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The Tragic Greek Dramas
Classical Greek Drama
Written for and performed at
dramatic competition during
Dionysian festival at Athens.
Picture: The theater of
Dionysus in Athens >>>
Written and performed at the
height of Athenian glory
(5th & 4th centuries B.C.)
Greek Dramas and Playwrights
 Sophocles (480-406 B.C.)
 Euripides (495-406 B.C.)
 Aristophanes (448-338? B.C.)
 Menander (342-291 B.C.)
Two Forms of Greek Drama
About human suffering.
Associated with religious
celebrations, thus solemn,
poetic, and philosophic
Based on myth or characters
from myth
Main character imperfect but
admirable and confronted by
a difficult moral choice or
struggle against hostile
forces (human and divine).
Main character's struggle
ends in defeat and, usually,
his or her death; but happy
endings not unheard of.
About human comedy
Associated with social
commentary by means of
outspoken farce and baudy
Based on contemporary
characters or events.
Main character is parody of
contemporary that is being
Satire plays (brief comic
parody of myth)
New Comedy (a comedy of
errors or situation comedy)
Origins of Greek Drama
Ritual at Rural Dionysia
(7th & 6th cent. B.C.)
 Origins
in orations or choral hymns to
Dionysis during rural festivals
 Chorus and Actors (“answerer” to chorus)
 Religious celebration
Performance at City Dionysia
(5th & 4th C.
 Social-Religious
Commentary & Entertainment
•Orchestra: “dancing
space” used by chorus;
often included an altar
•Skene: “tent” or structure
behind the stage, with
doors and upper levels.
•Parodos: “passageways”
by which the chorus and
actors entered and existed
the stage area.
•Theatron: “viewing-place”
usually part of a hillside
overlooking the orchestra.
Parts of a Greek Tragedy
Simple Structure: After a prologue spoken by one or more characters, the
chorus enters, singing and dancing with additional scenes that alternate
between spoken sections (episodes) and sung sections (choral odes):
Prologue: Spoken by one or two characters before chorus appears, usually
giving mythological background. ( Shakespearean plays)
Parodos: This is the song sung by the chorus as it first enters the
orchestra and dances.
Episodes: This is the first of many "episodes” (literally “between odes”),
when the characters and chorus talk and main action occurs.
Ode: At the end of each episode, the actors leave the stage and the chorus
dances and sings a choral ode which usually reflects on the things said and
done in the episodes. The rest of the play is an alternation between
episodes and odes, until the final scene.
Exodos: At the end of play, the chorus exits singing a processional song
which usually offers words of wisdom related to the actions and outcome of
the play.
Tragic Hero Qualities
Hubris: arrogance causing transgression
against the gods
Catharsis: a move from ignorance to
Peripeteia (Peripety): reversal of fortune (fall
from grace)
Hamartia: weakness that causes the eventual
Nemesis: fate that cannot be escaped
Sophocles (480-406 B.C.)
Considered the greatest of Greek playwrights
A prominent citizen of Athens known for his
musical, poetic and dramatic talents
Wrote more than one hundred twenty tragedies,
of which only seven survive
His works always contain a moral lesson—
usually a caution against pride and religious
Most admired for his “Theban” plays—three
tragedies about King Oedipus of Thebes and his
Oedipus the King
Written second (in series of 3), it’s the first part
of the Oedipus plays
 First performed in 430 B.C.
 Oedipus the King is the story of a man
unwittingly moving ever closer to the unhappy
fate he is struggling mightily to avoid.
 Sophocles's Oedipus Rex is probably the most
famous tragedy ever written. It is known by a
variety of titles (the most common being
Oedipus Rex), including Oedipus the King and
Oedipus Tyrannus.
Oedipus at Colonus
First performed in 405-06 B.C.
 Published posthumously
 In the timeline of the plays, the events of
Oedipus at Colonus occur after Oedipus
the King and before Antigone. The play
describes the end of Oedipus' tragic life.
Oedipus at Colonus Themes
Fate and Prophecy
 Old Age, Wisdom, and Death
 Guilt
 Heroization of Oedipus
 Historical Context
Chronologically, it is the third of the three
Theban plays but was written first
 First performed in 442 B.C.
It is a story that pits the law of the gods“unwritten law”-against the laws of
humankind, family ties against civic duty,
and man against woman.