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Ancient Greek
General Information
In the 6th century B.C., Arion of Methymna in Lesbos
(Μήθυμνα) produced the first lyrics for the dithyramb.
In the 5th century B.C., Thespis of Attica first introduced an
actor and the chorus. Finally, the incorporation of more actors
created the classical theatre.
Classical plays followed a particular structural framework, with
minor differences in some plays. Greek plays did not have
Aristotle declared that plays are complete and have a consistent
structure of “a beginning, middle, and end”.
Early Greek plays derived from religious ceremonies. They
were performances of religious celebrations that took place in
Elements of Greek Tragedy
The subject is serious. Right before the end, the
climax signifies the plays resolution.
The tragic protagonist is usually of noble birth and
displays a greatness of spirit which the audience
The protagonist faces forces that are beyond control.
The protagonist struggles until the end and shows
great strength until his or her downfall.
In the end no one gains anything except loss but the
protagonist, despite having lost the battle, usually
gains wisdom and self-awareness in retrospect.
The style of Greek tragedy was ceremonial.
Although music played a significant role in
the performance nothing has survived so that
we know how it sounded. Also, we’re not
certain of elements such as the amount of the
text that was spoken or chanted.
 We do know that the Greek theater opted for
the display of all sorts of vivid and exciting
spectacles. Masks and colorful costumes
were worn by the actors.
The Basic Structure of Greek Tragedy
Prologue: A monologue or dialogue preceding the
entry of the chorus, which presents the tragedy's
Parodos - The entry ode of the chorus. The odes
expose the theme, comment on action, and
contribute to the development of the story.
Stasimon- any extended song of the chorus after the
parodos and at the end of each episode so that the
chorus commented on the action.
Episode: the scene between two stasimons.
Exodos- the final action after the last Stasimon and
the exit song of the chorus after the last episode.
Chorus - the chorus was a group of costumed men
standing on the orchestra throughout the
performance. They observed and commented on the
action of the actors. It consisted of twelve to fifteen
Choragos, or chorus leader often speaks for the
entire chorus at certain moments. Also the term was
used for the sponsor of a chorus.
 The
Messenger - plays the
important role of the witness to
events and actions that have taken
place in other areas. He reports
important action that has occurred
offstage, usually portraying the
violent acts that are never shown
on stage and yet affect the course
and outcome of the whole tragedy.
A Greek Theatre would seat 15,000 to 20,000 spectators
The Basic Parts of the Theatre
Theatron – the Greek theatre was called a
theatron. The theaters were large, open-air
structures situated on hills that had rows of
tiered stone seats and were composed of two
main elements: the orchestra and the skene.
An altar was located in the middle of the
orchestra dedicated to the god Dionysus.
 Orchestra - the circular area at ground level
which was enclosed by the crescent-shaped
Parodos – a passage right and left on the sides of the
orchestra used for the entrances and exits of the chorus.
Skene – it was the stage building (meaning “tent”). This was
a temporary wooden building usually decorated as a palace,
temple, or something else in which the actors kept their masks
and costumes and quickly changed. The skene also had doors
from which the actors made their entrance and exit. They also
had access to the roof from behind the skene, so that actors
who played the roles of gods and other supernatural characters
could appear on the roof.
Proscenium - the part where the actors performed in front of
the skene.
Logeion: - a raised platform on the roof of the proscenium,
where actors were placed in order to speak.
The Emergence of Drama as a Literary Art
1558 to 1603 (Elizabeth’s I reign, 45 years – The Golden
Renaissance: Revival of ancient classical mythology,
literature and culture. The end of the Dark Ages (5th to
15th centuries AD.
Male dominance.
Protestantism: a religious movement that began in
Germany by the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 as
a reaction against Medieval doctrines and practices.
Improvement of the educational system.
English language gains importance.
Experimentation, Drama, theatre and Shakespeare.
Born April 23, 1564 at Stratford–upon-Avon.
Died April 23, 1616. He was 52-years-old.
William was the child of John Shakespeare, a leather trader and
Mary Arden. William attended the King's New School in Stratford where
he learned Latin and studied the classics.
