Greek Theatre – History of Drama

In early ages, people used to communicate without using words. They also performed some sort of ritualistic communication to protect themselves from animals. Then gradually they started to put language in and started to do some sort of performances for their own amusement. This kept on evolving and took the face of the type of performances we see now days.

The Greek Theatre originated in 300 BC. The Greek Empire however originated in 600 BC. Greeks were the first who invented the theatre as a place to perform and watch performances. A famous Greek philosopher, named Homer talked about Gods and Legends. He also told some of the very famous stories of that time such as Illiod. Homer also spoke about Mortal Heros, which then became some of the characters of these performances.

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The first ever theatre performances were done in Greece carried out by priests. These performances were religious. They started of by performing in the mountains as it helped them to project their voices to a longer distance with as the sound in the mountains echoed. All of these performances were based on Greek Gods. The main Greek God was Dionysus. He was the God of Wine, Agriculture and Fertility of Nature. Most of the plays were based around Dionysus himself.

The main theme or genre of the performances was tragedy but as time passed comic plays were also performed. Because the plays were done in a very large scale the audience was quite big as well. So to accommodate everyone mountains were carved to make seats. These kinds of theatres were called amphitheatres. The amphitheatres seated about 20,000 people at a time.

Due to the open atmosphere and a very large audience it was very difficult for the audience to hear the characters speak clearly. To overcome this barrier, 50 people stared speaking at the same time. This group of people was called The Chorus.

The first function of the chorus was as narrator (telling stories, providing information).

Other functions of the chorus were to

  •  Bridge the gap between the audience and the players and to intensify the emotion.
  •  Maintain a sense of ceremony and ritual
  •  Establish a lyric mood through rhythmic chanting and dance
  •  Reinforce the passions of the dramatic action
  •  Connect the audience and the actors by making responses and asking questions
  •  Unite music, dance, and speech and connect dramatic episodes.

The Chorus resolved one problem but there was another obstacle. People sitting at the back of the audience found it very difficult to recognise the characters and therefore did not fully understand the plays. So to resolve this they decided to use over exaggerated costumes that were very bright and colourful. In Greek theatre comic actors wore different costumes than tragic actors. They exaggerated the natural lumps and bumps of the body by wearing heavy padding. They often covered the padding with thick floppy tights and tunics, which may be meant to represent skin. They wore grotesque masks over their faces so people can recognise the characters from distance easily. Female characters were always played by men dressed up as women. But perhaps the most unusual feature of their costumes was the large leather phallus, which they tied over the top of their tights.