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Greek Theater in 5th Century BCE

The Ancient Greeks, probably one of the most fascinating civilizations to study contributed several discoveries and technological advancements. One can not discuss the Greeks without discussing Greek Theatre though. Greek Theater paved the way for literature and art in later history in many ways. If it wasnt for Greek Theatre famous play writers like Shakespeare would have never done what they are so very well known for. When studying Greek Theatre it is virtually impossible not to hear about it in the 5th Century BCE, and that is because the 5th Century BCE was rather exciting when it came to Greek Theatre.

The origin of Greek Theatre in 5th Century BCE is not known. Dozens of hypotheses exist, but there is not really any conclusive hard evidence. What is known on the other hand is that tragedies were first performed in Athens in 6th Century BCE, and that they were very simple. They only had one actor and one chorus. In the 5th Century BCE this changed though. A second and third actor were added to plays, but there were no more then three speaking actors on stage at once. Throughout 5th Century BCE the average size of the chorus was twelve through fifteen members.

The theatrical performances were part of the worship of the god Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine. Out of the four festivals of worship for Dionysus, two them included theatrical performances. Greek theater wasnt an everyday thing in 5th Century BCE. There were only performances on certain days in the year. In the city of Dionysea, three days were given to tragedy and one day was given to comedies. In the Lenean, festival comedies, and at times tragedies were presented as well. Therefore theatre was from 6-7 days a year.

There was no theater throughout the rest of the year. During the 5th Century BCE three tragedy playwrights were chosen to have their work presented. A similar amount of comedy playwrights were selected to have their work presented as well. The selections were made by one of the three archons, who were the chief administrators of Athens. Each playwright who was selected was responsible for staging and being one of the actors in the play for most of the century. A choregus, otherwise known as a wealthy citizen, was assigned to underwrite the expenses involved in the process.

This assignment was a form of taxation. Greek theaters back then were always built on the side of hills. The main theatre in Athens was The Theatre of Dionysus, built into the south slope of Acropolis. During 5th Century BCE all elements of the theatre were made of wood, and were dismantled at the end of he festival. In the 4th Century was when stone started being used as the material for building theatres. The Theatre of Dionysus was made of four basic sections. One of these parts were the Theartron. The Theartron is where the audience sat to watch the performances.

The Theatre of Dionysus Theartron was big enough to hold eighteen to twenty thousand spectators. Right in front of the Theartron was the Orchestra. The Orchestra was about sixty-five feet in diameter, and was where the chorus sand and danced. Behind the orchestra was the skene. The skene was a wooden building that had atleast one central door for actors to make their entrances and exits, but there might have been two other doors in the wall of the skene facing the spectators. The last section was the parados.

The parados was in between the skene and the theatron, and this is where the audience entered and exited the theatre and where the chorus entered and exited the theatre as well. The Theatre of Dionysus is probably perhaps the largest facility ever created for watching theatrical performances. At least two thirds of the citizens of Athens could be accommodated in The Theatre of Dionysus. Every theatre like the Theatre of Dionysus had a parados, a theatron, a skene, and an orchestra. The Greek theatre also had machines. Two of the most well-known machines were the mechane, and the ekkyklema.

The mechane was a crane used in tragedy and comedy in the fifth century for hoisting characters in the air, most often to represent flight. Ekkyklema is a platform on wheels rolled out through a door in the skene, used to indicate that whatever is on the platform (actors and props) is supposed to be viewed as an interior scene . Theres only a portion of the output of the four 5th Century BCE playwrights that have survived. Three of them were tragedies. These were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The only comic playwright output that survived was Aristophanes. Most of the tragedies followed the format below.

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