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Greek Tragedy
Unit Notes
Tragedy
• 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
dance
• First performed in honor of Dionysos, the
god of wine and fertility
Tragedy cont’d
• Sources of plots were myths and everyday
life
• 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
chorus
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
society
• 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
scene
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
curtain
• 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
judgment
Unities of Greek Theater
• Action – one basic story
• Time – within 24 hours
• Place – few scene changes