Greek Theatre – 7 Useful Facts for Students

In this article, we have discussed the Greek theatre, seven useful facts for students, and more.

We must acknowledge the positive influence and inspiration of ancient Greek tragedians and their contribution to modern entertainment. The origin of Greek tragedy and comedy dates back to the 6th century BCE.

Before we go into details, let us talk about Greek theatre and the origins of Greek tragedy and comedy.

Greek Theatre

What Is Greek Theatre?

We all know the history of ancient Greece and Greek mythology. Here, we want to understand what it is all about and more.

The history of Greek theatre dates back to the 6th century BCE. It started in the ancient city of Athens in the 6th century. It began with the performance of tragedy plays at religious festivals in Athens.

Greek theatre inspired the genre of Greek comedy plays as well. As time progresses, Greek tragedy and comedy play became very popular. So popular that they were performed across the Mediterranean and influenced Hellenistic and Roman theatre.

Because of the lasting popularity of these two Greek dramas, the work of great dramatists like Euripides and Aristophanes became the foundation for modern theatre. Presently, modern theatres and playwrights are inspired by the works of these great men.

Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes may be long gone, but their work remains an inspiration to many.

The Origins of Tragedy

Scholars have been debating about the origin of tragedy, and there have been so many speculations. Some scholars have linked the origin of tragedy to an earlier art form, but the truth is everything remains inconclusive.

In some cases, some scholars think there is a strong link between tragedy and the rituals performed in the worship of Dionysus. These scholars suggest the sacrifice of goats to the Greek god Dionysus, a song ritual known as tra-odia and the wearing of masks.

Because of this, Dionysus became the god of theatre. There is also another connection to Dionysus, which is the drinking rites that led worshippers to lose control of their emotions. The connection between the drinking rites and worshipper losing their emotions is all related to acting and actors.

When someone is playing a character on stage, they tend to emulate a feeling, something different from their normal self.

Greek theatre dates back to the days of the old, with great tragedians like Euripides, and Aristophanes.

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The Origins of Greek Comedy

The origin of Greek comedy plays dates back to the 6th century. Many scholars have tried to find the origin of Greek comedy plays, as it was believed to be lost in prehistory.

However, scholars believe that the activity of men playing characters on stage and mimicking others dates back to a time before written records.

According to history, the first indication of Greek comedy play in ancient Greek is from pottery. Back then in the 6th century BCE, some decorations often represented actors dressed as dancers, horses, and satyrs. 

The poems of Archilochus and Hipponax are also another early source of Greek comedy in the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. According to the source material, the poems of Archilochus and Hipponax contain explicit and crude sexual humour.

Now, let us talk about Greek theatre and the seven useful facts for students.

#1. History

As we said earlier, Greek theatres date back to the 6th century BCE, and it’s the foundation of western theatres. According to scholars, the earliest Greek theatre performance started in 534 BC. It began at a play festival honouring the Greek god Dionysus, which is the god of wine and fertility.

Greek theatre was performed at the Dionysus festival for hundreds of years, and it also dominated the regions of the Mediterranean.

In Athens, the city of Dionysia play festival was held every year at the end of March and continued for several days. During this period, plays were presented to large audiences, and it was both a civic and religious festival.

The city of Dionysia play festival is considered a commercial event and not a community. The principal civic magistrate of Athens is responsible for organizing the city of Dionysia play festival. At the City of Dionysia play festival, prizes were awarded to several winning playwrights in comedy and tragedy.

#2. Play and Playwrights

In the 6th century BC, there were several playwrights in ancient Greek theatre, but only three writers of tragedy and two writers of comedy dominated the play festival. We have mentioned some of these great writers in this guide. Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes are some of the familiar names on the list.

In ancient Greek tragedy, it was dominated by Aeschylus and Euripides. While Aristophanes and Menander dominated Greek comedy. Let’s not forget the master of philosophy himself, Aristotle.

Aeschylus

In total, Aeschylus wrote about 70 to 90 tragic plays during his time. Today, only 7 of the tragic plays written by Aeschylus are available.

Aeschylus is often regarded as the father of tragedy and his work is greatly admired by many. One of the greatest innovations of Aeschylus was the introduction of the second actor to enable face-to-face conflict. The Agamemnon and the Prometheus Bound was also one of the famous works of Aeschylus.

Sophocles

Sophocles wrote more than 120 tragic plays and he also contributed a lot to the Greek theatre. He introduced a third actor, creating a more complex dramatic scene on stage. 

One of his most famous works was Oedipus, the King also known as Oedipus Rex and King Oedipus. His work also includes Antigone and Electra. Theatre historians consider Oedipus the King as a perfect tragedy.

Euripides

The ancient Greek tragedian Euripides wrote about 95 tragedies, and only 18 or 19 are available today. Euripides reduced the role of the chorus in his plays, and he also had some great work.

Some of his works include the Bacchae, Medea and the Trojan Woman, which is also known as the Woman of Troy.

