Greek And Roman Theater Essay, Research Paper
Greek and Roman Theater
The Greeks in Athens built the world?s first theater about 550 BC The world?s first theater production was performed by the Greeks. The Greeks were the first people to create theater performances. The Romans borrowed Greek ideas to create their own productions. There are many differences between the early Greek plays and the early Roman plays, there are also many similarities.
The early plays by Greeks were tragedies consisted of acted episodes performed by one actor who also conversed with the leader of the chorus. During this action, chorus members would react in pattern movements and gestures to what was happening. Early Greek tragedies became very elaborate and dramatic. These performances developed into festivals. These festivals covered several days of the end of March, and were open to all Greeks. The state financed the theater building and also provided its maintenance, paid fees to the actors and also provided prizes for the dramatic contests. The help of Greek poetry created these plays. The Greeks would perform dances before they started to form Theater productions. These dancing and singing festivals developed into acting. This is where Greeks got their idea to have these performances.
After Greek civilization declined in the later part of the Hellenistic Age, the Romans carried on many of the theatrical traditions the Greeks had created. The Romans used Latin Language in their productions. The Romans had no theatrical traditions of their own. This was mainly because they were not particularly inventive, especially regarding artistic and literary themes and ideas. The Romans of that time were hardheaded, materialistic, unimaginative fighters, with the admirable qualities of courage, enterprise and a sense of integrity and justice. They had no taste for the arts and none for personal refinements. The Romans natural genius lay in their remarkable ability to borrow ideas from other people and to adapt these to their won special needs. All of the Roman?s ideas were borrowed from the Greeks. First they began to borrow simple poems from the Greeks known as ?Fescennine Verses.? They borrowed them from the Etruscans when they conquered them. Soon the Romans began using these verses in Latin at their own celebrations. These young Romans performed Etruscan song?s dances at the religious and social ceremonies. Their performances called histriones, improvised their own dialogues and gestured to accompany the singing and dancing. The modern term ?histrionic? referring to the actors and their gestured comes from this Latin word.
Greek theatrical costumes were brightly covered. This was so the audience could see the actors since they were so far away. Another reason for bright colors was to aid character recognition. Certain characters had certain costume colors. The queen?s costumes was always purple, the traditional color of royalty, so that the spectators who had no programs could easily recognize the characters. The character who was depressed or unhappy would wear the color black. Costume coloring explained the actor?s moods. These actors identity was basically concealed because their costumes covered up their bodies except for their hands and ankles.
The actors also used props. The most common used props were chariots, statues of gods, couches, shields and swords, and biers on which dead bodies were displayed. Special props were also associated with specific characters. To differentiate among the gods and the hero?s, certain props were carried. The warriors in these plays usually wore fully armored suits. A messenger would wear a crown of olives or laurel. The king would carry a spear and wear a crown.
Greek theatrical producers left the settings mainly up to the audience?s imagination. This was because of the strict limitations on the kinds of setting a playwright was allowed to have. These plays took place outdoors in front of a house or temple. Interiors could not be shown, and there is no evidence of the Greeks using painted scenery either.
Thespis was the first actor to act in Greek Theater. Thespis created the formal theater overnight. In utilizing dialogue between himself, the first actor also created different costumes so the audience would recognize the different characters. Finally he created different masks to so he can portray different characters. Thespis helped design the role of the audience. The name Thespis comes down to us in the use of the word thespian as a synonym for actor.
The most popular plays presented in Rome in the golden age were comedies based on Greek New Comedy. Although the actors in the Roman plays spoke Latin, their plays did consist of Greek originals. Even the character names used in these Roman comedies were Greek. Roman comedy writers quickly learned that disguising as Greeks, those they wanted to insult, was the way to avoid the past. The Romans borrowed many Greek comedy conventions, including that men playing women roles. Mime remained the only theatrical genre in which Roman women were allowed to take part in. Greek stock characters mostly populated Roman stages. Bragging soldiers, parasites, stupid old men, and prostitutes were some of the most common types of actors. The clever slave was the more popular in Roman Theater then Greek Theater. Nearly every Roman family had at least one slave. No Roman comedy could be written without a slave in it. In every play, the slave is the chief character, the only one with the brains, who succeeds in the fooling of all the people all of the time. One Greek invention that was ignored by the Romans was the use of masks. Roman actors used their own facial expressions to show character, mood and emotion. This custom was formed because of the mimed; they did not wear masks. Each Roman actor played a single character per a play, in contrast to Greek actors who often played two or more. So Roman actors had the opportunity to develop and perfect their characters to a high degree. They probably felt that hiding their faces behind masks limited the range of emotion.
Women singers, dancers, and musicians are known, performing both on public occasions and at private functions. Women did not appear on the legitimate stage, but only as mime actresses. These performances were known to us as slaves or freedwomen, with names usually from Greek origin. The women characters were performed by the men dressed up as the women. The women were not allowed to perform till later on.
The first performances of full-length Roman plays based on Greek models took place at one of Rome?s most important religious festivals-the Ludi Romani. The plays were so popular that in the following fifty years were introduced. Permanent Roman theaters did not yet exist. So the actors performed on wooden stages that could be built in less then a day. These designs copied a lot from Hellenistic Stages. The Roman stages were five to eight feet high and up to sixty feet wide. The back wall of the stage was about twelve feet high. This wall had doors for the actor?s to enter the stage and exit. The first Roman artist who produced these Greek plays on stage was Liviu Andronicus. He was a Greek who became a Roman citizen.
In keeping with its use of everyday situations and characters, the New Comedy presented stories more realistically than had been done in the Old Comedy. Therefore, New Comedy playwrights dispensed with the interesting but unrealistic use of chorus to highlight themes and actions. The new comic plays had no choral songs and no interaction between chorus and the main actors. All the dialogue and verse parts were spoken or cited in regular speech. The chorus was reduced to a group of actors who entered periodically and sang and danced numbers that had nothing to do with the plots. In this way, the chorus functioned as a curtain or between act?s entertainment. Although the New Comedy focused most of its attention on the characters instead of the plot, these characters were almost always presented in the same way. Stock characters such as a young lover, angry fathers, clever slaves, cooks, and self-important soldiers abounded. The masks they wore were so that the audience could recognize the characters at glance.
The costuming of the actors in the New Comedy resembled the clothing we wear today in everyday life. New Comedy dressed stock characters in certain colors. One such stock character was a slave who always wore a white tunic and a very distinctive mask with red hair. Old men wore white, but were always clean-shaven and had nice haircuts. Young men wore purple, parasites wore black or gray and old women wore yellow or light blue. A prostitute was easily recognized, since the character always had gold ornaments in their hair and wore bright colored bands.
The theatrical plays and forms of the Greeks and the Romans became accepted models of great theater and have been performed and copied ever since. The stages today are a lot more advanced then back then. The success of these ancient tragedies and comedies on modern stages only can be explained by the talent and insight of the creator?s. They saw what made people cry and what made them laugh and translated these qualities into words for the actors to speak. Their works are fresh and appealing to audiences today proves that the feelings and emotions are explored by the ancients is universal. It is amazing how we still use things from the Greeks and Romans to make our play productions good.
Today theater has become very popular. People can do see plays on and off Broadway. Greek and Roman ideas are still used in some of these plays.