Ancient Greek Drama

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ORIGINS OF ANCIENT GREEK DRAMATheater was born in Attica, an Ionic region of Greece. It originated from the ceremonial orgies of Dionysos but soon enough its fields of interest spread to various myths along with historic facts. As ancient drama was an institution of Democracy, the great tragic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides as well as the comedian Aristophanes elevated public debate and political criticism to a level of aesthetic achievement. Euripides and the ethologist Menandros, in the thriving years of Alexandria and later on during the Roman domination, reached a beau ideal level and through the Romans managed to form Western Theater, from Renascence and thereafter.DRAMA FESTIVALSThe plays were presented at festivals in honor of Dionysus, including the Great Dionysia at Athens, held in the spring the Rural Dionysia, held in the winter and the Lenaea, also held in the winter following the Rural Dionysia. The works of only three poets, selected in competition, were performed. In addition to three tragic plays (a trilogy) each poet had to present a satyr play - a farcical, often bawdy parody of the gods and their myths. Later, comedy, which developed in the mid-5th century BC, was also presented. The oldest extant comedies are by Aristophanes. They have a highly formal structure thought to be derived from ancient fertility rites. The humor consists of a mixture of satirical attacks on contemporary public figures, bawdy, scatological jokes, and seemingly sacrilegious parodies of the gods. By the 4th century BC comedy had supplanted tragedy as the dominant form.ANCIENT THEATERSThe form of the Greek physical theater evolved over two centuries interestingly, the permanent stone theaters that survive today as ruins were not built until the 4th century BC - that is, after the classical period of playwriting. The open-air theaters may have consisted of an orchestra - a flat circular area used for choral dances-a raised stage behind it for actors, and a roughly semicircular seating area built into a hillside around the orchestra, although modern scholars debate the layout of particular theaters. These theaters held 15,000 to 20,000 spectators. As the importance of actors grew and that of the chorus diminished, the stage became higher and encroached on the orchestra space.The actors - all men - wore theatricalized versions of everyday dress, but, most important, they wore larger-than-life masks, which aided visibility and indicated the nature of the character to the audience. In the vast theaters, subtle gestures and facial expressions, upon which modern actors depend, would have been lost. Movement was apparently stately and formal, and the greatest emphasis was on the voice. Music accompanied the dances. An ancient Greek production was probably more akin to opera than to modern drama.In keeping with its religious function, the theater was state supported, admission was free or nominal to everyone, and actors were highly regarded. Working at the same time were the mimes - male and female popular entertainers who plied their trade wherever an audience would toss a few coins.THEMES OF PLAYSAs Greek culture spread in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the topical, literary comedies and philosophical tragedies became inappropriate, and domestic comedy - called Middle and New Comedy - proliferated. Only one complete New Comedy survives the Dyskolos (The Curmudgeon or The Misanthrope, 317 BC) by Menander. These plays are similar in plot and style to the situation comedies on television today. The plot hinges on a complication or situation revolving around love, family problems, money, or the like. The characters are stock - identifiable, simplified social types, such as a miserly father or a nagging mother-in-law.Greek tragedy flourished in the 5th century BC. Of the more than 1000 tragedies written during that century,...
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