Ancient Greek Theatre

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  • Topic: Tragedy, Drama, Theatre of ancient Greece
  • Pages : 5 (1600 words )
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  • Published : March 18, 2011
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The mystery that is Ancient Greek theatre has been wondered about from the 5th century onward by historians and philosophers alike. Because no one really has an accurate knowledge on the exact origins, Aristotle and others suggested theories of how tragedy and comedy came about. These theories are generally accepted, even with the lack of proof. Greek theatre introduced new art forms that are still popular today, but they were so different then. Imagine going to see a play now: there is usually comfortable seating and adequate lighting and sound equipment. The actors are not overburdened with heavy costumes and masks. However, ancient theatre was entertainment for the masses.

The roots of Greek Theatre are very uncertain, but it is thought to have originated in religion. The Greeks had many gods and goddesses, but some people in ancient Greece worshipped one in particular with a song called the Dithyramb. This song was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of drama. His followers would perform this song, along with myths they believed about him, in lively costumes and elaborate staging (Garland 180). Robert Garland says “Athenians attributed the invention of theatre to a shadowy figure called Thespis, who is credited with having won first prize in the first contest for tragedy held in 534 B.C.E.” (Daily Life 181). Thespis was a follow of Dionysus, and he sang the Dithyramb with the other followers. He began acting out the myths, instead of singing them, which led to his being called “the first actor and the first playwright” (Carr 1), because he was the first to try this new form of worship. Quickly, this became a popular outlet for the Greek’s to praise their respective gods. Instead of simply singing songs, they would act out religious myths. The Greek ruler during this period, Pisistratus, set up an entire theatre in Dionysus’ honor (Carr 1). With this theatre came a festival of Dionysus. During this celebration, “orphans of war dead paraded in battle gear and received the blessing of the people” (Garland 181). The festival was held in March, at the start of the sailing season, so many foreigners experienced it. The performances progressively grew more serious, leading to tragedy and the fierce competition of playwrights. Eventually, the drama sphere would expand to include comedy as well. This would come to have its own festival, called the Lenaea (Garland 178).

The festival of Dionysus played host to a drama contest. For this contest, each playwright was to submit three tragedies and one satyr (Garland 183). A satyr is a half-animal, half-human comedy. As a playwright’s reputation grew, it became easier to be selected. In order to be selected, the playwright would audition by reading three lines from his play to the judges. Judges were chosen by pulling names from a jar, with the names of people from each tribe. This may have been to avoid bribery and favoritism, says Rhem (Tragic Theatre ). “Regrettably, there is no way of knowing to what extent the judges’ verdict was based on dramatic content and structure, and to what extent it was influenced by the quality of the production” says Robert Garland (186). The judges may have been easily swayed by elaborate costume and staging rather than the actual quality of the performance or the actors’ talent. When the judges were asked to choose, they wrote their picks on a stone tablet, placed their tablets in an urn, and chose five. They supposedly did this to let the god’s choose (Garland 186).

The person who was in charge of the whole festival was called the Archon Eponymous. One of the most important jobs was to elect people to pay for the production of each play. This person was called a chorêgos (Garland 190). The chorêgos was usually wealthy so that they could pay for the production without any problems. Being a patron of the arts in this way brought social status and proved their worth to the community. Eight of these were required each year. If the person elected...
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