Tracing the History of Greek Theater essay

Ancient Greece has fascinated many scholars because of its rich culture and arts. Theater is one of the integral parts of the Greek civilization. Although there are many debates opinions about how and where Greek theater began, it has been established that the Greek theater started the plays in Europe. It is important to know the beginnings of the Greek theater to have a reference point from where modern theaters can find inspiration to create beautiful plays. II. Ancient and Modern Plays The plays then were performed in outdoor theaters.

The actors wore masks, and the cast was usually composed of a chorus and just three actors (Easterling 122; Easterling and Knox 502). An actor can play more than one character and thus change costumes and masks between scenes. Plays nowadays are performed several times, whereas Greek plays were performed only once and as part of festivals in honor of Dionysus, a Greek god. Moreover, it was the polis, or the state, which funded the plays. Also, the polis picked the actors, who were usually semiprofessionals.

Plays are performed as contests, with the playwrights and actors competing against each other. Greek tragedy and comedy had differing themes. The former was mostly based on Greek history and legends, whereas the latter dealt with contemporary politics and figures (Kitto 96). III. Greek Theaters As mentioned earlier, the plays were performed in outside theaters. The first theaters were generally located near hillsides or at the center of the city, where the people, either standing or sitting, could watch about the adventures of a god (Silk 322).

Although there had been changes in the structure of the theaters by the 4th century BC, the fundamental layout remained the same—it only became elaborate (Knox 115). Four major components comprised the structure of the Greek theater: orchestra, skene, parodoi, and theatron. The orchestra, or the “dancing space,” was a circular or semicircular structure where the chorus would sing and dance and where the actors performing near the skene and the orchestra interact.

At first, these were just made of earth, but as the theaters evolved, marble and other materials were used to pave the orchestras. An altar, or a thymele, can be found at the center of the orchestra. The famous theater of Dionysus in Athens has an orchestra approximately 60 feet in diameter (Knox 132). The theatron, or the “viewing place,” encircling most of the orchestra, was the place where the audience sat and viewed the play. Theatrons were usually part of the hillside.

It was believed that the seats at first were boards or cushions but later evolved into seats with better materials (Knox 138). The skene, or the “tent,” was located behind the stage so that the actors can easily enter or exit through it. Skenes were approximately three steps higher than the orchestra and, depending on what suits the play better, were designed as a temple, palace, or other structures. At least one set of doors was required. However, on some occasions, skenes had access to the roof from behind because some scenes necessitate an appearance on the roof (Knox 146).

The place where the spectators enter and exit the theaters at the start and end of the play is called parodoi, or “passageways. ” These paths are also used by the chorus and the actors for entrances and exits, especially of actors in the character of a messenger (Knox 147). IV. Conclusion Since the time of the ancient Greeks, much has changed in plays. The themes had changed, as well as the theaters. It is important to know how the theaters started from simple beginnings and, from there, find inspiration to create or recreate Greek drama.

Works Cited

Easterling, P. E. , ed. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Easterling, P. E. , and B. W. Knox, eds. The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Kitto, H. F. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. London: Methuen, 1968. Knox, B. W. Word and Action: Essays on Ancient Theater. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. Silk, M. S. , ed. Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.