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Ancient Greek Theatre

by K. Phillips

Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greek Actors

Ancient Greek Stage

Stage Directions for Ancient Greek Theatre

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Ancient Greek Theatre

Background on Ancient Greek Theatre

Many people have misconceptions about the ancient Greek theatre. When ancient Greek theatre is referenced to, it normally means Greek theatre in Athens during the fifth century BCE. These early dramas did more that act a story. These were stylized dramas with meanings behind the obvious. Understanding a Greek play is only possible if the symbolic significance of the actions, actors, and stage is revealed.

Many words assoiated with theatre have roots in Greek.

  • theatre comes for the word theatron meaning "seeing place"
  • drama comes form the word dran meaning "to do"
Many dramas were presented in the theate in Athens, yet only forty-three plays have been found intact. There were, however, many plays, comedies, and commentaries left in fragments

Start of Ancient Greek Theatre

Ancient Greek theatre was a "... mixture of myth, legend, philosophy, social commentary, poetry, dance, music, public participation, and visual splendor." (Cohen 64) It began as a religious ceremony.

The Anthenian theatre focused on the God Dionysus. Dionysus was the God of:

  • fertility (main duty)
  • wine
  • agriculture
  • sexuality
Athenians had an annual fertility festival in March with one week of public wine drinking and phallus, penis worshiping religious orgy. Their religious rite was performed as a dithyrambos, an ancient dance and chant to the fertility god, normally performed while drunk. It was performed outside in bowl-like craters. This festival celebrated the birth of the wine god, Dionysus and the great grapes that made the wine. This festival was performed yearly at four tribal festivals, called an orgia. It was also called the "Festival of the Wine Jugs" and "Old Dionysia," as stated by Cohen. The religious rites for these ceremonies were eventually written down in verse form and later became plays.

Misconceptions about Ancient Greek Theatre

Many people believe that the ancient Greek theatre consisted of white buildings with white scenes and white clothing. This "knowledge" came about when Victorians found theatre ruins without color. These, however, were only colorless because the colors on the ruins had faded over the years. The ancient Greek theatre actually consisted of loud music, bright colors, and extensive dancing. Their plays showed:
  • violence and daily life
  • social and ethical plays
  • war
  • murder
  • lust
  • betrayal

Parts of a play

An ancient Greek play consisted of three major parts. The play began with a prologue, a simple speech. Then, there was the entrance of the chorus. Finally, there were major episodes, scenes or acts, of the play.

Types of Ancient Greek Plays

There were two major types of Greek plays. There was tragedy, which was derived from the word tragos and means goat. The other one was comedy, which was derived from the word odé and means song. A tragedy received its name from how it was performed. A tragedy had actors who wore goatskins and danced like goats. The best performers were given a kid goat at a prize.

A Comedy scene

History and Thought of Western Man
Rich East High School * Park Forest, IL 60466

This page was created by K. Phillips. Last revised 03/29/00.

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