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700 B.C. was the time and Athens, Greece was the place. Religion was a large part of daily life. Many festivals were being held in honor of the ancient Greek gods. One festival is mainly accredited with the invention of Greek Drama. This festival called the City Dionysia was held in honor of the Greek god Dionysus, the son of Zeus. Dionysus was the god of everything fun (such as wine, sex, and parties). Although these festivals were fun they were also a very spiritual time for the people. Goats were a very large part of their ceremonies. The men at these festivals would dress up in goatskins and get drunk. During their drunken stupor they would compete in acting out skits. The winner would get the honor of winning. Each time this festival was held it lasted three days. One major play was presented each day of the festival. Greek plays were sort of like our modern day Operas because a large portion of the play was sung. Because of this ancient form of drama we now have what we call "modern drama".
Tragedy and comedy were the two major components in the plays that were presented. The word "tragedy" when translated literally means "goat song". This is because of the weight that goats had on these ceremonies. Goats were sexual symbol to Greeks, like lingerie is today. The men would dress up in goatskin and dance like goats around a sacrificial goat in honor of the god Dionysus. Tragedy served the purpose of putting "fear and pity" into ones mind. Tragedies involved above average people who spoke in an above average language. The main character of the play was usually a god, king, or hero of some sort. The plot of a tragedy usually followed a myth. The main character would suffer a transformation from a good life to a bad one. This change was thought to be brought on by a character flaw called a "tragic flaw". Tragedies were not always "tragic", a lot of the time they had happy endings. Although all the plays were fiction, tragedies were thought of to be unrealistic and unbelievable. Comedies on the other hand were thought of as being realistic to the common people. The players in a comedy were always average or below average people. The plot consisted of an average person having something great happen their lives. So you see comedy and tragedy in this time were not classified by whether they made you laugh or cry, as they are in today's society, but by the plot and characters in the play.
During these festivals there were four major play writes. Three of which wrote tragedies and one who wrote comedies. These writers were Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, who all wrote tragedies, and Aristophanies, who wrote comedies. Sophocles the most famous of the tragedy writers made many changes to the way that these plays were presented. Sophocles won twenty-four contests and never placed below second place according to history. He wrote still popular plays such as Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Colonus, and Antigone. Because the festivals were three days long some of the plays are thought of today as trilogies even though they were not written or presented that way. A good example is the three plays listed above. Other plays that these men were responsible for writing are Hercules, The Persians, and Lysistrata. Over 250 plays were written and only 33 tragedies and 11 comedies survived. The writer's did not only write the plays but acted in them, directed them, and taught the songs and dances to the chorus and other actors.
The writer of the play played the lead roles in the plays. For a long time there was just one actor and the chorus. A second was added shortly after these plays began. A third was then added due to Sophocles. The chorus acted as the narrator of the play, it was considered to be "the mouth piece of society". It started out being 12 men and later Sophocles added 3 more men for a total of 15. In the beginning the actors were chosen by the writers but by the 5th century B.C. they were being chosen by the state. The actors were always men even though they
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Ancient Greek theatre, Sophocles, Dionysia, Tragedy, Theatre of ancient Greece, Theatre, Oedipus the King, Aeschylus, Euripides, Drama, Antigone, Greek chorus
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