Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ancient Greek Theaters and Plays

The basic structure of a Greek tragedy is fairly simple. After a prologue spoken by one or more characters, the chorus enters, singing and dancing. Scenes then alternate between spoken sections (dialogue between characters, and between characters and chorus) and sung sections (during which the chorus danced). Here are the basic parts of a Greek Tragedy:
a. Prologue: Spoken by one or two characters before the chorus appears. The prologue usually gives the mythological background necessary for understanding the events of the play.
b. Parodos: This is the song sung by the chorus as it first enters the orchestra and dances.
c. First Episode: This is the first of many "episodes", when the characters and chorus talk.
d. First Stasimon: At the end of each episode, the other characters usually leave the stage and the chorus dances and sings a stasimon, or choral ode. The ode usually reflects on the things said and done in the episodes, and puts it into some kind of larger mythological framework.
For the rest of the play, there is alternation between episodes and stasima, until the final scene, called the...
e. Exodos: At the end of play, the chorus exits singing a processional song which usually offers words of wisdom related to the actions and outcome of the play.

Greek tragedies and comedies were always performed in outdoor theaters. Early Greek theaters were probably little more than open areas in city centers or next to hillsides where the audience, standing or sitting, could watch and listen to the chorus singing about the exploits of a god or hero. From the late 6th century BC to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC there was a gradual evolution towards more elaborate theater structures, but the basic layout of the Greek theater remained the same. The major components of Greek theater are labled on the diagram above.
Orchestra: The orchestra (literally, "dancing space") was normally circular. It was a level space where the chorus would dance, sing, and interact with the actors who were on the stage near the skene. The earliest orchestras were simply made of hard earth, but in the Classical period some orchestras began to be paved with marble and other materials. In the center of the orchestra there was often a thymele, or altar. The orchestra of the theater of Dionysus in Athens was about 60 feet in diameter.
Theatron: The theatron (literally, "viewing-place") is where the spectators sat. The theatron was usually part of hillside overlooking the orchestra, and often wrapped around a large portion of the orchestra (see the diagram above). Spectators in the fifth century BC probably sat on cushions or boards, but by the fourth century the theatron of many Greek theaters had marble seats.
Skene: The skene (literally, "tent") was the building directly behind the stage. During the 5th century, the stage of the theater of Dionysus in Athens was probably raised only two or three steps above the level of the orchestra, and was perhaps 25 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The skene was directly in back of the stage, and was usually decorated as a palace, temple, or other building, depending on the needs of the play. It had at least one set of doors, and actors could make entrances and exits through them. There was also access to the roof of the skene from behind, so that actors playing gods and other characters (such as the Watchman at the beginning of Aeschylus' Agamemnon) could appear on the roof, if needed.
Parodos: The parodoi (literally, "passageways") are the paths by which the chorus and some actors (such as those representing messengers or people returning from abroad) made their entrances and exits. The audience also used them to enter and exit the theater before and after the performance.

 Thank you Ivy for making your presentation to the class. Wow, this is amazing!


  1. What questions do you have? Please ask them?

  2. Are you saying that all Greek tragedies have the same structure?! Are you sure ALL of them? How could they all have the complete same sturcture?

  3. When I see a picture of the Greek theater i like to compare it to Radio City Music Hall: There is a stage,an orchestra section which is basically where the seats in the floor are located,the first,second and third mezzanine, the only difference is that it was bigger and it was outdoors.

  4. No problem! And my bad I didn't look into the structure of Greek tragedy.

  5. I like Greek plays way more than Shakespeare's plays. The only thing that anonys is me are the stasimons when the chorus is singing. I don't want to hear them, I just want the dialogue to go on its own without them. I only liked them in the end because they offered wordss of wisdom.

  6. I think it was really smart the way they created their theaters in order to get the sound all around it also because the theaters we use today are built with the a Greek theater in mind. I agree with Alyssa I like Greek plays better than Shakespeare's plays.

  7. I agree with Alyssa I like greek plays more than Shakespeares plays and the whole process of greek plays are also smart its straight to the ponit.