Greek theater began over 2,500 years ago. It began in the religious festivals that honored Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the harvest. The festivals grew in popularity and importance until, at its peak, the great theater festival in Athens lasted six days. Over 15,000 people attended the festival each year.
The earliest plays were stories told by a chorus of men and boys. According to legend, one day a man named Thespis stepped out of the chorus and spoke alone. The chorus then responded to his speeches. Thespis was the first actor. Today we call actors Thespians in his honor. Later, the number of actors increased to three, in addition to the chorus. Each actor in the Greek theater played more than one role. To portray different roles, the actor wore different masks. The masks of comedy and tragedy have become symbols of the theater.
Greek authors entered their plays in contests for the festival. The winning playwright won a prize of money and an ivy wreath to wear as a symbol of victory. Greek theater had many important playwrights. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote tragedies (dramas in which the main character suffers a disastrous end). Aristophanes and Menander wrote comedies (light, humorous dramas with a happy ending). A special type of play called the satyr play made fun of the Greek legends. We get our word satire from this. Some of the most famous Greek plays were Oedipus, Antigone, Electra, Medea, The Birds, and The Frogs.
The great Greek philosopher and teacher, Aristotle, wrote The Poetics. In this book he discussed the theater of his time. Aristotle discussed important topics of the theater including plot (what happens), theme (the idea or message), character, music, diction (speech), and spectacle (what was seen). Aristotle became the first literary critic.
The Greeks built their theaters on hillsides. They used the natural slope of the hill for seating the audience. A large circular area called the orchestra was located at the foot of the hill. It was here that the members of the chorus moved as theychanted their lines. Behind the orchestra was a raised platform on which the actors performed. A small building named the skene was built in back of the acting platform. The skene was where the actors changed masks. The Greeks used the front wall of the skene to represent the location of the play. Our word scene comes from skene.The Greek theater also had special machinery including platforms on wheels and a device to lower an actor from the top of the skene house onto the stage. They used this device to show a god coming down to earth. The Greeks also used scenery to help give locations for the action of the play.
The Greek era is one of the most important times in theater history.
Greek Theatre Worksheet Name:
Theatre Arts I Period:
Please answer the following questions:
1. What did Greek theater originally celebrate?
2. How many people attended the yearly festivals honoring Dionysus?
3. Who is known as the first actor?
4. How did Greek actors change roles?
5. Who wrote Greek tragedies?
6. Who wrote Greek comedies?
7. What type of play made fun of Greek legends?
8. Who was the first known literary critic?
What book did he write about the theater of his time?
9. Where did the Greeks build their theaters?
10. In Greek drama, what was the function of the orchestra?
11. What was the skene?