Top-Rated Free Essay

Greek Theatre Essay

Topics: Tragedy, Drama, Western culture, Ancient Greece, Western world, Ancient Rome / Pages: 5 (1110 words) / Published: May 13th, 2012
Introduction to Drama

‘Greek theatre began in festivals of religious ritual but developed into the art form that shaped theatre and drama in the western world.’
Describe and analyse the processes and historical developments that validate this assertion.

Greek theatre initially began with religious festivals, with songs, chants, and dances that in time started the revolution of drama. Greek theatre helped develop and influence theatre and drama throughout the world particularly within western society and has helped create one of the greatest play writes in history William Shakespeare. From the religious rituals and celebrations of Dionysus, a powerful and worshiped god, with hymn like songs and chants in his honor known to be called the Dithyramb and Tragedy, which over a long period of time developed to be more than just a religious ceremony devoted merely to Dionysus, but an art form enjoyed by all. This enveloped the entire western culture.

Dionysus was and still is, the God of fertility, wine, agriculture, and sexuality. It was said that Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele, a mortal women, to whom Zeus killed with his lightning bolt while Dionysus was still in her womb. However, Zeus then rescued him and put him through a ‘second birth’ by placing Dionysus into his thigh. As part of the Greek religious ritual, in honor of the great god Dionysus, the Athenians devoted a whole week in March, for public celebrations. These annual celebrations would consist of dances and chants performed to the god and were usually performed whilst intoxicated from the ‘sacred wines’ brought upon by Dionysus. The procession eventually grew larger in popularity to become competitions, which were held and performed in front of a large Audience. These competitions included music performances, songs and dances as well as the usual Athletics much like the events seen at the Olympics. It was said that ancient Greek theatre “…a mixture of myth, legend, philosophy, social commentary, poetry, dance, music, public participation and visual splendor.” (Cohen 64). These songs, spiritual songs, about Dionysus grew to be known as Dithyrambs, which have arguably been one of the largest influences in the creation of theatre.

The Dithyramb closely translates to ‘chronic hymn’, which is usually accompanied with mimicking gestures and music. The Dithyramb was performed in honor of the god Dionysus during the annual festival in March, as purely part of their religious ceremony. Much like a modern Christian hymn in mass, the Dithyramb tells the stories and adventures of Dionysus. This ‘hymn’ was led by the leader of a band, who was accompanied by a group of 50 male dancers dressed as ‘satyrs’. Satyrs are a group of male companions of the gods Pan and Dionysus, and they are often associated with a sex drive, to which artists portrayed them with ‘oversized appendages’. As years progressed the Dithyramb became somewhat of a contest, consisting of 10 choruses with at least 50 men and 10 boys, giving the total number of performers to 1000. A magistrate would organize the festival, decide the years famous poets and play writes and their actors, to which a treasurer would pay for as well as their prizes, where as a highly respected, yet wealthy local would pay for props and costumes. At this point the Dithyramb failed to concern itself merely on the adventures of Dionysus and branched out, focusing on other subjects from all periods of Greek mythology. Dithyramb was ‘…under the influence of heroic epic, Doric choral lyric and the innovations of the poet Arion, it had become a narrative, ballad-like genre.’As the Dithyramb evolved, another genre branched out to form what is known as a ‘Tragedy’ and created stories in ‘play’ form.

Between 600 and 500 BC, the Dithyramb evolved to become another art form known as ‘Tragedy’. Tragedies told stories intended to teach some form of a life lesson, telling the rights and wrongs about life, not unlike a parable. They would emphasize suffering, mortality, inevitability, responsibility, guilt and deceit to name a few. Actors performing in a tragedy would often speak in a poetic dialect close to the rhythms of everyday speech. The music and choreography matched and expressed the moods, tone and atmosphere that the performers were conveying to their audience. Tragedies were not limited to the annual festival in Dionysus’ honor but were also performed as hymns to the gods, funerals, weddings, displayed by single women and as a celebration of athletic victories. ‘They were not simply plays with bad endings, nor were they simplyspecticles devised to ‘make ‘em laugh and make ‘em cry’… They depicted the life voyages of people who steered themselves or who were steered by fate on collision courses with society, life's rules, orsimply fate.’
These stylized art forms, through the process of communication influenced other cultures and became a world phenomenon, helping to create even today’s modern play and screen writers.

While the Roman Empire dominated Greece, the Romans picked up and based its culture on the Greek civilization, beginning the spread of the unique art of drama throughout the western world. The roman conquest took these Greek stylized dramas and spread them throughout Europe whilst establishing their empire. Once they conquered a particular area the Romans would build Greek styled theatres, and developed their own drama based on the Greek design. The Romans also spread the ideology of Christianity, which became the official religious practice for most of the previously druid countries. However, very few people were able to read and write and most Christian services were lead in their original forms, Latin. As a way of spreading and teaching the contents of the bible, drama once again became a way of religious rituals. Once the actors got ‘big heads’ the priests them from the church, and the actors became the independent artists they are known as today. These actors sought refuge in the local pubs and inns continuing to spread the word of the church and others creating their own unique performances. During this time, a young, yet promising play write, by the name of William Shakespeare emerged and refers to these particular events, namely ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’. “I was with Hercules and Cadmus once, when in a wood of Crete they bayed the bear with hounds of Sparta: never did I hear… So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.”(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 4. 1). William Shakespeare in this particular passage refers to Greek religious mythology, which were the origins of theatre altogether.

Drama and theatre over time have evolved from the typical religious festivals in the 2000BC to the theatre and drama we know and love in the Western World today.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Greek Theatre essay
  • Essay On Greek Theatre
  • Greek Theatre
  • Greek Theatre
  • Greek Theatre
  • Ancient Greek Theatre Essay
  • Greek Theatre Staging
  • Ancient Greek Theatre
  • Noh In Greek Theatre
  • Ancient Greek Theatre Essay Example