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Oedipus Rex Background. Ancient Greek Theater and Tragedy. 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

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oedipus rex background

Oedipus Rex Background

Ancient Greek Theater and Tragedy

the origin of tragedy
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”
origin of tragedy cont
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
5 th century athens heyday of greek theater
5th Century Athens – Heyday of Greek Theater
  • After Persian War (490s-480s BC)
  • During Pericles’ reign (495-429 BC)
  • Before the Peleponnesian War Athens vs. Sparta 431-404 BC
famous greek playwrights
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 (525-426 BCE)
    • 2nd actor; lessens importance of Chorus
    • Wrote trilogies on unified themes
famous greek playwrights cont
Famous Greek Playwrights, cont.
  • Sophocles (496-406 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 (486-406 BCE)
    • Relies on heavy prologues and deus ex machina endings (intervention from heaven)
structure of the theater
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
actors and acting
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
costumes and masks
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
acting style
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
chorus
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
slide16

Functions of the ChorusIn 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
conventions
Conventions
  • Unities—Aristotle’s idea of 3 unities
    • 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
conventions cont
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
greek dramatic structure
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
structure of oedipus rex
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
oedipus the king or rex
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)