Greek Dramatic Theater Essay, Research Paper
Greece is recognized for inventing dramatic theater around the sixth century BC. The first Greek theater works were all tragedies, or tragic plays. In his work Poetics, written around 330 BC, Aristotle explains that Greek tragedies evolved from dithyrambs. Dithyrambs are choral hymns written to and about Dionysus, the Greek god of wine–as a character speaks, the chorus sings in response.
In the 5th century BC, Greek tragedy was at its peak. Over 1000 plays were written during this time, although only 31 remain. Those that remain are all by Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus. All of the words in a Greek tragedy are in verse–they rhyme and have cadence. The plays all consist of several scenes, never with more than three characters speaking in a scene. These early tragedies did not have impressive sets or lots of action–instead, all that was supposed to be happening during the play was conveyed through speech and song.
These plays were presented at festivals held in honor of Dionysus. One of these was the Great Dionysia held in Athens in the spring; another was the Rural Dionysia, held in winter. At a festival, the works of only three poets were performed. The poets entered three of their tragedies–a trilogy–in a competition to determine which plays would be performed. In addition to submitting the trilogy, the poets were required to provide a satyr play, which was a farcical portrayal of the gods.
After the conquest of Alexander the Great, more and more of the Greek plays written were comedies. These comedies were very much like the sit-coms of today–the plots were minimal, the characters were simple, ordinary characters–all designed for the average idiot to be able to relate to them. This movement of Greek theater is known as New Comedy. There has been only one full New Comedy found, called ?The Misanthrope?, by Menander, written in 317 BC.
Although Greek theater had been around for about two centuries, none of the stone theaters that are seen in ruins today were built until the 4th century BC. The stages in these theaters have different levels for the different parts of a play–the orchestra was a flat, lowered area for the choral; there was another stage above and behind it for the actors. These theaters could hold between 15,000 and 20,000 people–far more than almost any theater today.
The costumes of the Greek performers–who were always men–were not elaborate. All of the expression of a character?s appearance was in the mask. Greek theater masks were large, exaggerated carvings, often grotesque or amusing, which showed the expressions of the character. The oversized lips of the masks served to amplify the voices of the actors, a necessary feature for 20,000 people to hear them.
All theater productions in Greece were supported by their city-state; therefore admission was always either free or very cheap. The plays were considered a part of society, and the government wanted all of its citizens to attend the productions.