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Introduction to Greek Drama

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1 Introduction to Greek Drama
English II Mrs. Patterson

2 Origin of Drama Drama was developed by the ancient Greeks during celebrations honoring Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of the vine, which produces grapes for wine. Wine was associated with resurrection and suffering. With the inclusion of many choral songs, the early Greek plays resembled what we call opera today.

3 Festival of Dionysus The Festival of Dionysus took place in Athens over the course of five days in March or April. During the first day, the Greeks held a procession honoring Dionysus in which all citizens participated. During the festival’s second day, the choral songs were performed. On the last three days of the festival, the actors performed three tragedies, one satyr (satire – mock heroic tragedies) play, and one comedy.

4 Festival of Dionysus The archon, a state official, selected three poets to compete for the prizes in the tragedy division. The choregus, a wealthy, prominent citizen of Athens, was required by law to pay for the cost of training and costumes for the chorus. A jury of 10 citizens selected the winning poet The playwright served as a sort of teacher, offering plays for the ethical and moral improvement of his fellow citizens to insure the spiritual survival of the community.

5 The Greek Theatre Theatron = area of seats for the audience hollowed out from the hillside Orchestra = large area in front of the stage where the chorus sang and danced Thymele = the altar centered in the orchestra used for sacrifices to Dionysus Parados = walled walkway used by the chorus to enter and exit the stage Pro-scenium = a long, low stage behind the orchestra Skene = building that contained the actors’ dressing rooms

6 The Greek Theatre The Greek Theatre was similar to an outdoor stadium that could hold between 15,000 – 20,000 people.

7 Greek Theater

8 Greek Theater

9 Greek Theater



12 Greeks’ Special Effects
There were no curtains, intermissions, lights, or microphones. Consequently, all scenes took place in daylight settings, all scene changes had to be built into the actor’s dialogue, and the chorus and actors had to have strong voices. Deus ex machina (meaning: “god from the machine”) = type of crane used for suspending figures who portrayed gods. Eccylema = moveable or revolving platform.

13 Greeks’ Special Effects

14 The Actors The Greek name for an actor was “hypocrite.”
As there were only 3 actors, they wore masks to play multiple parts. All actors were men, because it was considered undignified for women to appear on stage Actors wore padded costumes, wigs, and high-heeled boots to make them taller and give them added dignity and power. Actors had to be able to speak in poetic language and sing using a loud and clear voice.

15 The Chorus The chorus was led by a conductor and consisted of singers and dancers who moved and sang together, acting as one character. A Choral Ode was chanted or sung in unison. Originally, they Chorus started out with 50 people, but Sophocles fixed the number at 15.

16 The Chorus The playwright used the chorus and their songs to:
Add the beauty of song and dance. Set the mood or express the main themes of the play by commenting on the action. Create a bridge between the actors and the audience. Converse with and give advice to the actors. Tell about events that have already happened in the past. Foretell the future by interpreting the actions of the actors.

17 The Stories Originally, the stories were hymns and prayers honoring the gods, especially Dionysus. Over time, the content of the stories changed to legends of Greek leaders and heroes.

18 Tragedy In a tragedy, the plot revealed what happened to a person who went against the laws of the gods or who was too proud This stems from the Greek belief that man was subject to the whims of the gods and fate. The root of Greek tragedy is that man can not avoid suffering. In nearly all tragedies, man’s biggest fault is excessive pride – a mistaken belief that he could somehow avoid fate or the will of the gods.

19 Greek Tragic Hero The Greek tragic hero had to be a man or woman capable of great suffering The tragic hero is brought to disaster by hamartia, or a single flaw in a person’s character.

20 Hubris Hubris is defined as excessive pride.
Think of at least three modern examples of characters whose downfall is caused by their hubris. Hubris leaves leads to suffering and then to an understanding (catharsis) of man’s place in the system of life. Catharsis is an emotional release caused by an intense emotional experience. The purpose of a Greek tragedy is to learn a lesson through the catastrophes that befall the characters on stage and to understand that their misfortunes are a result of not following the will of the Gods or trying to avoid their own destinies because of hubris.

