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Theatre of ancient Greece

Theatre of ancient Greece

Ancient theatre

The Theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalized as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity. Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

The word τραγῳδία (tragoidia), from which the word “tragedy” is derived, is a portmanteau of two Greek words:  (tragos) or “goat” and  (ode) meaning “song”, from  (aeidein), “to sing”. This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible, however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.

Martin Litchfield West speculates that early Greek religion and theatre, which are inter-related, especially the Orphic Mysteries, was heavily influenced by CentralAsian shamanistic practices. A large number of Orphic graffiti unearthed inOlbia seems to testify that the colony was one major point of contact. Eli Rozik points out that the shaman, as such, is seen as a prototypical actor influencing the rituals of early Greek theatre.

Greek tragedy as we know it was made in Athens some years before 532 BC, when Thespis was the earliest recorded actor. Being a winner of the first theatrical contest held at Athens, he was the exarchon, or leader, of the dithyrambsperformed 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 recitations, known as rhapsodes, of Homer’s epics were popular in festivals prior to 534 BC. Thus, Thespis’s true contribution to drama is unclear at best, but his name has been immortalized as a common term for performer—a “thespian.”

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 508 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. Read the rest of this entry

Drama

Drama

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning “action” (Classical Greek: δρᾶμα, drama), which is derived from “to do” (Classical Greek:δράω, drao). The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception. The structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production and collective reception. The early modern tragedy Hamlet (1601) by Shakespeare and the classical Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King (c. 429 BCE) by Sophocles are among the masterpieces of the art of drama. A modern example is Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (1956).

The two masks associated with drama represent the traditional generic division between comedy and tragedy. They are symbols of the ancient Greek Muses, Thalia and Melpomene. Thalia was the Muse of comedy (the laughing face), while Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy (the weeping face). Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyricalmodes ever since Aristotle’s Poetics (c. 335 BCE)—the earliest work of dramatic theory.

The use of “drama” in the narrow sense to designate a specific type of play dates from the 19th century. Drama in this sense refers to a play that is neither a comedy nor a tragedy—for example, Zola’sThérèse Raquin (1873) or Chekhov’s Ivanov (1887). It is this narrow sense that the film and television industry and film studies adopted to describe “drama” as a genre within their respective media. “Radio drama” has been used in both senses—originally transmitted in a live performance, it has also been used to describe the more high-brow and serious end of the dramatic output of radio. Read the rest of this entry

History of theatre

History of theatre

The history of theatre concerns the historical development of theatre since it’s invention in classical Athens. While performative elements are present in every society, it is customary to acknowledge a distinction between theatre as an art form and entertainment and theatrical or performative elements in other activities. The history of theatre is primarily concerned with the origin and subsequent development of the theatre as an autonomous activity.

Greek theatre

The above-mentioned playwrights are regarded as the most influential by critics of subsequent eras including Aristotle. The tragic and satyr plays were always performed at the festival (City Dionysia) where they were part of a series of four performances (a “tetralogy“): the first, second and third plays were a dramatic trilogy based on related or unrelated mythological events, and the culminating fourth performance was a satyr play, a play on a lighter note, with enhanced celebratory and dance elements. Performances lasted several hours and were held during daytime. Aristophanes wins first prize in Athens for his comedy The Acharnians in 425BC. The dramas rarely had more than three actors (all male), who played the different roles using masks. There was a chorus on the stage most of the time which sang songs and sometimes spoke in unison. As far as we know, most dramas were staged just a single time, at the traditional drama contest. Such contests were always held in the context of major religious festivals, most notably those in honor of the god Dionysos, and competed for an honorific prize (such as a tripod and a sum of money) awarded by a panel of judges – usually these were the sacerdotal and civil officers presiding over the particular religious festival. The prize was awarded jointly to the producer, who had financed the staging, and the poet, who was at the same time the author, composer, choreographer and director of the plays.

The actors wore large masks, which were very colourful. Actors also wore thick, padded clothing, and shoes with thick soles. This made them seem larger, so the audience could see them better when seated in the uppermost rows of the amphitheatre. Read the rest of this entry

Theatre – Definition

Theatre – Definition

Theatre (or theater, see spelling differences) is a branch of the performing arts. Any performance may be considered theatre; however, as a performing art, theatre focuses almost exclusively on live performers creating a self-contained drama. A performance qualifies as dramatic by creating a representational illusion. By this broad definition, theatre had existed since the dawn of man, as a result of the human tendency for storytelling. Since its inception, theatre has come to take on many forms, utilizing speech, gesture, music, dance, writing, and spectacle, combining the other performing arts, often as well as the visual arts, into a single artistic form.

The word derives from the Ancient Greek theatron (θέατρον) meaning “a place for viewing.” Modern Western theatre derives in large measure from Greek drama, from which it borrows technical terminology, classification into genres, and many of its themes, stock characters, and plot developments.