He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and had 3 children.
He moved to London between the mid to late 1580s.
He was part of the acting group called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the
group was named the King’s Men after the crowning of King James I in
Shakespeare wrote more than 30 plays and 154 sonnets.
His Plays are divided into histories, comedies, tragedies and romances.
It was one of the most famous
Elizabethan theatres. It was composed of
three levels of galleries surrounding a
circular yard. Shakespeare’s plays were
performed in this theatre. He was part
owner of the theatre. The acting company
had about 25 actors, all were male.
Parts of the Globe Theatre
During the Performances:
1. The “groundlings” stood in the yard while the
richer patrons sat in the more expensive seats in
the balconies.
2. People were allowed to eat during performances
and shout at the actors if something the actors did
or said displeased them.
3. The performances did not have any scenery
except for props such as a throne, a bed or a
cannon. But the actors wore colourful and
extravagant costumes.
1. The Globe theatre was burned to the
ground in 1613. A prop cannon used for
special effects during the first night of the
performance of Henry VIII exploded and
burnt the thatched roof.
2. It was rebuilt on the same site in 1614.
3. It was finally closed in 1642 and
demolished in 1644 by the Puritans.
4. A replica was built in 1997.
The End of the Globe Theater - the
In 1642, the Puritans forced the English Parliament to close
down all the theatres.
The Puritans also known as Parliamentarians were a religious
group that was against the Roman Catholic Church and in
favour of simpler church structures. They also disapproved of
social activities that were characterized by frivolous behaviour
and finery.
In 1642 the English Civil war broke out between the Puritans
whose leader was Oliver Cromwell and the Royalists lead by
King Charles I.
In 1644 the Globe Theatre was demolished by the Puritans.
In 1647 stricter rules were applied regarding stage plays
and theatres.
In 1648 all playhouses were pulled down. All players
were seized and whipped, and the audience was fined five
In 1649 the Puritans executed King Charles I.
In 1653 Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of
In 1658 Cromwell died and his ideas and followers
In 1660 King Charles II reopened the theatres. But the
Globe was never re-built.
In the 20th century (1997) a reconstruction of a New
Globe Theatre was built near the spot.
Ancient Greek and Elizabethan Theater:
differences and similarities
Much like Elizabethan England, ancient Greece only allowed men to participate in the plays. Both
had minimum scenery. Actors wore masks and costumes.
The main dissimilarity was that the Greek drama was rooted in religion and not entertainment.
Performances of Greek tragedy involved ritual. Tragic festivals were religious in nature because they
were celebrations of the god Dionysus, god of wine and fertility. Initially the theater was part of the
temple. The plays were performed each year at the Festival of Dionysus, in which great writers
would compete. On the other hand Shakespeare’s plays involve ghosts, spirits and witches, that is
supernatural elements.
Plays are tragedies, comedies, tragicomedies and romances.
Both theatres have similarities in structure. They seat the audience in a semi-circular or circular
tiered design, have a stage and the Elizabethan theatre is partly roofed.
Both the Aside (something spoken by an actor, intended to be heard by the audience, but not by
those on stage) and the Chorus secretly provided information about the characters and plot only to
the audience.
Tragic heroes in both theatres experience their downfall after the climax and then the drama’s
resolution takes place. Tragedies provide philosophical insight and in particular the hero’s selfawareness or enlightenment in the Ancient Greek Tragedies. Not all Elizabethan characters are
benevolent tragic heroes, Macbeth for instance is not. The tragic hero could excite two emotions in
the audience: fear and pity. Finally, the restoration of order provided the experience of Catharsis in
both the hero and the audience.
When was the Ancient Greek Theatre developed?
What was the orchestra?
What was the parodos?
What was the Skene?
What were the general features of Ancient Greek tragedy?
When was Shakespeare born and when did he die?
In which town was Shakespeare raised?
Who was the reigning monarch during Shakespeare’s life?
Where were his plays performed?
What were the two names of the Shakespeare’s Acting Company?
What were the main differences/similarities between Ancient Greek
and Elizabethan Theater?