Greek Theater – Concepts, Characteristics and Definitions


What is Greek theater?

The Greeks were the first to stage the politics, religion and daily life of their time.  Therefore, it is in the Greek theater where the concepts of drama, melodrama, satire, parody, tragedy and comedy arise. Therefore, the main function of the theater was to entertain, while at the same time criticizing society and the times they lived in, either by representing the rulers and the gods through parodies, providing moral lessons through fables, as well as exalting different values, such as honor, honesty, filial love, conjugal love, among others.

Thus, in literature, it is specified that it was in Greece where theatrical representations were assigned a particular place. Since, the theater, as a physical stage was built on the slopes of mountains to bring the required acoustics and ensure that the entire audience could hear the dialogues and choruses.

To define the Greek theater it is necessary to do it from the physical stage and from the performance, since both consolidate the concept of theater in ancient Greece. Thus, both scenarios make up a type of spectacle performed in Greece in the V and III centuries B.C. Therefore, the physical stage was built in a specific way so that all the spectators present could listen to the play.

Such is the case of the circular spaces under the open sky, in which the staging took place in the center of the space, placing the audience around the performers or actors. In the beginning, the theater had ritual and religious purposes, more of celebration, with a very symbolic perspective that is maintained in many of its principles until today. Therefore, the Greek theater contained a series of elements that characterized it such as:

The orchestra, which is the place where the choirs in charge of singing were placed. The skene, which was an elevated platform where the actors were and the koilon, defined by the stands where the audience was located. Similarly, the Greek theater is notably differentiated by the costumes, which are complemented by masks to cover the essential face in the representations that occurred in early times. Likewise, one of the main theater stages is the theater of Dionysus located in the Acropolis of Athens, dedicated to the god that bears his name with capacity for sixteen thousand (16000) spectators.

What is Greek theater

How did Greek theater develop?

The first manifestations of the dramatic genre of Greek theater took place in Athens, and were closely linked to rituals due to their religious origin. Therefore, two tendencies are already glimpsed in the Greek theater, which had to do with the gods and were determined with the names of Apollonian and Dionysian.

The Apollonian has to do with the god Apollo who is, after Zeus, the most important god of the Olympic Parthenon, since his image appears with a bow and a lyre, being the god of temperance. Apollo is also the god of knowledge, of truth and therefore of purification. Likewise, the Dionysian comes from the god Dionysus who is the youngest of the Olympian Gods, the popular God, symbolizing wine.

The most important trend in Greek theater is drama, which has the following characteristics:

  1. It begins as a religious form of worship of the Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo.
  2. The earliest form of drama includes Greek chants and songs performed by choruses.
  3. New myths were introduced and added.
  4. When the actor tired, a second and third actor were added to the scene.
  5. The choirs were between 15 and 50 people.
  6. The actors’ dialogues gradually became more important.

Drama was classified into three types:

Comedy: which was a type of funny drama to make fun of men of high power.  The most famous comedies written were those of Aristophanes and later Menander.

Tragedy which was about a character committing a crime, typically involved feelings such as love, pride, power, loss.  The scenography was centered on gods and men. The most famous tragedy writers were Achilles, Sophocles and Euripides.

Satire is a genre of fast-paced theater that makes fun of the situation of the main characters and is performed between acts of tragedy.

What is the legacy of Greek theater

What is the legacy of Greek theater?

The world is full of famous Broadway shows, musicals and plays and it is all too easy to take it all for granted. One might ask, where did all this spectacle begin? Theater as already stated began in Greece where dramas and comedies were presented that adored crowds cohesively held tightly together. Greek scenes and theater are one of its great legacies with many details. Thus Greek theater began when dramas were performed at religious festivals.

Then, these dramas were a different form of storytelling. So, about 500 years B.C. the Athenians were deeply involved with their dramas and therefore, Athens held contests for dramas, the first winner being an actor named Thespis. So, people would attend this festival at the theater of Dionysus to watch comedies and tragedies for about a week. Then, Athens was the main place to see scenes and theater, so, many civilians would travel from far away to see their festival.

Now, the theaters of Athens were very different compared to the modern theaters of today. All Greek theaters in the age of Pericles were outdoor, open-air and in the shape of a half circle. The scene or stage was the main focus and was increasing by a few feet. Only three actors were allowed in the skene at a time.

Then, the continuation of the skene was the orchestra, where other actors joined in to sing and converse with the stage actors. Thus, the orchestra was flat and in the shape of a circle. Finally, the theatron was where people stood to watch the comedies and tragedies. Likewise, the benches were uncomfortable seats but spectators usually brought cushions to sit on.

So, life would be very strange without plays and theater, as many jobs and careers have been made today out of plays and theater. Broadway is a great example of this with its many actors, producers, musicians, stage hands and many more careers that would not have been started without a small festival honoring Dionysus in Athens. That is why theater today is a common field, enjoyable beyond time and a creative outlet.

The world would not know what to do for the next while without theater. In this sense, if actors and theater had not been created, there would be no television shows, movies, musicals and scenes. That is why Greek theater has influenced each of these major parts of everyday life.

Who are the main representatives of Greek theater?

During the Byzantine period, theatrical art sharply declined. According to Mario Ploritis, the only way for the theater to survive was through the popular theater of mimes and pantomimes, despite the official hostility of the state. Later, during the Ottoman period, the main theatrical art was the Karagiozis. However, the renaissance led to the modern Greek theater, which took place in Venetian Crete. Being the significant Dramaturges of the time, Vitsentzos Kornaros and Georgios Chortatzis.

the main representatives of Greek theater

In the old comedy, which was the initial phase of ancient Greek comedy (c. 5th century BC), was known through the works of Aristophanes, which are characterized as a cheerful and exuberant satire of public persons and affairs. Composed of songs, dances, personal inventiveness and buffoonery, they also openly include political criticism and commentary on literary and philosophical themes.

These scenes consist of loosely related episodes. They gradually acquired a six-part structure: an introduction, in which the basic fantasy is explained and developed; the parodos, entrance of the chorus; the contest, or agon, a ritualized debate between opposing principles, usually common characters; the parabasis, in which the chorus addresses the audience on the issues of the day and launches dissolute criticism of prominent citizens; a series of absurd scenes; and a final banquet or wedding.  Thus, the chorus was often disguised as animals, while the characters wore masks with grotesque features and street clothes.