European Influence Of Theater Essay, Research Paper
Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the Arts today is the Performing Arts. Yet,
without previous cultures such as the ancient Greeks, the Romans, and the Europeans, we
would not have the entertaining, history enriched performing arts that we do
The history of the Ancient Greek Theater begins with a man known as Thespis. A
figure of whom we know very little, he won the play competition in honor of the Greek
god Dionysus, in 534 B.C. While it is uncertain whether Thespis was a playwright, an
actor or a priest, it is his name with which the dramatic arts are associated in our word
The Greeks held their performances in theaters located in large (holding up to
twenty thousand people) hillside amphitheaters. The players included a chorus and
their leader, and the lines were chanted instead of spoken. The actors performed below
the audience, rather than performing on a raised stage, as actors do now. They used
masks to represent characters and high soled boots worn to add height to the players
limited the movement of the actors. The concept of “actors” was not originally a part of
Greek theater, but was developed over a period of time.
The decline of Greek government and society coincided with the rise of the
Roman Empire. The Romans borrowed borrowed much from the Greeks, including their
Gods and their theater. Although Roman theater may not be held in the same high esteem
as that of the Greeks, they inherited much from the influence of the Roman Theater,
including the word “play” itself, which derives from a literal translation of the Latin word
ludus, which means recreation, or play. An author of some Roman theatrical dramas is
Plautus (250-184 B.C.).
Plays of a more serious literary nature continued to be written during Plautus?
time in Rome, but these were not intended to be performed so much as read or recited.
Although we have few works by Roman playwrights surviving to us, the influence of the
Roman world on the form of the stage is one which had more lasting effect. The
semi-circular orchestra of the Greek theater came to be ?eclipsed? by the raised stage and
the more vigorous style of acting employed by the performers. However, the greatest
impact Rome may have had on the theater was to lower it in the esteem of the Church
an impact that was to slow the growth of the dramatic arts for several centuries.
The theater of that time, being bent toward low comedy, and its mass appeal,
coupled with its association with the entertainment of the gladiator arena (which
involved the martyrdom and killing of early Christians), almost certainly contributed to
its upsetting of officials of the early Christian Church. Plays were associated with either
comedy of a coarse and mature nature, or with pagan rituals and holidays. It was the
latter, however, which may account for the survival of theater through the Middle Ages.
Some have written that theater died following the fall of the Roman Empire, and
its memory was kept alive only in the performances of roving bands of ?jongleurs?;
itinerant street players, jugglers, acrobats and animal trainers. However, while such
troupes did help to maintain certain aspects of theatrical art, particularly that involving
stock characters, the Church itself contributed to the preservation of theater.
It is ironic that the Christian Church, which caused theaters to be outlawed as the
Roman Empire declined and then fell, was one of the main reasons that the theater kept
alive all through the Middle Ages. This resulted from the Church’s need to establish itself
in the community — a community still steeped in pagan ritual and superstition which
manifested itself in seasonal festivals. The Church ultimately linked its own religious
holidays with these seasonal festivals and began to use dramatic form to illustrate the
stories underlying these holidays so as to reinforce their religious beliefs and to better
communicate their religious stories to an illiterate congregation.
In the years to follow (15th and 16th Centuries), European Society was
influenced by the Renaissance — a “rebirth” or rediscovery of the classical worlds of
Rome and Greece. The Renaissance, while having a major impact on the other arts, had
less influence on theater in England than in Italy, where classic Roman plays were
revived for performance. It was in this world that William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
wrote and acted in his plays in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Shakespeare, of
course, wrote some of the best known and loved plays of all time. Also helping to make
theater what it is today.
The Ancient Greeks invented theater. The Romans took it one step further, and
Europeans of both the medieval and renaissance time periods gave us theater. They made
much of the history of the theater and gave it purpose and meaning. If not for these
cultures, theater and the performing arts would not be known as it is today.
Sorry, I did not keep a bibliography for this essay.