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Ancient Greek Theater

The start of theater takes off with the Greeks in the fifth century B. C. The Greeks were one of the first civilizations to truly perform and produce plays. They created many of the earliest tragedies/comedies some of which that still exist today . The Greeks developed basic theatrical techniques as well as formed the structure of the theater. Without their contribution we would not know theater as we know it today. In ancient Greece, plays were performed in very large, open-air structures often built on hollow sloping hillsides. These went on to be some of the first theaters.

Ancient Greek theatres had several different parts and structures to them. A major component of a Greek theater was the orchestra or “dancing space”. The orchestra was the main performance space of the theater. This was a circular space where actors would sing, dance, and perform. It was located in the very center of the theater underlying the audience. The audience of the theater was located in the Theatron or “seeing place. ” This was of course where spectators sat. The seating in an ancient theater was hollow and was built very high usually apart of the overlooking hillside.

The audience would sit in rows of benches typically made of wood or stone. The seats of the theatron were divided into sections by stairs on either side of the theater leading to the top section. Located directly behind the orchestra was the Skene or “stage building”. This structure was a low rectangular building with a main set of doors and was often decorated accordingly depending on the different needs of the play. It was used for actors to make entrances and exits as well as quick changes and also a place for actors to store their costumes or masks.

The skene also allowed actors to climb onto its roof in case it was needed for a play. Lastly was the Parods or “passageways”. Parods were long ramps located on either side of the stage building. These were the paths that the chorus and actors would as well take to make entrances and exits. The audience members also used these paths to enter and exit the theater before and after the performance. Although some theaters could alter typically you would all of these features in a common ancient Greek theater. There are several playwrights from ancient Greece whose plays and history are well noted on.

One in particular is Sophocles. Sophocles is one of the only three ancient Greek playwrights whose works have survived. Among the others there are Euripides and Aeschylus. Sophocles was a Greek playwright who lived roughly between 496-406 B. C. In his lifetime Sophocles wrote 120 plays, 7 of which that have survived in complete form. Of these 7 there are: Ajax, Antigone, The women of Trachis, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. Sophocles was born 490 B. C. sometime between 496/497 however the exact year is uncertain.

Sophocles was born to Sophillus, a wealthy armor manufacturer in the village of Colonus, outside Athens. He was born into a wealthy family and was well educated. What is known about Sophocles’s life suggests he was a frequent member in his community and possessed outstanding artistic abilities. Thoughtout his life Sophocles competed in a number of competitions at the Dionysian dramatic festival. He won his first victory at the competition in 468 B. C. defeating the great playwright Aeschylus. In all Sophocles wrote about 123 plays for the festival and competed about 30 times.

He won as many as 24 victoires and was never judged lower than 2nd place. Sophocles’s work for the festivals set him up for a life of exceptional success and achievements. Through his works, Sophocles provided important innovations to Greek drama. One of sophocles’s biggest innovations was adding a third actor to his dramas. Beforehand plays were typically limited to two actors. The addition of a third actor, done by Sophocles, intensified the conflict as well as enriched the plot and character interactions. Sophocles as well developed his characters in great detail than earlier playwrights.

Another more small innovation done by Sophocles was by adding some kind of painting or backdrop to his plays to create setting and atmosphere. Sophocles died when he was about the age of ninety in the winter of 406 B. C. The account of his death is unknown. Although there are several theories alluding to the cause of Sophocles’s death the most plausible answer is old age. One of Sophocles’s most famous plays is Antigone. Antigone is an ancient Greek tragedy written sometime in or before 441 B. C. The play includes a chorus and several main characters including, Antigone, Ismene, Creon and Haimon as well as a few other minor characters.

The play begins with Antigone and Ismene. Antigone and Ismene are sisters, both daughters of the once king of Thebes, Oedipus. Oedipus suffers from a terrible fate and has long since left Thebes. After Oedipus’s departure his two sons Eteocles and Polynices agree to rule Thebes in alternating years. However After Eteocles’s 1st term as ruler he refuses to Polynices have his turn. This angers Polynices and he calls together an army to take Thebes. The brothers duell and end up killing the other. With Eteocles and Polynices both dead, their uncle Creon is left to rule Thebes.

Creon decides he will give a proper burial to Eteocles but let Polynices’s body rot hence finding him a traitor for attacking his own city of Thebes. Creon declares a decree that if anyone dares bury Polynices their punishment will result in death. Antigone comes to Ismene to speak of Creon’s decree. She is infuriated by it and thinks Polyneices who fought just as bravely should deserve a proper burial as well. Antigone cannot betray her family and knows she must bury her brother. She urges her sister Ismene to help her however out of fear and loyalty to the state she refuses.

Antigone goes against Creon’s decree and buries her brother Polynices. Creon receives the news of Polynices’s burial by a servant who catches Antione in the act. He is of course very angry and vows to kill Antigone. Before Creon gets around to doing so however his son Haimon, Antigone’s lover, speakers to creon and tries to reason him out of killing Antigone. However Creon is stubbron and refuses to listen, hurting his son in the process. Shortly after a blind prophet named Teiresias comes to Creon telling him that because of his actions and refusal to yield he will lose someone close to him.

To avoid the prophecy of Teiresias Creon decides he will let Antigone go and build a tomb for the body of Polyneices. However surely enough it is too late and haimon has already killed himself out of sadness. Antigone as well kills herself with Haimon. When Eurydice, Creon’s wife finds out her son Haimon has died out of sadness and anger at Creon she too commits suicide. This leaves Creon drenched in misery and shame at the things he has done and curses his fate. This play deals with the themes of fate vs. free will and obedience to the law.

A good moral represented by this play is to accept the consequences of your actions. If I had to chose some type of costume or mask to represent the play, Antigone, I would chose an ancient Greek tragic mask. In Greek theater actors often wore masks to exemplify certain emotions in the play. Tragic masks often held expressions of sadness, mournfulness, or pain. The masks for Antigone would have distressed and pained faces. I would chose this type of mask to represent the play Antigone because throughout the play there are many scenes of sadness and mourn and characters are faced with making painful decisions.

For example in this play we see Antigone faced with a hard decision of whether to follow her personal beliefs and bury her brother while disobeying the law or disobeying her personal beliefs and not burying her brother but aiding to the law. Creon also has to make several hard decisions in the play. As well Several deaths happen in the play so a tragic mask is a good representation. Overall there are many similarities when it comes to the Greeks and theater. To the creation of the theater arena to great greek playwrights like sophocles and their works. The history of theater and other attributes are deeply embedded in Greek cultural.

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