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Ancient Greek Theatre

Greek: Αρχαιο Ελληνικο Θεατρο
Dramatic Genres: Tragedy, Comedy and Satyr
Major Playwrights: Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripedes
Major Theatres: Epidaurus and Dionysus

The theatre at Epidaurus.

The theatre at Epidaurus.

Ancient Greek theatre was the most popular form of entertainment in Ancient Greece. The Greeks helped spread theatre to its many colonies and allies to help promote a common cultural identity, which is why theatres can be found as far as the Middle East and Italy. Theatre reached its height during the 5th Century, most notably in Athens, as this was known as the Golden Age of Greek drama. Many of the plays we know of today originated in Athens and were performed at the theatre of Dionysus. What we know of ancient Greek theatre is what has survived. Up until the Hellenistic period in the late 4th century BCplays were only performed once in honour of Dionysus, therefore what we know of these plays is what has been remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became popular during the Hellenistic period.

Theatre was especially important to the Athenians who created a competition and festival at the theatre of Dionysus in honour of the God Dionysus in 508 BC. This took place once in the winter and once in the spring and was a competition between three tragic playwrights that had to each submit three tragedies and one satyr play. One of the first winners of this competition was Phrynichus who was the first to use female characters (not female performers) and to use a historical subject in one of his plays. One of his plays, the ‘Fall of Miletus’ produced in 493 BC, was a play about the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. The story goes that when the play was first performed the whole theatre was weeping, such was the grief for the taking of Miletus to the Athenians and such was the powerful nature theatre had on the Greeks. He was then fined by the state who forebode the performance of that play forever.

Ancient Greek theatres were built on very large scales, some holding as many as ten thousand people. These theatres were designed to have the best acoustics so that the actors’ voices could be heard throughout the theatre, and even in the last rows. Beginning in 465 BC backdrops began to be used behind the orchestra. This also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. Masks were also used and these often told of how the character was feeling.

Interesting link to the top ten plays of ancient Greece:
10 Greek Plays That Are Essential to Any Education

History of Theatre – Development of Classical Greek Tragedy:

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