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Greek Drama Notes. August 28, 2007. ORIGIN. Grew out of religious rituals honoring Dionysus, Greek god of wine and fertility. Ritual- wildly dancing around alter singing Dionysia became an annual festival held in Athens at a large outdoor amphitheater.

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greek drama notes

Greek Drama Notes

August 28, 2007

  • Grew out of religious rituals honoring Dionysus, Greek god of wine and fertility.
  • Ritual- wildly dancing around alter singing
  • Dionysia became an annual festival held in Athens at a large outdoor amphitheater.
  • Wild dancing choruses began to compete for prizes.
Developed into a four day extravaganza.
  • All activity in Athens ceased during Dionysia usually held in March.
  • Three playwrights were chosen by city officials to compete in the competition of Dionysia.
  • Three types of plays performed:
    • tragedies
    • satyr
    • comedies
  • Looks like a semi-circular football field.
  • Seats carved out of stone in a hillside.
  • Front “stage” area - orchestra
  • Acoustics were so advanced actors’ voices could be heard from the orchestra to the last row.
Tragedies- heroic characters and unhappy endings, serious treatments of religious and mythical questions.
  • Satyr- comic treatments of the same theme
  • Comedies- ordinary people as characters and happy endings.
  • Transformed this singing into hymns still honoring Dionysus, but also telling the story of a famous hero or god.
  • Another innovation- one chorus member, who wore a mask, would step away from others to play the part of the hero/god.
  • Thespian, which refers to an actor or actress, comes from Thespis.
  • Actors were paid by the State.
  • Only the leading actors were eligible for competition.
  • A vocal acting - declamatory - to project appropriate emotional tone, mood, and character.
  • Three kinds of delivery: speech, recitative, and song.
  • No facial importance - masks used.
  • Gesture and movement were broadened and simplified.
acting styles
Acting Styles
  • Actors usually played more than one role
  • Men played all the parts
  • Stylized - used masks, choral declamation, etc.
  • Tragedy leaned toward idealization; comedy toward burlesque.
  • Aeschylus- added second individual actor to performance creating possibility for conflict.
  • Sophocles- considered greatest playwright in all of Ancient Greece.
  • Euripides- great tragic playwright, most famous for Medea




  • Usually the masks were made of linen, wood, or leather.
  • A marble or stone face was used as a mould for the mask.
  • Human or animal hair was also used.
  • The eyes were fully drawn but in the place of the pupil of the eye was a small hole so that the actor could see.
  • One of the main reasons for the wearing of Greek masks in theater was the fact that there were female roles but women were forbidden from performing on stage. Therefore, men work female masks when they played the female roles.
  • The use of masks was also helpful when an actor had to play more than one role. A simple change of masks was all one needed to switch characters. There were some theories about the masks helping to accentuate the actor's voice but there are many that also discount this concept.
  • many say a standard costume: sleeved, decorated tunic, full-length usually, derived from robes of Dionysian priests - called a chiton.
  • Cotharnus is a high boot or soft shoe, perhaps elevated with a thick sole.
  • A short cloak may also have been worn, called a chalmys, or a long one called a himation.
  • Vase painting are our major evidence, but the vases are earlier than the 5th century B.C.; many vase painting show other garments, including nudity.
  • Perhaps there were symbolic uses of some costumes/props - warrior with a spear, king with a scepter, etc.
  • The plays themselves have few references to costumes.
  • Chorus usually had more realistic costumes.
  • The chorus,who was considered to be the mouthpiece of society (in its humble form) and morality, was suffering along with the heroes.
  • The 15 members of the chorus were entering the orchestra in rows ( usually face=3, depth=5 ),
  • 496-406 B.C.
  • In his first competition, Sophocles took first prize--defeating none other than Aeschylus himself. More than 120 plays were to follow.
Was greatly loved in his own lifetime.
  • Many talents- musician, dramatist, poet, general, priest, and political leader
  • Only 7 of his plays survive
  • plays always contain a moral lesson- usually a caution against pride and religious indifference

Sophocles contributed more to theatre than just his work. He also change the technical side to theatre in three important ways.

  • First he added three more singers to the chorus, so that there were fifteen instead of the usual twelve singers.
  • He also added a third actor, which gave more depth to the play.
  • Lastly, he was the first playwright to use lots of painted scenery.
  • Function is to arouse pity and fear in the audience so they may be purged of these unsettling emotions
  • Arouse these emotions through a hero who is neither completely good or completely bad =
tragic hero
  • Someone highly renowned and prosperous- “royalty”
  • Hero must fall from tremendous good fortune; otherwise, we wouldn’t feel pity for them.
tragic flaw
  • Fundamental character weakness, such as pride, jealousy, ambition
  • Hero is on some level responsible for this flaw.
  • Recognizes flaw & accepts its tragic consequences.
  • Real hero is humbled & enlightened by the tragedy.
he will kill his father and marry his mother
“He will kill his father and marry his mother…”
  • Born to King Laios & Queen Jocasta of Thebes
  • Oracle prediction- baby will kill his father & marry his mother.
  • Ankles pinned together and given to shepherd to leave to die on mountainside.
  • Ended up with king and queen of Corinth
  • Named Oedipus - swollen foot or club foot