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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 Actors

The First Use of Actors

The actors in ancient Greek theatre also have a symbolic significance in a Greek production. When Greek theatre began in a dithyrambous, there were no actors. The poet Thespis was the first to use actors; Aeschylos was the second, and Sophocles was the third. They originally called them hypocrit. The hypocrits were the leading characters. Those in the orchestra were the followers, most commonly know as the chorus. The hypocrits were always men. Female roles were played by males before they hit puberty and before their voices changed.

Ancinet Greek Costumes

The costumes in the ancient Greek theatre also have a symbolic significance in the way the production is understood. Since the hypocrits were all male, it was necessary to make them look female for female roles. "In order to have a female appearance, they were playing wearing the ‘prosterniad’ before the chest and the ‘progastrida’ before the belly. In order to look taller and more impressive they were wearing ‘cothornous’ (wooden shoes with tall heels)" (Actors). The shoes that they wore had no left and right, but were the same for both sides. They also wore long robes with vertical stripes. The female masks had bigger mouths and eyes.

Actors in costumes

Costumes did many things. They showed whether the actor was:

  • male
  • female
  • rich
  • poor
  • priest
  • or any other occupations

The costumes allowed the audience to know who the actor was trying to portray.

"The most essential part of their disguise was the mask. These masks were made ad hoc and they had big holes for the mouth and the eyes. The mask was absolutely necessary as it was necessary in the dionyssiac religion." (Actors). The chorus also wore masks, but they were very similar to the other chorus members masks, while the hypocrits’ masks were different from each other. These masks also had a symbolic significance. These masks were used for many reasons. "Because the number of actors varied from one to three, they had to put on different masks, in order to play more roles. The actors were all men. The mask was therefore necessary to let them play female roles." (Masks). Another reason for wearing the mask was that the mask amplified the hypocrit’s voice, making it possible to hear him everywhere in the theatre. Next, because the masks were pretty simple, the audience would be able to pay more attention to the hypocrit’s actions rather then his appearances.

Masks of the Actors

The masks worn do much of the same thing that the costumes do. However, the masks are personalized for each character. Special emotions were expressed on the mask, so the audience knew if a character was happy, upset, tired, or scared. Since the masks could be seen even in the last rows, the audience could tell how the character was feeling.

The Chorus

The chorus was one of the most important components of the play. It narrates and reflects on the action. Without them, the audience would have no background information, and the play would be more confusing. Originally the chorus had twelve members. Sophocles added three more to make it fifteen. The chorus entered from the two paradoi in three rows of five people. They formed little squares between them. The chorus was called by different names for each kind of play, reflecting a different emotion. In a tragedy, it was solemn and called "emmelia." In a comedy, it was funny and called "codrax." In a satyric drama, it was scoptic and called "sicinnis."

Chorus in costume and dancing

The chorus used the orchestra. They sang, or sometimes said, basic information. They were the narrators of the play. They also acted as crowds. They would dance in the orchestra to show what was going on in the scene. They were also like the extras in the play. If a large crowd was needed, they were the crowd.

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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