Greek Theatre 5 th Century and 2 nd

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Greek Theatre

5th Century and 2nd Century B.C.

Athens, Greece
The Stage:

  • Plays were performed in outdoor theatres.

  • The theater itself was broken into 4 main parts.

  • Theatron: The place where the spectators sat and viewed the show.

  • Parados: The passageways. The chorus and some of the minor actors like a messenger would make their entrance and exit through the parados. The audience would also use these as an entrance and exit to the theater.

  • Orchestra: It’s a circular area in front of the stage. A place where the chorus were during performances. In the center of the orchestra is an alter called thymele.

  • Skene: It’s a building directly behind the stage. The stage itself is raised about 3 or 4 feet above the orchestra. The skene was decorated accordingly to the play that was being performed. So in the instance of Lysistrata they would of most likely used the skene as the Acropolysis. There was at least one set of doors which the actors would make their entrance and exit from. Access to the roof from behind for actors playing Gods. Skene was also used for housing props, and machinery.

  • Most famous of the theaters was the theatre of Dionysus which was named after the Greek God Dionysus; the God of fertility, wine, agriculture, and sexuality.

  • Seats were entirely made of stone, most were just stone benches but a few up close got stone seats as the years went on some of the more well off Greeks brought pillows with them.

  • Could seat almost 17 000 people

  • Huge gestures were needed in portraying anything as theater was so big.


  • A theatre competition where playwrights would put in 4 plays. 3 of which were tragedies and a satyr, which was a comical piece that came at the end of the 3 tragedies to lighten the load laid on the audience by the tragedies.

  • The Dionysia was the biggest of these and happened over the course of 5 days in March.

  • It was a big religious event and everyone in the city would attend.

  • The central even of Dionysia was tragedies and later on comedies were added but never got big

  • It was the second most important festival in Greece next to the Panathenaia.

  • One set of plays would be performed each day.

  • The winner would receive a goat, which was a common symbol for Dionysus.

  • The word tragedy means goat-song


  • Recognized as father of tragedy and earliest of the three Greek tragedy writers

  • Introduced 2nd character to the stage. Before Aeschylus only one character was ever on stage at a time and they only interacted with the chorus

  • Estimated to have written 92 plays but only 7 survived.

  • 6 out of 7 of Aeschylus plays won first prize at the City Dionysia theatre competition. Prometheus Bound’s success is unsure. He won first prize 13 times over the course of his life.


  • Wrote 120+ plays in his lifetime but only 7 survived.

  • The most awarded playwright in the dramatic competitions for almost 50 years.

  • He competed in around 30 competitions and won 24 and never placed lower then 2nd.

  • Sophocles often defeated Aeschylus.

  • Added the role of the 3rd actor on stage. This created greater opportunity for character development and conflicts with the characters.

  • His plays created deeper character development then that of early playwrights.

  • Oedipus the King is used by Aristotle as an example of the perfect tragedy.


  • Thought to have written 95 plays in his lifetime with 18 surviving to date.

  • Many of his plays showed strong woman characters.

  • Only won first prize in the Dionysia four times.

  • After 4th century BC Euripides plays became the most popular of the three tragic writers.

  • He is seen by scholars now a days as being too modern for his time. His characters were very realistic. Aristotle said, “Sophocles portrayed men as the ought to be, and Euripides portrayed them as they were.” His realistic characters sometimes though made for unrealistic plots leading to deus ex machina to have to end his plays.


  • The only comedic writer to have his plays survive from Ancient Greek era.

  • Known as father of comedy

  • Thought to have written somewhere between 40 and 44 plays with only 11 surviving.

  • He was victorious once at the Dionysia competition as he wasn’t a tragic writer for the most part but won three times at Lenaia. At Lenaia comedies were far more important than tragedies.


  • There is not a whole lot known about Greek comedy.

  • Characterized by a prominent role of the chorus, the use of obscenity in both language and gesture, emphasis on political and social satire, and a concern for current events.

  • The use of masks and fake body parts was huge. Often they would put fake bellies in female characters to add humor to it.

  • The masks were more over the top then those used in tragedy.


  • Often dealt with myths, mythological beings, and stories from far off lands or long ago. This way it would not be as if anyone was taking a gab at the common folk of Athens.

  • Aristotle’s Poetics is the leading book on what tragedy is.

  • A tragedy should involve a great person who experiences a reversal of fortune.

  • The reversal of fortune is caused by a characters tragic mistake. So the change to bad fortune is not because of a moral defect but it is a good person making a mistake of some kind.

  • The downfall needs to be brought on by the protagonist himself.

  • In the end the tragic hero should go through some revelation or recognition and realize the flaw and error they made which led to their downfall.

  • The change from good to bad should lead feelings of pity and fear from the spectators. Catharsis.

  • The chorus sung must of their lines to flute accompaniment. The chorus danced as well as singing.

  • All actors were male and wore masks. The masks not only covered the face of the actors but acted as a sound amplifier. Showed emotions. Let actors switch between roles to allow for smaller casts. One person would play many roles. Play characters of different genders.

  • The showing of violence or death on the stage was not prohibited. So whenever somebody in a tragedy was going to die they would go off stage into the skene. Once back their they would use a device called an ekkyklema to show the death. Basically this was a cart on wheels and the dead would be placed on their in a tableau showing them dead, this would then be wheeled onto the stage to show the audience the aftermath of what had happened offstage.

  • The theatre was considered a holy place so to kill somebody on stage was to kill them in the real world.

  • Another piece of machinery was the machina which was a crane used to hoist actors playing Gods in the air as if they were flying in. The God would then fix all the problems and make everything ok and it would all end happily ever after. Leading to the term deus ex machina.

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