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Oedipus Rex Background

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1 Oedipus Rex Background
Ancient Greek Theater and Tragedy

2 The Origin of Tragedy Almost everything in modern theater dates back to theater in Golden Age of Greece Roots: Religious rituals and festivals in honor of Dionysus (god of wine and procreation) in Athens Songs and dances in honor of gods develop into theater Chorus—group of about 12 who sang and danced at outdoor theaters during the festival Around an altar, sacrificed goats Tragedy = “goat-song”

3 Origin of Tragedy, cont. Importance of festivals/theater
Gov’t would suspend business for a week for the festivities Citizens expected to attend and participate in Chorus Experienced performers raised to status of actor—even excused from military duty Greeks thought plays should be instructional as well as entertaining Women not allowed to participate, sometimes not even to attend

4 5th Century Athens – Heyday of Greek Theater
After Persian War (490s-480s BC) During Pericles’ reign ( BC) Before the Peleponnesian War Athens vs. Sparta BC

5 Famous Greek Playwrights
Thespis (6th century BCE) “Father of Drama”--thespians First “actor” and dialogue (534 BCE) Before, only the Chorus spoke the text of the play; now an “answerer” interacts with the Chorus leader Aeschylus ( BCE) 2nd actor; lessens importance of Chorus Wrote trilogies on unified themes

6 Famous Greek Playwrights, cont.
Sophocles ( BCE) ** Adds the 3rd actor Fixes Chorus number to 15 Introduces painted scenery Made each play of the trilogy separate in nature Although Oedipus Rex is part of the Oedipus cycle, Antigone, etc. are performed in different years Euripides ( BCE) Relies on heavy prologues and deus ex machina endings (intervention from heaven)

7 Structure of the Theater
Theatron— “seeing place” where audience sat Orchestra—circular dancing place where actors and Chorus perform Thymele—altar to Dionysus in center of Orchestra Skene—building used as dressing room Proskenion—facade of skene which served as a backdrop Parodos—entrance to theater used by Chorus


9 Actors and Acting Actor and dramatist originally the same
Never have more than three actors Protagonist— “first contestant” Deuteragonist –second actor Tritagonist –third actor Each can play many roles; some roles are played by many actors All male performers Played the female parts

10 Costumes and Masks Used to indicate shifts between characters
Larger than life Long flowing robes with symbolic colors Heavy padding to make actors bigger High boots, often with raised soles Masks—linen, cork Identified age, gender, emotion Exaggerated features—large eyes, open mouth General enough features to be a sort of “Everyman” This allows audience to take instructional message personally




14 Acting Style The cumbersome costumes make movement difficult
Rely on sweeping, general gestures to convey emotion Beating chest or hanging head Line delivery reflects costumes and Greek values Declamatory style—long monologues Debates between characters Stichomythic dialogue: single lines of verse dialogue alternate between two characters in ping-pong fashion

15 Chorus Greek tragedy originates in song and dance
Musical accompaniment for choral odes—flute, lyre, percussion Odes broken into alternating strophes and antistrophes (like stanzas) Dance = expressive rhythmical movement Chorus moves back and forth and gestures in unison Shift directions with strophe and antistrophe Choragos—chorus leader or spokesperson, can interact with central characters Function: Gives dramatic focus and the language is a fine example of Greek poetry

16 Functions of the Chorus In essence, it represents the vox populi, the voice of the people, but as such, it can do many different things such as: Discuss issues raised by the main characters or action Express how the people of the city feel Gossip Provide a moral backdrop against which the events of the play happen Reflect on the political situation of the city Reveal background information to the audience (exposition) Show disagreement/conflict between different factions in the city Worship the gods

17 Conventions Unities—Aristotle’s idea of 3 unities Messenger
Action—simple plot with no subplots or irrelevancies Time—often a single day Place—one scene throughout (market, temple, courtyard, etc.) Messenger Tells news happening away from scene Reports acts of violence not allowed to be seen

18 Conventions, cont. Limitations of Greek Theater
Continuous presence of Chorus Usually standing in the background between odes No intermissions Continuous flow of action and Choral odes No curtains; No lighting Plays performed in outdoor theaters during daylight hours

19 Greek Dramatic Structure
Prologos (Prologue): the opening portion of the play, which sets the scene and contains the background info Parados: the entrance song of the chorus Episodes (Scenes): scene in the action of the drama, peformed by the actors Stasimons (Odes): a choral passage, alternating with the episodes of the plot of the drama Exodos: the concluding section of the tragedy, ends with the chorus singing their final lines as they exit

20 Structure of Oedipus Rex
Structure of this play lines up with what we expect from modern drama Prologos Exposition: background, prepares way for plot Episode 1/ Stasimon (Ode) 1 Conflict: the struggle Episode 2/ Stasimon 2 and Episode 3/Stasimon 3 Rising action: complications leading up to climax Episode 4 Climax: crisis or turning point of play, born of conflict Stasimon 4 Falling action: action simplifies or unravels Exodos Falling action/Resolution: revelation of meaning

21 Oedipus the King (or Rex)
Does Oedipus change his character? Sophocles is the “Godfather of Irony” Aristotle praised Sophocles a century later (300s BC) for his theatrical influenced and technical skills Aristotle used “Oedipus” as the model tragedy, citing its tight form and organization: desis (ravelling up) and lusis (unravelling)

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