Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th century BCE,with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy.
In his plays and those of thesame genre, heroes and the ideals of life were depicted and glorified. It wasbelieved that man should live for honor and fame, his action was courageous andglorious and his life would climax in a great and noble death.Originally, the hero’s recognition was created by selfish behaviors andlittle thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew toward city-states andcolonization, it became the destiny and ambition of the hero to gain honor byserving his city. The second major characteristic of the early Greek world wasthe supernatural. The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in thesame world as the men, and they interfered in the men’s lives as they chose to.It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men.
In the plays of Sophocles,the gods brought about the hero’s downfall because of a tragic flaw in thecharacter of the hero.In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly matters and ofthe individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an audience could observetragic events and still have a pleasurable experience.
Aristotle, by searchingthe works of writers of Greek tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whoseOedipus Rex he considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at hisdefinition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for more thantwenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most significantly Shakespeare.Aristotle’s analysis of tragedy began with a description of the effect such awork had on the audience as a catharsis or purging of the emotions. Hedecided that catharsis was the purging of two specific emotions, pity and fear.The hero has made a mistake due to ignorance, not because of wickedness orcorruption. Aristotle used the word hamartia, which is the tragic flaw oroffense committed in ignorance. For example, Oedipus is ignorant of his trueparentage when he commits his fatal deed.
Oedipus Rex is one of the stories in a three-part myth called theThebian cycle. The structure of most all Greek tragedies is similar to OedipusRex. Such plays are divided in to five parts, the prologue or introduction, the prados or entrance of the chorus, four episode or acts separates from oneanother by stasimons or choral odes, and exodos, the action after the laststasimon. These odes are lyric poetry, lines chanted or sung as the chorus movedrhythmically across the orchestra.
The lines that accompanied the movement ofthe chorus in one direction were called strophe, the return movement wasaccompanied by lines called antistrophe. The choral ode might contain morethan one strophe or antistrophe.Greek tragedy originated in honor of the god of wine, Dionysus, thepatron god of tragedy. The performance took place in an open-air theater. Theword tragedy is derived from the term tragedia or goat-song, named for thegoat skins the chorus wore in the performance. The plots came from legends ofthe Heroic Age.
Tragedy grew from a choral lyric, as Aristotle said, tragedy islargely based on life’s pity and splendor.Plays were performed at dramatic festivals, the two main ones being theFeast of the Winepress in January and the City Dionysia at the end of March. TheProceeding began with the procession of choruses and actors of the threecompeting poets. A herald then announced the poet’s names and the titles oftheir plays. On this day it was likely that the image of Dionysus was taken in aprocession from his temple beside the theater to a point near the road he hadonce taken to reach Athens from the north, then it was brought back by torchlight, amid a carnival celebration, to the theater itself, where his priestoccupied the central seat of honor during the performances. On the first dayof the festival there were contests between the choruses, five of men and fiveof boys.
Each chorus consisted of fifty men or boys. On the next three days, a tragic tetralogy (group made up of four pieces, a trilogy followed by a satyricdrama) was performed each morning. This is compared to the Elizabethan habit offollowing a tragedy with a jig. During the Peloponnesian Wars, this was followedby a comedy each afternoon.The Father of the drama was Thesis of Athens, 535 BC, who created thefirst actor. The