Theatre of Ancient Greece
6th Century BCE
Why did theatre begin?
 The need to imitate and tell stories
 The need to worship
– Dionysus was the Greek god of fertility. He
was the son of Zeus and Semele (a mortal).
– According to legend, he was killed and then
resurrected and so his life is related to the cycle
of birth, maturation, death, and re-birth (the
four seasons).
– He is worshipped to ensure the return of spring.
How Dionysus was worshipped
 Dithyrambs were hymns that related
episodes from the life of Dionysus.
– They were performed by 50 men led by a
priest—the chorus
– Later, this chorus dressed as satyrs—creatures
that were half man and half goat
– The worship became known as the “goat song”
(tragoedia) from which we get our word
The Festivals of Dionysus
 There were three festivals at which drama
developed in the city of Athens
– City Dionysia—March
– Lenaia—January
– Rural Dionysia—December
City Dionysia
 10 dithyrambs were presented each year
 Following the dithyrambs, there were 3
days of plays
– Tragedies
– Comedies
– Satyr plays
• Satyr plays had a comic tone and were a spoof on a
Greek myth
• This is where we get the word “satire”
The first actor
 Thespis was the
first actor.
– This is where we
get our word
“thespian” (as in
the International
Thespian Society)
which means
 He stepped out of the
chorus in 534BCE and
spoke dialogue
 We know this because
he won the first award
for acting that year.
 There was no conflict
because the single
actor played many
parts using masks.
Greek playwrights
 Aeschylus (525-456BCE)
– He added the second actor.
– He is regarded as the father or founder of Western
 Sophocles (496-406BCE)
– Added the third actor
– Reduced the chorus from 50 to 12
– Developed the “tragic flaw”
– Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus
Greek playwrights continued
 Euripedes (480-406BCE)
– Dealt with the inner conflict of good and evil
– The Trojan Women
 Aristophanes (448-380BCE)
– “Old comedy”
– Lysistrata, The Clouds, The Birds
 Menander (342-292BCE)
– “New comedy”
– Wrote about middle class citizens
Greek Theatre Architecture
 Orchestra—the
“dancing place,”
circular, at the base of
a hill with seating
terraced up the hillside
 Thymele—an altar to
Dionysus located at
the center of the
More Greek Theatre Architecture
 Skene—scenehouse,
used as a dressing
room and eventually
in the action, had one
or more doors and was
two stories for the
appearance of gods
More Greek Theatre Architecture
 Theatron—the “seeing
place,” the auditorium
– Originally, patrons stood.
– Then, wooden seating.
– Then stone seating.
 Paradoi—entrances to
the orchestra at either
end of the skene used
by the chorus, actors,
and spectators
Costumes and Masks
 Chiton—an
 All actors and the
embroidered robe or
 Kothornos—soft shoe
or boot reaching to the
calf with a thick sole
to add height
 Onkos—a high
chorus wore masks
that covered the entire
 In comedies, the
masks had
exaggerated features.
Set pieces
 Ekkyklema—a
platform on wheels
that could be rolled
out with a body on it
to show or explain an
offstage death
 Pinakes—painted
panels similar to
today’s flat, false walls
Set pieces continued
 Periaktoi—a triangular
prism with a different
scene painted on each side
that was rotated to show a
change in location
 Machina—a mechanical
crane used to lower gods.
Deus ex machina means
“god from the machine”
and was when a god was
lowered down to solve all
the problems.
A Greek Critic
 Aristotle—Greek, wrote Poetics.
– The 3 unities
• Time—24 hours
• Place—1 place or more than 1 with less than a 24 hour
• Action—1 plot and no subplots
– The 6 parts of drama
• Plot (story), character (people), thought (theme),
diction (language), music (sound), spectacle (costume,
setting, props, etc)

Theatre of Ancient Greece