The History of Greek Theater

Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th
century BCE, with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy. In his
plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were
depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for
honor and fame, his action was courageous and glorious and his life
would climax in a great and noble death.

Originally, the hero's recognition was created by selfish
behaviors and little thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew
toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and
ambition of the hero to gain honor by serving his city. The second
major characteristic of the early Greek world was the supernatural.
The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world
as the men, and they interfered in the men's lives as they chose to.
It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men. In the plays of
Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero's downfall because of a
tragic flaw in the character of the hero.

In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly
matters and of the individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an
audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable
experience. Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek
tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose Oedipus Rex he
considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his
definition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for
more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most
significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle's analysis of tragedy began with
a description of the effect such a work had on the audience as a
?catharsis? or purging of the emotions. He decided that catharsis was
the purging of two specific emotions, pity and fear. The hero has
made a mistake due to ignorance, not because of wickedness or
corruption. Aristotle used the word ?hamartia?, which is the ?tragic
flaw? or offense committed in ignorance. For example, Oedipus is
ignorant of his true parentage when he commits his fatal deed.
Oedipus Rex is one of the stories in a three-part myth called
the Thebian cycle. The structure of most all Greek tragedies is
similar to Oedipus Rex. Such plays are divided in to five parts, the
prologue or introduction, the ?prados? or entrance of the chorus, four
episode or acts separates from one another by ?stasimons? or choral
odes, and ?exodos?, the action after the last stasimon. These odes are
lyric poetry, lines chanted or sung as the chorus moved rhythmically
across the orchestra. The lines that accompanied the movement of the
chorus in one direction were called ?strophe?, the return movement was
accompanied by lines called ?antistrophe?. The choral ode might
contain more than one strophe or antistrophe.

Greek tragedy originated in honor of the god of wine,
Dionysus, the patron god of tragedy. The performance took place in an
open-air theater. The word tragedy is derived from the term
?tragedia? or ?goat-song?, named for the goat skins the chorus wore in
the performance. The plots came from legends of the Heroic Age.
Tragedy grew from a choral lyric, as Aristotle said, tragedy is
largely based on life's pity and splendor.

Plays were performed at dramatic festivals, the two main ones
being the Feast of the Winepress in January and the City Dionysia at
the end of March. The Proceeding began with the procession of choruses
and actors of the three competing poets. A herald then announced the
poet's names and the titles of their plays. On this day it was likely
that the image of Dionysus was taken in a procession from his temple
beside the theater to a point near the road he had once taken to reach
Athens from the north, then it was brought back by torch light, amid a
carnival celebration, to the theater itself, where his priest occupied
the central seat of honor during the performances. On the first day of
the festival there were contests between the choruses, five of men and
five of boys. Each chorus consisted of fifty men or boys. On the next
three days, a ?tragic tetralogy? (group made up of four pieces, a
trilogy followed by a satyric drama) was performed each morning. This