Ancient Greek Theater And Drama Essay, Research Paper
Ancient Greek Theater and Drama
By: Jennifer Mills
Ancient Greek Theater and Drama Jennifer Mills Theater has been an integral part of almost every society for thousands of years. Starting in the last Sixth century B.C. Theater has been evolving into the glitzy, whirlwind productions of today. But in the beginning, theater was a simple affair. Originating in Greece, theater tradition was derived from religious rituals. The ceremonies of the cult of Dionysus were exuberant; much story telling took place in the form of song and dance. Everyone would partake in the story telling, forming what is known as the chorus. The first man to step out of the chorus and take a role of a character was the poet Thespis. It was his idea to include a character that could partake in dialog that revolutionized theater, as it is known today. From the first time Thespis stepped into a character, the Greeks adored the idea of physically acting out their stories. Eventually, drama and theater were integrated into two festivals of Dionyssos, the Lenea festival in January and the Great Dionyssia in March. Poets could enter a series of four plays (three tragedies and a comedy) to be judged by five judges. Only three poets were allowed to enter these two contests per year. The Honorable Archon chose the three participants. The poets and actors were paid by the state, but sponsored by a rich Athenian, a primitive producer. It brought great honor to the producer if the play he was sponsoring took first place at one of the two contests. It was the sponsor who paid for the tickets to fill the entire theater, for everyone could see the play for free. That allowed the poorest people in the Athenian nation to enjoy theater along with the richest. Plays were rarely written down, they were recorded by memorization, or oral tradition. Thus, many of the plays written in the ancient Grecian time period have been lost. However, a few plays were written down, and are still preformed today, their literary value and content being so great. Once a play was preformed at a festival, it was usually never preformed again, or if it was, it was preformed at Anthesteria festival to Dionyssos. Plays were preformed in theaters. The theaters were usually built into the side of a hill or on an open area. The theaters were always open-air theaters and consisted of three parts: the Orchestra, the Scene and the Koilon. The orchestra was the almost circular area in the middle of the seats in which the acting took place. In the center of the orchestra was the Thymeli, which was used as an alter in the early days of theater and as the area for the leader of the chorus as drama developed throughout time. The acting, in the beginning of theater, always took place in the center of the orchestra, but as theater developed, the acting moved back, to directly in front of the scene. The scene was a tall wooden platform from which scenery painting was hung. The scenery usually consisted of a palace or temple, and a door was cut into the scene so that characters could enter from the palace or temple. Entryways, called parodoi, were also present on the sides of the scene, separating it from the seats of the theater. If an actor entered from the right parodos, he was coming from town or port. If an actor entered from the left parodos he was coming from the fields or a foreign country. On top of the scene was a narrow walkway on which an actor could stand if he were portraying a god or the leader of the chorus. The third part of the theater was the Koilon, or section where the audience sat. In the very first days of theater, the audience stood around the orchestra. However, seats, of either dirt or wood, were then built into the hillsides to provide a place to sit. The koilon was divided into two sections, or Diazoma, the upper and lower. The front seats were called Proedria and were reserved for officials and priests. When theater first began, the koilon and scene were portable, but by the end of the fifth century B.C. the Greeks had begun to build permanent theaters. The chorus was a group of actors who were supposed to represent to the voice of both society and morality. The members of the chorus suffered along with the heroes of tragedies and laughed with the heroes of comedies. The chorus could take on very different appearances for either a comedy or tragedy. In a comedy, the chorus was called the codrax, in a tragedy it was called the emmelia, and in a satiric drama, it was called sicinnis. In the original plays, up until Sophocles the poet started to write plays, there were always twelve member of the chorus. They marched onstage together in a square formation. When Sophocles began writing plays, he added three additional choral members, making the total fifteen. With fifteen members of the chorus, they marched on stage in a rectangular formation, three men wide and five men deep. Costumes were necessary to Greek theater, for the members of the audience sat far away from the acting. Thus, the actors wore elaborate robes and intricate, lifelike masks. The masks and robes could be changed when an actor changed character. The masks were human in form, and had openings for the nose and eyes. The masks muffled the actor?s voices, making enunciation mandatory. Often, onstage machinery was used to create special effects. The Aeoreme was a crane which lifted actors into the air, enabling them to play gods, visions or prophesies. The Periactoi were two pillars on which scenery was mounted, and by turning the pillars, the scenery would change. The Ekeclema was a cart used to haul dead bodies on the stage, for all violence and killing took place off stage. Actors were chosen by the state, and paid by the state. They were always men, and usually the author of the play was a main actor. Thespis introduced the first actor to theater, Aeschylos added the second actor and Sophocles added the third actor. All of the actors could play multiple roles, but only three actors (maximum) and the chorus could be onstage. The three greatest dramatists of all time are considered to be Aeschylos, Sophocles and Aristophanes. Aeschylos was the first highly regarded dramatist. He was born around 535 B.C. to a wealthy and noble family. He was an acclaimed soldier, participating in the battle of Marathon against the Persians, which later became his inspiration for his play The Persians. Aeschylos was awarded thirteen first prizes for his plays, and unprecedented amount at that time. His contribution to theater was so great that a law was passed; making the production of his entire plays mandatory. Aeschylos died in Gela of Sicely in 455 B.C. There are reports of an eagle dropping a turtle on his head and killing him, but that story was most likely created by another dramatist. The second of the greatest dramatists is Sophocles. He was born in Colonus, Athens in 497 B.C. His father was a wealthy armour maker and Sophocles had an excellent education. He was handsome and an excellent athlete, during his military service, he reached the rank of general. Sophocles had as many as twenty-four victories for his plays, and he never received an award for less than second place. He beat Aeschylos many times in contest. Only seven of his plays still exist today. Aristophanes is the third great poet of that day. He mainly wrote comedies, and entered the drama contests prematurely under a pen name (contestants were to be 18 years of age). He was born in Athens in 452 B.C. His first entry, entered under the pen name Detalis, received first prize. His works contain a great deal of humor and lightheartedness. Aristophanes died in Aegina in 385 B.C. Many of the theaters in Greece are famous for holding ancient preformences. The most famous is the theater in which the competitions for the Great Dionyssia festival was held. It can still be visited today. Ancient Grecian Theater has influenced all forms of modern theater. Without ancient theater, we might not have that form of entertainment, or even the television.