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Classical Greek Drama. Background Information. Four Reasons for Theater. Entertainment Religion Displaying loyalty to your city-state Honoring local heroes. Origins. Song and dance was a way of worshipping the gods…. Mortals, I command you to tell me how awesome I am!. We love

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classical greek drama

Classical Greek Drama

Background Information

four reasons for theater
Four Reasons for Theater
  • Entertainment
  • Religion
  • Displaying loyalty to your city-state
  • Honoring local heroes
  • Song and dance was a way of worshipping the gods…

Mortals, I command

you to tell me how

awesome I am!




  • …and celebrating the harvest.
  • Over the centuries, harvest dances developed into the dithyramb (dith-uh-ramb), a religious ritual performed by a chorus of men wearing masks.
  • This is Thespis.

Hi everyone!

I made the dithyramb better

by adding a new character,

separate from the chorus.

  • He created the first actor.
  • Aeschylus added a second actor to the stage.
  • Sophocles added a third.
  • The chorus remained, but the audience became more interested in the actors and their lives and struggles.
the theaters
The Theaters
  • The first theaters were just hillsides with a few wooden benches for the important spectators.
  • Then the circular dancing area, called the orchestra, was paved with stones.
  • The skene (skee-knee), a rectangular building made of wood, provided changing rooms for actors and prop storage.
the theaters1
The Theaters
  • Theater design continued to evolve.
  • Stone seats were added for everyone, not just the most important people.
  • The wooden skene was replaced by a permanent stone building.
the theaters2
The Theaters
  • Basic elements of a theater:
  • Circle for the actors.
  • Slope for the spectators with benches.
  • Open air for a roof.
the chorus
The Chorus
  • Only men could be in the chorus or be actors in the play.

Wait a minute…

You’d never make a

convincing woman!

the chorus1
The Chorus
  • Entered at the beginning of the drama.
  • Remained during the performance.
  • Commented on the action of the play.
the chorus2
The Chorus
  • The choragos was the leader of the chorus.
  • Sometimes he participated in the dialogue and represented the responses of a typical citizen.
  • Up to 15,000 spectators could watch a performance.
  • Upper seats were more than 55 yards from the action below.
  • The actors’ gestures had to be exaggerated and dramatic so people in the back row could see.
  • Everyone except the musicians wore masks.
  • Masks were made of wool, linen, wood, plaster, or other perishable materials.
  • At first, masks were fairly realistic representations of human faces.
  • Later, they grew in size and became less realistic.
the stage
The Stage
  • Differences between Greek and modern theater:
    • No scenery or special effects.
    • Actors wore masks and costumes.
    • The skene served as whatever building the play needed (palace, temple, cave).
    • Lighting was natural.
    • Very few props.
the stage1
The Stage
  • The violence - murder, suicide, and battles - almost always occurred offstage.


Aaah! I am

stabbed! The pain

is horrible!

A messenger would appear

after the event and describe

in gory detail what had

just happened.

the plays
The Plays
  • The 5th Century B.C. was known as the “Golden Age” of Greek Drama.
  • Four playwrights emerged as the greatest: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides,and Aristophanes
the plays1
The Plays
  • Plays retold myths, rewrote history, and ridiculed politicians.
  • Aristophanes wrote comic plays and got himself in trouble for satirizing politicians and even the gods.
the plays2
The Plays
  • The other three masters were tragic poets.
  • Tragic plays captured humankind’s timeless struggle to find the purpose of life and to achieve self-understanding.
the plays3
The Plays
  • Central to the tragedy is the fall of the great man (or woman, but her part was played by a man).
  • This person is called the tragic hero.
  • His/her fate is brought about by a flaw within his or her own character.
the plays4
The Plays
  • The tragic hero inspired audiences to:
    • examine their own lives,
    • define their beliefs,
    • and cleanse their emotions of pity and terror through compassion for the character.
the plays5
The Plays
  • Nearly 2,500 years have passed since the golden age of Greek drama, but the stage, television, or movie production we enjoy today owes its existence to that open theater, those pioneering actors, the dedicated poets, and the passionate audiences of ancient Greece!