Pre-Greek Period (5000 BCE to 600 BCE) History of drama dates back to start of mankind: Hunters pantomimed adventures First storytellers told tales in chants First organized groups pantomimed the hunt, war, and love dances Mask appeared- first actors became god or animal Man’s attempt to imitate nature developed into formal, religious song and dance ceremonies: Worship specific gods and rulers Celebrate the hunt and war
Man begins acting out his wishes for: Nature Rain Good harvests Sunshine Earliest record of theatrical performance dates back about 4000 years to Egypt: Three-day event that included actual battles and elaborate ceremonies about the murder, dismemberment, and resurrection of Osiris (god of the lower world).
Osiris- Egyptian God of the Underworld Prehistoric Theatre: War Dance
Early Greek Period (600 BCE-500 BCE) Drama as we know it developed during this period when religious hymns developed to sing praises to gods: Dithyrambs (hymns) sung to Dionysus (god of wine and fertility): In honor of his death, a group of chanters, called the chorus, would dance around an alter which a goat was sacrificed on. Chant was called “tragos” (goat-song)= tragedy Komos=comedy Ceremonies in honor of Dionysus evolved into large contests: First contest was won by Thespis: First to step away from chorus and engage in dialogue between chorus and himself- first actor (Thespian). Also credited with introducing mask in Greek plays.
Dramatic contests part of festival lasting five to six days: Most famous festival was City Dionysia: *First day: games (similar to carnival). *Second and Third: poetry contests. *Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth: different playwright would present four plays each day: first three were part of a trilogy (related in theme and characters) and fourth was a satyr play (comedy).
Performance of the dithyramb (550-500 BCE) Dionysus City Dionysia
Continued… Theatre existed only for men: both as performers and audience: women not permitted to attend until about 400 BCE. Audiences large: some theatres could hold over 17,000.
Chorus: Main part of early Greek theatre Purpose: to narrate, explain, comment on action, and also engage in dialogue with actors. Originally about fifty performers in chorus. Number and responsibilities decreased as actors took over larger roles.
Continued… Important People & Concepts… Aeschylus: Father of tragedy Added second actor Reduced chorus to twelve. Wrote only existing trilogy- man (Agamemnon) returns from war and is killed by his wife and her lover: children take revenge by killing mother: trial of one of the children.
Sophocles: Considered greatest Greek tragedy writer Added third actor Oedipus Rex: kills father, marries mother, gouges out eyes. Adds scenery and action. Antigone
Continued… Euripides: Separates action from chorus More concerned with human relationships. Medea: woman’s husband cheats on her: to get revenge, she sacrifices her two sons. Aristophanes: Main author of Greek comedy. Masks used to show emotions (where masks of comedy and tragedy come from)
Roman Period (100 BCE to 300 CE) Theatre becomes hedonistic (vulgar): Gladiator contests Slaughter of humans (Christians and lions) Audiences only wanted to see vulgar performances: Moral decay of Rome=rise of Christian church=fall of Rome during Dark Ages. Slaves used as actors until first Century Plays presented along with circuses Playwrights paid by acting companies Plautus, Terence, Seneca: Major playwrights Plautus: Comedy Terence: Known more for the way he presented characters Seneca: Senecan tragedy: gory tragedy. Violence takes place off stage. Too traumatic to show on stage. Deaths are described in detail. After the fall of Rome, only wandering minstrels (dancing and juggling) kept drama alive.
Questions to Ponder… Because of the moral decay which led to the fall of the Roman Empire, where do you expect theatre to go in the future? How has ancient theatre impacted the theatrical traditions of today?
Your consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website.