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The Origins of Western Drama

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1 The Origins of Western Drama
History of the Theatre The Origins of Western Drama

2 Greek Drama Western drama began to develop in sixth century Greece as part of the worship of Dionysus, Greek god of wine and fertility. First theatre consisted of a group of chanters, called the chorus, dancing around a sacrificial goat. This chorus became known as goat-singers, and their chant, the “goat-song” or tragos (origin of the word tragedy).

3 The First Dramatic Competitions
The ceremonies honoring Dionysus evolved into dramatic contests. Legend states that Thespis won the first competition. History remembers him as the first actor. The term thespian has been given to actors ever since.

4 The Festival of Dionysus
The dramatic contests became part of a festival in honor of Dionysus. These festivals lasted five or six days. Each playwright presented four plays: a tragic trilogy (three plays related by theme, myth or characters) and a satyr (satirical, comic) play.

5 The Theatre of Dionysus
The first theatres began as circular (or semicircular) areas called orchestras surrounded by a hillside on which the audience sat.

6 The Theatre of Dionysus
Eventually stone seats and a stone building called a skene were added.

7 The Theatre of Dionysus

8 The Skene Actors used the skene for changing masks and costumes.
Scenery was painted on the front. The roof was called the god walk, for actors playing gods.

9 The Greek Theatre

10 The Machina The Greeks used mechanical devices in their productions.
One was called the machina, a cranelike hoist that allowed actors to “fly.” Usually characters lowered by the machina represented gods come to earth to solve the problems of man.

11 The Machina From this comes the term deus ex machina, meaning “god from the machine.” This term is still used to refer to an artificial plot device introduced by an author late in a play to resolve difficulties. Unexpected inheritance Long-lost letter (or other item), lover, relative, friend, etc.

12 The Greek Chorus The chorus was a very important part of early Greek plays. The chorus served to explain the situation and to comment on the action. The chorus also interacted with the actors.

13 The Greek Chorus Today The Greek chorus is alive and well in theatre and film today. There are many modern examples, including… The Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder’s Our Town El Gallo in the musical The Fantastics The Muses in Disney’s animated Hercules An actual chanting Greek chorus in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite

14 Greek Tragedy The Greek tragedies, considered classics of Western literature, involve conflicts that come from the clash between the will of the gods and the ambitions and desires of humanity. They show how useless it is to fight Fate.

15 Greek Tragedy The greatest writers of Greek tragedy are… Aeschylus
Noted for the majesty of his writing Writer of the only surviving Greek trilogy, The Oresteia

16 Greek Tragedy Sophocles Euripides
Ranked with Shakespeare as one of the great playwrights of all time His balance between the power of gods and the importance of humans created some of the strongest characters ever to walk on a stage. Wrote Oedipus Rex, Antigone Euripides Emphasized human relationships and became a master of pathos Wrote The Trojan Women, Medea

17 The Roman Theatre Primarily an imitation of Greek theatre
Two notable comic writers were Plautus and Terence Seneca, a writer of tragedies, created “closet dramas.” Theaters expanded into amphitheaters, large circular arenas that were surrounded by tiers of seats.

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