|GREEK TRAGEDY (According to Aristotle)
Aristotle’s Poetics: The theory stated in this work followed the practices for Greek tragedy writing that had been used for years. Aristotle summarized what had been worked out by trial and error for good tragedy by the poets and playwrights 100 years before. Aristotle especially admired Sophocles and used his plays as his standard or model.
Learn the following: “Tragedy is the imitation of an action which is serious, complete, of a certain magnitude, couched in poetic language. It should be dramatic, with incidents arousing pity and fear, which bring about a purgation of the emotions.”
Purgation/Catharsis – a cleansing, a release of emotions. Pity is aroused in the audience for the character(s), and we fear lest the same misfortune happen to us.
DRAMATIC UNITIES: 1.) Time - 24 hours for the action of the play
2.) Place - No change of scenery
3.) Action – No subplots
#’s 2 and 3 work together. Any action which happens elsewhere is told by another character.
A TRAGEDY MUST HAVE A TRAGIC HERO WHO EXHIBITS ALL OR MOST OF THE FOLLOWING CHARACTERISTICS:
1.) Undergoes a morally significant struggle that ends disastrously.
2.) Essentially a superior person who is treated sympathetically (he makes
us like him in spite of what the hero might do).
3.) His destiny or choice is to go down fighting rather than submit and
thus pluck a moral victory from a physical defeat.
4.) Not all good or all bad (very human).
5.) Has a high, respected position when story begins.
6.) Falls from a high position to ignominy or unhappiness or death because
of a tragic flaw. TRAGIC FLAW: SOME DEFECT IN THE TRAGIC
CHARACTER THAT HELPS CAUSE HIS OWN RUIN. FOR THE
GREEKS THIS FLAW IS HUBRIS (AN EXCESSIVE PRIDE OR
ARROGANCE). The flaw may seem to be jealousy, anger, ambition
etc., but it will always be because the character thinks himself too
superior in some way. BECAUSE OF THIS HUBRIS, WHATEVER
HAPPENS TO THE TRAGIC HERO IS NOT ALL UNDESERVED.
(Greek word for tragic flaw is hamartia.)
THE CLASSIC TRAGIC PLOT REQUIRES THAT THE FOLLOWING MOMENTS HAPPEN TO THE TRAGIC HERO:
The reversal of fortune (peripety) – the good begins to slide or go bad
Ignorance to knowledge (Aristotle: discovery of the critical flaw (which hastens the denouement) – the hero realizes his own flaw that has brought him to this low point.
Suffering and final submission of the hero
EURIPIDES (480-406 B.C.): expresses weariness and disillusion of war-torn years at the end of 5th century B.C. Of the Greek tragedians, Euripides is perhaps the closest to our own time with concern for realism and his determination to expose social, political, and religious injustices. Euripides admits existence of irrational forces in universe (gods and goddesses), but does not deem them worthy of respect or worship. This idea earned him the charge of impiety. His plays show characters pushed to the limits of endurance, and their reactions show concern for psychological truth. Euripides shows understanding of problems of women in a society dominated by men. “SOPHOCLES SHOWS MEN AS HE OUGHT TO BE, AND EURIPIDES SHOWS MAN AS HE IS.”
Euripides wrote about 90 plays: 18 tragedies and one satyr play survive. Some of his tragedies are Medea, Alcestis, The Children of Heracles, Hippolytus, The Trojan Women, Electra.
AESCHYLUS (525-456 B.C): Earliest writer of Greek tragedy whose plays exist in complete form. Wrote about 80 plays: seven survive—most famous is the Oresteia, 3 plays about Agamemnon (after the Trojan War) and his son, Orestes. Plays are deeply patriotic and religious. Aeschylus added a second actor to plays.
SOPHOCLES (496-406 B.C.): not concerned as Aeschylus was with the problems of guilt and punishment over several generations; he dealt with a specific struggle of a strong individual against fate. Sophocles wrote single plays rather than trilogies. His plays are more finished than those of Aeschylus or Euripides, and Aristotle thought of his plays as models for good tragedy. Sophocles added a third actor, fixed chorus size at 15, and used scene-printing. Seven of his 100 plays survive: Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Philoctetes.
ONE COMEDY WRITER:
ARISTOPHANES: greatest Greek writer of comedy. 11 of 44 plays have survived. Four of these are Clouds, Birds, Frogs, and Lysistrata.
THE GREEK THEATER
DRAMA: A creation of the Greeks – 2 main types: tragedy and comedy
Theatrical events were performed annually at the festival of Dionysus, which lasted 5 or 6 days: the Dionysia. Going to the theater was to take part in a religious ritual.
Dithyrambs were choral hymns sung in honor of Dionysus; the addition of actors to the chorus allowed more complicated stories. Thespis first used an actor.
There was big competition among writers to have their plays performed during the festival. Each author of the works submitted 4 plays (a tetralogy) to be performed consecutively on a single day: 3 tragedies (a trilogy) and a light-hearted satyr play (Satyrs are mythological creatures, represented as men and pointed ears, short horns, and goat legs which were attendants on Dionysus who took frank and indecent pleasure in drinking and love making.) At the end of the festival, plays were judged by a jury of citizens, and a prize awarded to the winning author.
Plots were religious in time, place, and nature, and were usually drawn from mythology and dealt with the relationship between the human and the divine. Performance was lofty and dignified by actors who wore masks, elaborate costumes, and raised shoes. Most of the audience knew the legends and myths being dramatized, but different versions and the writer’s inventiveness created the suspense, not from what would happen, but how.
Knowing the story allowed for dramatic irony, situations or speeches that have one meaning to the play’s characters but another for the audience (audience knows more than the character about a given situation.)
STRUCTURE OF TRAGEDY
Prologue – introductory section, gives background; usually expository rather than dramatic.
Parados – entrance of the chorus, chanting. More background on story.
Episodes and Stasimon – action begins with first episode, following the parados. Usually 5 episodes though they vary. Episodes separated by choral odes called stasima.
Exodus – section after the last stasimon, contains final action of play. Two features frequently in the exodus are the messenger speech (may be earlier) and the deus ex machina, god from machine, in which the deity is brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action. Today we use this term to mean unsatisfactory solution to a problem in a story.
Chorus – always a Chorus in Greek tragedy; tragedy began with choral songs to which actors were added. Chorus fulfills several functions:
Members sang, danced, played instruments
Ideal audience – responding to action as poet wished
Modulated the atmosphere and tone; represented “typical Athenian citizens,” conservative but not submissive
Questions new characters as to origin and purpose
Choral odes showed passage of time
*As tragedy developed, role of Chorus lessened; it became a hindrance to the poet.
THEATER AND EQUIPMENT
Open air: usually large. Theater of Dionysus in Athens had more than 17,000 seats.
Theatron – seats for audience, shaped like horseshoes in rising tiers. First row had stone thrones for influential citizens and priest of Dionysus.
Orchestra (dancing place, sometimes spelled orkestra) – circular area at ground level.
Thymele (in center of orchestra) – an altar to Dionysus on which sacrifices were made.
Skene – scene building, on side of orchestra, on open end theotron. Backdrop with doors for entrances and exits.
Proscenium – level area in front of skene for action of play.
Eccyclema – wheeled platform rolled out of skene to reveal action that had taken place indoors (usually scenes of violence).
The “machine” – mechanical contrivance to lower gods to proscenium from top of skene.
Devices to imitate lightening and thunder