Ancient Greek Theater Theater of Dionysus First performed on the stone threshing floors, a circular “dancing place” or orchestra in the country side of Greece. Moved to the foot of a temple of the god being honored. The temple served as a background for early performances. 5th Century, completed design included its early connections to the rural stone threshing floors. This is where it all began: the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. Scope of Influence The comedy and tragedy that developed in Athens and flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE have influenced nearly all subsequent Western drama, starting with that of the Romans. What parts of ancient Greek theater are still recognizable today? The Romans, with their love of spectacle, soon took over the existing theatres in Greece and began renovating and rebuilding them for their own spectacles, which included everything from pantomime (closer to ballet than to the children's 'panto') to mock naval battles. Most of the remains of the theatre of Dionysus which we can see in Athens today date to Roman times and not the 5th century BCE. The Theatre of Dionysus was first dug out of the slope beneath the south side of the Acropolis in the late 6th century BCE, possibly while Athens was still under the rule of the Peisistratid dynasty. It was rebuilt and expanded many times, and so it is difficult to tell exactly what its original shape was. Theater is a ritualistic art form which celebrates the Olympian gods who often appeared as characters. Dionysus, god of wine and procreation, was honored at the dramatic festivals. Legendary kings and heroes were often portrayed as well. Theater and the Common Man Business and activities were suspended during the week-long festivals held three times per year. It was considered a CIVIC DUTY for people to participate in the productions in some way. The plays were to give a lesson to the people - DIADACTIC PURPOSE The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater The theatron held benches on which the audience sat. The semicircular theatron was specifically built in to a hillside to provide good views of the action. The orchestra was the circular dancing place for the chorus. The parados were two broad aisles which allowed the chorus to enter the theater. Parados is also the term for the entrance song of the chorus. The skene was a rectangular building with three doors which provided a generic backdrop for entrances and exits of the characters. The proskenion was a small platform in front of the skene to give actors more visibility to the audience. The Physical Structure of the Greek Theater Approx. 15,000 people fit in the Theater of Dionysus in Athens. No sets, props, etc. Actors’ lines marked the passage of time and the setting. Design of theatron was important for acoustics – no microphones. The Players Because Greek tragedy and comedy originated with the chorus, the most important part of the performance space was the orchestra, which means 'a place for dancing' (orchesis). A tragic chorus consisted of 12 or 15 dancers (choreuts), who may have been young men just about to enter military service after some years of training. Athenians were taught to sing and dance from a very early age. The effort of dancing and singing through three tragedies and a satyr play was likened to that of competing in the Olympic Games. Performance Characteristics Plays were initially held with just the chorus singing/chanting the lines. In 534 BCE Thespis was credited with creating the first actor (thespians). The character spoke lines as a god. This begins the concept of DIALOGUE – the character interacts with chorus. The Role of the Actor Aeschylus – earliest Greek tragedy writer brought idea of second actor. Sophocles – brought third actor – no more than three actors on stage ever in a Greek tragedy. Euripedes – also used three actors after Sophocles. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes each wrote a version of the Oedipus tragedy, but Sophocles’ version is the most famous. Costumes & Props Actors needed to be LARGER THAN LIFE and thus easy to see. Size was symbolic of their social status. Chiton – a long, flowing robe, padded at the shoulders for width, selected in symbolic colors Cothurni – platform shoes for added height Greek Actor Chiton Cothurni The Greek Actor Participation is a civic duty; many volunteered for the chorus. Experienced speakers became actors (often govt. officials or imp. businessmen) Actors were revered and exempt from military duty. Women were excluded from acting and had to sit in the higher seats in the theatron. Declamatory Acting Style Actors could not move easily, so lines were delivered in a “speech” style. Broad sweeping gestures. General movements to express emotions: Bowed head – grief; beating chest – mourning; stretching arms – prayer. Minor props – scepter – king, spear – warrior, elderly – cane. Greek Theater Masks Masks The large size of the theatre dictated a non-naturalistic approach to acting. All gestures had to be large and definite so as to 'read' from the back rows. Facial expression would have been hidden by masks. The masks worn by the actors looked more 'natural' than bare faces in the Theatre of Dionysus. The masks of tragedy were of an ordinary, face-fitting size, with wigs attached, and open mouths to allow clear speech. Masks, cont’d Theatrical masks were made of wood, leather, or cloth and flour paste . Various theories are advanced in favor of each material, but no originals remain, only stone carvings which may have been used as mask-molds and the paintings on pottery. Paradox of the Mask The most distinctive feature of the mask was its ability to limit and broaden at the same time. It identified a specific character, but it also had generalized features which gave an “Everyman” quality. This allowed the audience to “get” the personal message intended for each member of the audience. Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King) Written by Sophocles in 430 B.C.E. Based on a great legend of western culture from Ancient Greece. Greatest Greek tragedy; drama of extreme tension; one person rules action Sophocles’ version deals with the discovery of Oedipus’ fate. Tragedy lies in Oed. learning of his guilty deeds rather than the committing of them. Shows Oed. at war with himself Tension lies in the first realization of outcome and his push for full truth and proof. Free will cannot blame fate. “Reason is man’s greatest possession and power.” – Sophocles. Oedipus shows how man’s strength becomes his weakness Loss of eyesight is symbolic regarding Oed.’s abuse of Teresias, Oed.’s own blindness to his fate, and our blindness to our own calamities. Important Vocabulary Terms Hubris – overweening pride which results in the misfortune of the protagonist in a tragedy Harmartia – tragic flaw which brings down character; hubris is a form of harmartia Peripeteia – reversal of fortune, example: event that should bring good news turns out to actually confirm bad news. Important Vocab cont. Apostrophe – addressing a concept as if it were human. Ex. “Ah miserable…” or “Oh Light…” Pastoral imagery – images that glorify the rustic life, esp. of shepherds Anagnorisis – recognition or enlightenment when the tragic hero realizes his fate. Important vocab cont. Golden Mean- Greek belief in moderation, balance, and proportion in all aspects of life. Catharsis – emotional release audience experiences at the end of a tragedy Modern Cultural Allusions Sigmund Freud’s Theory Oedipus for Everyday Living Get It?