Aristophanes

Aristophanes was one of the greatest comic playwrights in ancient Athens. He wrote about 40 comedies, and 11 of them are available today.

Aristophanes’s famous works include the Frog, Lysistrata, the Cloud, the Bird, and the Wasps.

Menander

Menander wrote over 100 comic plays in the 4th century BC. Out of all his works, only Dyskolos survives to this day.

Aristotle

We are still discussing Greek theatre and seven useful facts for students. But, we are going to talk about the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle.

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and one of the greatest thinkers the world has ever seen. The Greek philosopher is regarded as the father of Western philosophy, and many scholars will agree with that.

The great Greek philosopher once proposed a formula for dramatic playwriting. According to the source material, Aristotle’s Three Unites proposed the action of a play happening in a location in a single day.

This idea proposed by the great Greek philosopher was known as the three unities of time, place, and action.

#3.Theatre Architecture

Generally, the performing space of ancient Greek theatre is regarded as the orchestra. This performing space spans an area of 20 to 30 meters in diameter.

Orchestra is a simple Greek word that means dancing place. Derive from “orkheisthai” which means to dance and “tra” which translates to place.

In addition, “scene” is also a Greek word derived from “skene”. Performing actors change their costumes and mask at the orchestra.

The scene is also used for several performances. For instance, the skene serves in the positioning of machinery that lower and raises corpses and gods. It’s unclear if the skene was used as scenery or not. 

Most plays in ancient Greek were set before a palace, temple or buildings where the skene structure could suffice.

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#4. Spectators

In ancient Athens, the outdoor performance spaces of Greek plays were referred to as amphitheatres. Back in the 6th century BC, the ancient Greeks called the amphitheatres “theatrons” or “seeing places”.

In ancient Greek, performances were held at the bottom of hills, with about 15,000 to 20,000 spectators. Back then, the spectators sat on wood, and at some point, they sat on stones. The seating was arranged in a semi-circle formation for the spectators.

Performing at a hill amplifies an actor’s voice naturally and it also enables spectators to hear performers in plays.

#5. Acting

During the 6th century BC, all actors performing in Greek theatres were males. There were also female characters in plays during that period. In ancient Greek, performers were able to play several roles just in a day.

During that period, actors appeared small to spectators because they were performing at a hillside. This is commonly seen in today’s western operas.

Back then in the 6th century BC, early works were about an actor and a chorus of women, which is also played by men. Several parts were available in these plays and they were all performed by an actor.

The first actor in these plays was a performer known as Thespis. Because of this, actors today are something referred to as thespians.

Generally, the chorus in ancient Greek tragedies is made up of at least 15 individuals. The chorus is performed simultaneously, but sometimes it’s separated into two semi-choruses.

The chorus leader, which is the “choragos” spoke individual lines. After the prologue at the beginning of the play, the chorus immediately enters the orchestra. The prologue remains on stage until the play is completed.

#6. Music and Dance

In the 6th century BC, music was very important in ancient Greek theatre. Music was used in specific speeches in plays and also during the words of the chorus.

In ancient Greek, it was difficult to separate music from spoken words. They use music for special effects and other purposes.

They used musical instruments to create special effects during dramas. Some of the musical instruments used include flutes and trumpets.

During that period, dances in plays in ancient Greek expressed specific characters, as well as other situations.

#7. Costume and Mask

In ancient Greek theatre, actors in tragedies would wear a mask. These masks were made of linen, wood or cork. The actors perform to the satisfaction of the spectators wearing these masks.

Over the years, there has been a huge change in actor costumes. Although actors in ancient Greek wore highly decorated ankle-length tunic, performing costume is different today.

In ancient Greek, the footwear available then was a soft shoe or boot for performers. In today’s theatre setting, there is so much available for performers.

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Frequently Asked Questions on Greek Theatre- 7 Useful Facts for Students

The following are frequently asked questions about Greek theatres.

What Is Greek Theatre?

Greek theatre is regarded as a form of performance. It’s where several actors and a chorus perform a tragedy or comedy based on the works of ancient Greek playwrights. Some of the ancient Greek playwrights include Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes.

Who Created Greek Theatre?

The origin of Greek theatre dates back to the 6th century BC. It evolved from the religious ceremony where worshippers wore masks and sang to Dionysus.

According to scholars, Thespis was the first actor to speak to an audience and also change costumes on stage.

What are the two types of Greek Plays?

In ancient Greek theatre, tragedy and comedy were the first two plays. For tragedy plays, three actors and a 15-person chorus perform stories from Greek mythology.

Has ancient Greek theatre influenced modern entertainment?

Yes, it has dramatically influenced modern entertainment in various ways. The works of ancient Greek tragedians have positively influenced entertainment today. 

Conclusion

Ancient Greek theatre has positively influenced modern entertainment. The works of great men like Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Menander, and Aristophanes inspire a lot of people today.

The origin of Greek tragedy is linked to the rituals performed in the worship of the Greek god Dionysus. Ancient Greek comedy dates back to the 6th century when performers would dress as horses, dancers and satyrs in costumes.

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