Greek theatre staging

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Aristophanes (c. 448—380 bc) Greek comic dramatist

Aeschylus (525—456 bc) Greek dramatist


Aristotle (384—322 bc)

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Theatres in antiquity were constantly modified and rebuilt, and the surviving remains give few clear clues to the nature of the theatrical space available to the Classical dramatists of the 5th cent. There is, for example, no physical evidence for a circular orchēstra (dancing‐place for chorus) earlier than that of the great theatre at Epidaurus c.330. For 5th‐cent. Athens, one might think of a metropolitan version of the deme‐theatre at Thoricus, where the audience was seated much closer to the stage in a rectilinear arrangement. The stage and probably the stage building (skēnē) were wooden at this period. Vases with scenes from Attic comedy from the late 5th and early 4th cents. suggest that by this time the stage was c.1 m. (3¼ ft.) high with a flight of steps in the centre communicating with the orchestra. The stage was entered from either side, and from a central door in the stage building, representing palace, temple (and sometimes pavilion, tomb, or cave) in tragedy; for comedy, three doors are certain for the 4th cent., and were probably available in the 5th. The central door also housed the ekkyklēma, a wheeled platform large enough to display set‐pieces of events that had taken place inside, like Ajax's torture and slaughtering of the animals in his tent in Sophocles' Ajax. Towards the right (western) end of the stage area a crane (mēchanē, māchina) could be manipulated from behind the stage building to bring gods or heroes through the air onto the stage, or to have them fly up from it. The roof of the stage building was also accessible: it was used for the watchman on the roof in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, but in later tragedy mostly for the appearance of gods. The contrast between the hidden interior of the stage building and the daylight outside, between the gods on high and the actors on stage, and between these and the chorus, half‐way to the audience and virtually within its territory, are all factors which the playwrights exploited. In the 4th cent. the most important development was the so‐called Lycurgan theatre with its stone stage building faced with semi‐columns.

It is hard to say much of the appearance of tragedy in the Classical period. Masks probably had conventionalized, but not exaggerated features, with costumes rich and formal, as is suggested by the actors' costumes on the Pronomos vase of the end of the 5th cent.: that is presumably why Aristophanes could make jokes against Euripides when he abandoned some of its magnificence for his royal heroes in distress, like Telephus king of Mysia as an exile and a beggar. Comedy is better represented in the material remains. From the mid‐6th cent. onwards comic choruses are shown in careful and colourful detail, and to identify a comedy by its chorus remained an artistic convention until the middle of the 4th cent. From the time of Aristophanes onwards we also find representations of actors, both in terracotta figurines and in vase‐paintings, where they are often shown in stage action.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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