21 Structure of a Greek Tragedy
Prologue – the actors present the opening situation on stage Parados – the entering song and dance of the chorus Episodes – periods of more action by the actors Stasima/Stasimon – choral ode or song commenting on the action Exodus – the last action of the play

22 SOPHOCLES Sophocles was born in Colonus, Greece in 497 BCE
He died in 406 BCE at approximately 90 years of age. He Lived during the Golden Age ofl Greece (The Golden Age of Greece was from approximately 800 BCE to 300 BCE) He was a successful musician, athlete, and respected playwright. He was also active in social and political life. He held several priesthoods, was imperial treasurer in 443 BCE, and a general in 440 BCE

23 Sophocles as a Playwright
In the drama festivals of his day, Sophocles won the first place prize for best play 24 times! He wrote more than a hundred plays but only seven remain. The most famous of his plays are: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, and Electra.

24 Sophocles’ Impact on Drama
Sophocles expanded the format of drama by adding a third actor. He increased the amount of dialogue within a play. He decreased the importance of the chorus by fixing its number at 15. He invented painted scenery and added flute music in the background of his plays. He made each play of a trilogy stand by itself as a separate story.

25 Antigone Antigone is the third of Sophocles’ Theban plays.
Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter, princess of Thebes. She breaks the law to bury her brother who has been labeled a traitor by the king, her uncle.

26 Oedipus King Oedipus, aware that a terrible curse has befallen Thebes, sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to seek the advice of Apollo. Creon informs Oedipus that the curse will be lifted if the murderer of Laius, the former king, is found and prosecuted. Laius was murdered many years ago at a crossroads. Oedipus dedicates himself to the discovery and prosecution of Laius’s murderer. Oedipus subjects a series of unwilling citizens to questioning, including a blind prophet. Teiresias, the blind prophet, informs Oedipus that Oedipus himself killed Laius. This news really bothers Oedipus, but his wife Jocasta tells him not to believe in prophets, they've been wrong before. As an example, she tells Oedipus about how she and King Laius had a son who was prophesied to kill Laius and sleep with her. Well, she and Laius had the child killed, so obviously that prophecy didn't come true, right? Jocasta's story doesn't comfort Oedipus. As a child, an old man told Oedipus that he was adopted, and that he would eventually kill his biological father and sleep with his biological mother. Not to mention, Oedipus once killed a man at a crossroads, which sounds a lot like the way Laius died. Jocasta urges Oedipus not to look into the past any further, but he stubbornly ignores her. Oedipus goes on to question a messenger and a shepherd, both of whom have information about how Oedipus was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a new family. In a moment of insight, Jocasta realizes that she is Oedipus’s mother and that Laius was his father. Horrified at what has happened, she kills herself. Shortly thereafter, Oedipus, too, realizes that he was Laius’s murder and that he’s been married to (and having children with) his mother. In horror and despair, he gouges his eyes out and is exiled from Thebes.

27 Oedipus Background The Oracle of Delphi, a prophet, tells King Laios and Queen Jocasta that their future son will kill his father and marry his mother. With the fear of this prophey never far from their minds, the King Laios and Queen Jocasta abandon their son, Oedipus, shortly after his birth. Though he had been left for dead, Oedipus was found and raised by the King and Queen of Corinth

28 Oedipus Background Years later, Oedipus meets a traveller on the road. An argument begins, and Oedipus kills the traveller in his rage. Though he did not know it, the traveller that Oedipus killed was his birth father, the King of Thebes. Shortly he unknowingly kills his father, Oedipus defeats the Sphinx and is rewarded with the Kingdom of Thebes and its queen.

29 Oedipus Background Oedipus marries the Queen of Thebes, Jocasta, not knowing that she is really his mother. Oedipus and Jocasta have four children together, Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polyneices.

30 Oedipus Background Soon, Oedipus and Jocasta discover the truth about their biological relationship. Upon learning the truth, Jocasta hangs herself. Oedipus, sickened by the news, gouges out his own eyes before permanently exiling himself.

31 Oedipus’ Sons Before his death, Oedipus leaves orders that his two sons share the role of king. One of his sons, Eteocles, refuses to step down. Consequently, Polyneices attacks Thebes with an army. Both brothers die in battle. Creon (Jocasta’s brother) is declared King.


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