Period in The History of Theatre: Greek Theatre | MyPaperHub

Period in The History of Theatre: Greek Theatre

Period in The History of Theatre: Greek Theatre

Posted on Jun 2018:- By: PaperHub
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The origins of the Greek Theatre are obscure and controversial and hence, the ancient sources available today allow for the construction of a vague chronology of the events leading to its development. The ancient Greeks from the 5th century BC were fascinated by the question of the origins of the Theatre in the form of tragedy and comedy in Greece. There was the lack of surety of the exact origins of the Theatre, but Aristotle, and various writers proposed some theories to give a chronology of the development of the art (Oscar & Robert, 2000). There was also the development of some stories of the people responsible for the development. The history of the Greece Theater began with the festivals honoring the gods (McDonald et. al., 2007). A god called Dionysus was honored with a festival called “City Dionysia”. In Athens, during the festival, men used to perform songs to welcome Dionysus and plays were presented at City Dionysia festival. Athens was the centre of the theatrical traditions. It is important to note that the Greece theatre was made up of either play that were comedies usually made to poke at the rulers or at times tragedies plays that were sad and serious with lessons on right and wrong.

Actors and acting styles

At the early Greek festivals, the actors were at the same time the directors and the dramatists. One individual did the acting at the stage. However, with time, there were three actors allowed to perform on stage following the developments that came with Sophocles’ invention of trilogy (McDonald et. al., 2007). Later other non-speaking roles were permitted to perform on the stage. Because of the limited number of actors that were allowed on stage, there was the growth of the chorus that became an active part of the Greek theater. The music was often played during the chorus’ delivery of its lines.

The cast of a the plays in Greek in the Dionysia was constituted majorly of amateurs and not professionals. The actors were also all male and some of the males played the female roles while wearing costumes that made them look feminine. The actors had to use gestures and also conspicuous costumes and masks so that the entire audience can remain engaged in the play. It was an important trait for the actors to possess so that the vast audience can follow the story. However, a majority of the Greek theatres were cleverly constructed in a way that amplified the voices of the actors. Moreover, the masks that the actors wore were also shaped in a way that projected their voices (McDonald et. al., 2007).

Theatre building, lighting, costumes, sound, and scenic elements of the period

Most cities in Greece had a theatre, the theatres were open air, and thus the lighting was great from the sun during the day. The theatre buildings were called Theatron. It contained three major elements that are the orchestra, Skene and the audience. It was also bowl-shaped arena located on the hillside. Some theaters were as big as holding a capacity of over 15,000 people in the audience. Over a period, the individual actors performed while on a raised stage that became part of the theatre (Easterling, 2002). The changing of the costumes took place in a hut referred to as a “skene” and painting of the walls of the hut made the first scenery at the time. The Skene later became a large permanent structure that was circular or rectangular buildings situated behind the orchestra and was used as a backstage as the theatres advanced. The orchestra was the large circular or rectangular area at the centre part of the theatre where the play, religious rites, dances, and acting took place. The audience rose from the circle of the orchestra and was large enough to accommodate a large number of people (Easterling, 2002).

Because of the large size of the Theatre, the actors were so far away from the audience and hence the need for exaggerated masks and costumes. The actors that played tragic roles wore boot called cothurneses that elevated them above the other actors. When playing a female character, the male actors wore a wooden structure called ‘prosterneda’ on the chest to imitate breasts (Easterling, 2002). The costumes were an essential part of the production since they could distinguish between the characters by social status or gender. In the early productions, the actors used body paint and then advanced to animal skins, ears and even feathers.

The masks that they wore were made of linen or cork. The tragic masks carried mournful marks while the important ones were smiling and leering. The shape of the mask also helped in amplifying the voice of the actors for the audience to hear with ease. Silent masks were used largely especially for the child actors, expressing a sense of powerlessness, bewilderment, or vulnerability. The masks were also used as a dramatic tool, for example, lowering of the mask would signify reflection, raising it would mean a challenge or superiority. The Greece called the stances physical schemata or forms (Chris & Wiles, 2004). 

About a playwright or actor of the period

The actors and the playwrights were all male. Sophocles was an older contemporary of Euripides born 497/496 BCE. at Colonus outside Athens. For over 50 years, Sophocles was one of the most-awarded playwrights in the dramatic competitions in the city of Athens. The games took place during the religious festivals of the Dionysia and the Lenaea. Sophocles’ first triumph in the field of art was in 468 BC when he took the first prize in the Dionysia theater competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus (McDonald et. al., 2007). He later competed in over 30 competitions winning over 24 and never received lower than the second place in his entire acting career.

One of the most famous of the tragedies acted by Sophocles was those that were concerning Oedipus and Antigone. The plays are also referred to as the Theban plays although ever play was part of a different tetralogy. Sophocoles influenced the advancement of the drama. The addition of a third character was one of his earliest inventions. It further reduced the role of the chorus, created even greater opportunity for development of characters, and subsequently increased conflict between the competing characters. He is famous for developing his characters largely than any other earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus (Oscar & Robert, 2000).

Sophocles was also very active in the public life of the Athenians. He was the strategies one of the ten elected generals with Pericles 441/0, which was an office that he held more than once. It is an indication of the prestige and respect that the playwrights received in the Greece Theatre. He was also personally responsible for bringing the healing cult of Asclepius to Athens and later died in 406 just a short time after Euripides. Aristotle admired him for his work especially his work on ‘Oedipus the King’ because of the real plots that he wrote about very senior and influential people of the time. Many people share in Aristotle’s viewpoint and consider Sophocles as the greatest Greek Playwright. Today there are over 123 plays known to be written by Sophocoles of which only seven of them survive to date (McDonald et. al., 2007).


The Greece Theatre may not have its origins identified but has experienced a revolution in time. It has evolved as time advanced. At the early festivals, the actors, directors and dramatists were all the same person. After some time, Sophocles allowed three actors on stage after the introduction of the trilogy. There was also the evolution of the chorus into a very active part of the Greek Theatre following the limitation of the number of actors on stage. The Greek theater formed a critical part of the traditions of the Greek people. It offered a good socio-economic and political platform where the people gathered in the Theatrons in large numbers to watch the arts. It also led to the rising of significant figures in the history of theatre such as Sophocoles. There is, however, little evidence and much has been destroyed over time such as the costumes due to their perishable nature of the material from which they were made.