    a play, not in real life, not ever. But you could
    poke fun
  • at your leaders. And that was uniquely Greek.
    Satires in ancient Greece were often political in
    nature, and could indeed affect people's opinions
    about current events.

The Chorus/ Singers
  • In Greek drama, the chorus or the singers told
    the story, not the actors. Actors used gestures
    and masks to act out their parts. Actors changed
    roles by changing masks.

  • Were large so that audience could see them easily
  • A distinctive mask was made for each character in
    the play

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Some Masks Were on Sticks
The Skene?
  • The theater of Dionysus in the earliest days of
    tragedy must have consisted of only the most
    basic elements.
  • All that was required was a circular dancing area
    for the chorus at the base of a gently sloping
    hill, on which spectators could sit and watch the
  • On the other side of the orchestra facing the
    spectators there probably stood a tent in which
    the actors could change their costumes (one actor
    would play more than one part).
  • This is suggested by the word skene which means
    'tent', and was used to refer to a wooden wall
    having doors.

The Skene and Seating
  • The wall was painted to represent a palace,
    temple or whatever setting was required. The
    wall, which eventually became a full-fledged
    stage building, probably acquired this name
    because it replaced the original tent.
  • The construction of the wooden skene (cf. our
    theatrical terms "scene" and "scenery") and of a
    formal seating area consisting of wooden benches
    on the slope, which had been hollowed out,
    probably took place some time toward the middle
    of the fifth century.

Greek Theater
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Mechanical Stage Devices
  • One device is the ekkyklema a wheeled-out
    thing, a platform on wheels rolled out through
    one of the doors of the skene, on which a tableau
    was displayed representing the result of an
    action indoors (e.g., a murder) and therefore was
    unseen by the audience.
  • The other device is called a mechane theatrical
    machine, a crane to which a cable with a harness
    for an actor was attached. This device allowed an
    actor portraying a god or goddess to arrive on
    scene in the most realistic way possible, from
    the sky.

Flying Actors?
  • The mechane deposited the actor on top of the
    skene so that he as a deity could address the
    human characters from an appropriately higher
  • This device was not exclusively limited to use by
    divine characters, but was employed whenever the
    plot required any character to fly.

  • 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 5th 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.

  • 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.

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