Greek theatre: from the 6th century BC
The origins of Greek theatre lie in the revels of the followers of Dionysus, a god of fertility and wine. In keeping with the god’s special interests, his cult ceremonies are exciting occasions. His female devotees, in particular, dance themselves into a state of frenzy. Carrying long phallic symbols, known as thyrsoi, they tear to pieces and devour the raw flesh of sacrificial animals.
But the Dionysians also develop a more structured form of drama. They dance and sing, in choral form, the stories of Greek myth.
In the 6th century BC a priest of Dionysus, by the name of Thespis, introduces a new element which can validly be seen as the birth of theatre. He engages in a dialogue with the chorus. He becomes, in effect, the first actor. Actors in the west, ever since, have been proud to call themselves Thespians.
According to a Greek chronicle of the 3rd century BC, Thespis is also the first winner of a theatrical award. He takes the prize in the first competition for tragedy, held in Athens in 534 BC.
A lot of the influences from the Greeks are still around today, such as the masks they used to show emotion and character, which are often used as a symbol of theatre. These masks were introduced by Thespis himself, a poet who won a dramatic play competition, and whom actors today are often named after6 thespians.
The First Facts About Theater World
The first plays were performed with just one actor (called a protagonist) and a chorus of people who helped him to tell the story. However, throughout the 5th century BC playwrights continued to innovate.
The playwright Aeschylus added a second speaking role, called the antagonist, and reduced the chorus from 50 to 12. His play ‘The Persians’, first performed in 472 BC, is the oldest surviving of all Greek plays.
His pupil, Sophocles went on to add a third actor, while Euripides added both a prologue, introducing the subject of the play, and the deus ex machina, a divine figure who wrapped up any loose ends at the close.
Wealthy citizens would sponsor plays by paying a tax called the choregia. And just like Pisistratus, the tyrant who established the ‘City Dionysia’ to enhance his own popularity, many of these wealthy patrons hoped the success of the play they sponsored would provide them with a way into politics.
The first plays were performed in the Theatre of Dionysus, built in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens at the beginning of the 5th century, but theatres proved to be so popular they soon spread all over Greece.
The drama was classified according to three different types of genres: comedy, tragedy and satyr play.