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Greek Tragedy
Unit Notes
• A play in which a main character, or tragic
hero, suffers a downfall
• Came into being during the 5th century
• A blending of poetry, drama, music, and
• First performed in honor of Dionysos, the
god of wine and fertility
Tragedy cont’d
• Sources of plots were myths and everyday
• Function was to arouse pity and fear in the
audience to purge or cleanse them of these
unsettling emotions
Thespis – father of drama
• First to use an actor in his productions
• Performed first tragedy at the festival of
Dionysos in 534 B.C.
Three Important Writers of Greek
Tragic Drama
• Aeschylus
– Established true dialogue by adding a
second actor
Important Writers cont’d
• Sophocles
– Introduced a third actor
– Introduced painted sets
– Expanded the size of the chorus to 15
– Changed the kinds of music used by
Important Writers cont’d
• Euripides
– Used the chorus as commentator and an
ornament to main dialogue
Purposes of chorus
• Create a psychological and emotional
background through its odes
• Introduce and question new characters
• Point out the significance of events
• Establish facts and affirm the outlook of
• Cover the passage of time between events
• Separate episodes
Main divisions of a typical tragedy
• Prologue – opening scene to establish
background of story
• Parados – entrance of the chorus (usually
chanting a lyric)
• Episode – counterpart of the modern act or
Main divisions cont’d
• Stasimon – choral ode; comes at the end of
each episode
• Exodus – final action after last stasimon;
ended by ceremonial exit of all players
Conventions of Greek Theater
Limited number of actors
All male actors
Broad stage movements
Elongated masks to denote character
played, amplify sound, allow same
character to play several parts
Conventions cont’d
• Boots with built-up soles
• Elaborate and colorful costumes
• Minimal scenery because there was no
• Altar to Dionysos at center stage ensuring
some reference to gods
• Prohibition against violence on stage
Elements of Tragedy
• Reversal of situation – a change by which
the action veers around to its opposite
• Scene of recognition – a change from
ignorance to knowledge
• Scene of suffering – a scene of destructive
or painful action
• A tragic hero initiates his own downfall
Traits of a Tragic Hero
In tragedy, the central character:
• Passes from happiness to misery
• Must not be perfectly virtuous and just
• Must initiate his own downfall by a flaw of
character (tragic flaw) or by an error in
Unities of Greek Theater
• Action – one basic story
• Time – within 24 hours
• Place – few scene changes