Elements of social satire were already mixed with jokes, songs and small scenes at that time.
This is due to the nature of Greek mythology – its deep artistic expression.
Greek mythology grew out of a desire to explain the world around us, and was closely associated with religion. The Greek tragedy is entirely based on mythology. But through the mythological shell of the playwright reflected in the tragedy of modern social life, expressed his political, philosophical and ethical beliefs. The use of mythology made the tragedy extremely intelligible. In each play, the audience met people and events he already knew, and was able to watch more freely how these myths were reworked by the playwright’s creative imagination.
According to the Greeks themselves, the tragedy in the second half of VI century. B.C. achieved significant development, using the rich legacy of epic and lyric poetry. The innovation of the tragedian Fespid greatly contributed to the strengthening of the effective side of the tragedy. He singled out a special performer from the choir – an actor. Fespid was the first tragic poet in Athens.
The first staging of his tragedy took place in the spring of 534 BC. on the feast of the Great Dionysius. This year is traditionally considered the year of birth of the world theater. Early Greek tragedies most likely resembled lyrical cantatas and consisted almost entirely of songs by a choir and an actor.
The works of early Greek tragedians have not survived. In the content of comedy, as well as in tragedy, from the very first days of its existence to religious motives were mixed mundane, which later took more and more space and eventually became predominant, or even the only, although in general comedy is still , was considered dedicated to Dionysus. The members of the comos began to act out small comic scenes: the theft by thieves of food and wine, and other scenes. Elements of social satire were already mixed with jokes, songs and small scenes at that time.
An ancient Attic comedy (5th century BC), which was political in nature, also emerged from the Attic Comos. She constantly raised the question of the political system, the activities of individual institutions of the Republic of Athens, its foreign policy, war, peace, etc. Such a comedy existed in the conditions of the Athenian slave-owning democracy.
Theatrical art of the 5th century has its highest expression. B.C. achieved in the work of three great tragedians – Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides – and the comedian Aristophanes. Other playwrights wrote with them at the same time, but only small fragments of their works have survived, and sometimes only the name of a poet.
Organization of theatrical performances
The theater in Greece was a state institution, and the organization of theatrical performances was taken over by the state itself, appointing special people for this purpose.
Dramas were staged on three holidays in honor of Dionysus: Small or Rural Dionysius (December – January); Lazy (in January – February); Great or Urban Dionysius (March – April). Dramatic performances took place as a competition of playwrights. Three tragic and comic poets took part in them.
Each of the tragedians had to present four plays: three tragedies and one satirical drama (this is a funny play on a mythological plot with a chorus consisting of satires). Three tragedies related to the unity of the plot formed a trilogy, followed by a satirical drama. The trilogy and satirical drama were a tetralogy. The competition lasted three days.
Three tragedies and one satirical drama were played every morning. In the evening they performed a comedy by one of the comic poets who took part in the competition. The playwrights received the choir from the archon, but all the costs associated with teaching the choir were borne by wealthy fellow citizens (choreographer). Khoreg had to organize a choir with his own money, make costumes for him. Dramatic competitions required six choreographers: three for tetralogies and three for comedies.
Theater lovers, whose shortcomings were not felt at that time, were chosen as choreographers. In the beginning, the playwrights wrote the music themselves and taught the choir themselves, but very soon they had to turn to special teachers for help. Performing the duty of choreographer and participating in the tragic choir was a matter of great respect. It was believed that the choirs, actors and members of the choir are under the special protection of the deity. All of them were even exempted from military service while preparing for drama competitions.
Special elected officials judged the competition. Three awards were set for the winning playwrights. The playwright, who took third place in the competition, was considered defeated. In addition to the fee, the playwright received an ivy wreath from the state as a reward.
The choreographers who prepared the choir for the winning playwrights had a great honor. Such a choir had the right to erect a monument to commemorate his victory. The time of the play, the name of the winning playwright, the title of his play, and the name of the choreographer were written on this monument. The results of the competition were recorded in the didactic, which was stored in the state archives of Athens.
Actors and masks
According to legend, Fespid himself was the only actor in his tragedies. The actor’s part alternated with the choir’s songs and made up the whole play. Shortly after Fespid, Aeschylus introduced a deuteragonist, and Aeschylus’ younger contemporary Sophocles introduced a tritagonist. The main roles were played by the protagonist in the drama.
Due to the close connection of the Greek theater with the cult of Dionysus, the actors in Greece were highly respected people and held a high social position. An actor could only be born freely. They, like playwrights, could take an active part in the life of Greece. They could be elected to senior government positions in Athens and sent as ambassadors to other states.
Initially, only the choreographer and the playwright were recognized as winners in dramatic competitions. But since the second half of the V century. B.C. the protagonists also took part in theatrical competitions. In Greek drama, the number of actors did not exceed three, so the same actor had to play several roles during the play. If there were dumb roles in the plays, they were played by extras. Female roles have always been performed by men.
Tragic and comedic actors had to be able not only to recite poems well, but also to have vocal skills, because in the most pathetic places of drama actors performed arias. Through constant practice, Greek actors developed the strength, sonority and expressiveness of the voice, the perfection of diction and brought to great perfection the art of singing.
But in addition, the Greek actor had to possess the art of dance and the art of movement in general in the broadest sense of the word. Therefore, the Greek actor needed to work hard on the flexibility and expressiveness of the body. The actors wore masks, so facial expressions were excluded from the game. Thus, Greek actors had to work harder on the art of movement and gesture.
The masks came to the Greek theater as a result of the latter’s eternal connection with the cult of Dionysus. The priest who portrayed the deity always wore a mask. However, in the theater of the classical period, masks no longer had a cult significance. But they met the objectives of the Greek theater to create large generalized images. For example, the character or the momentary mood of the protagonist was determined by the mask that the actor wore on his face: laughing, mournful, calm.
They changed every time the performer passed, respectively, from joy to sadness, from pity – to a calm mood. In addition, the color of the mask was of some importance: for example, by its crimson color, the audience recognized an irritating person, by yellow – a cunning and insidious person. The performance of female roles by men necessitated the use of a mask.
The use of the mask was also determined by the size of the Greek theater. Without the mask, the actors’ faces would be poorly visible to the audience from the back rows. Masks were made of wood or canvas, in the latter case, the canvas was stretched on the frame, covered narrative essay topics with plaster and painted.
The masks covered not only the face but also the whole head, so that the hair was attached to the mask, to which, if necessary, the beard was attached in the same way. In a tragic mask, they usually performed above the forehead to increase the actor’s height. In ancient comedy, most masks should cause laughter, hence their caricature and grotesque nature.
In addition to fictional characters, the poets of ancient comedy brought to the stage and their contemporaries. The mask in such cases was usually a cartoon portrait. The costume of the tragic actors was a variation of the lavish clothing worn by the priests of Dionysus during religious ceremonies. The theatrical chiton had long sleeves and went down to the heels. Raincoats were mainly of two types: gilmaty and chlamys.
Some characters wore special clothes. Various, often complex patterns were embroidered on theatrical chitons and cloaks – flowers, palm trees, stars, spirals, arabesques, as well as figures of people and animals. The color of the clothes also had a certain meaning: the roles of the lucky ones were performed in clothes with a yellow or red stripe, and blue or green stripes marked the losers. The shoes of the tragic actor were called koturny. The stage coils were thick, consisting of several layers of soles, which increased the height of the actor.
To add even more majesty to their figure, tragic actors fastened special pads or small pillows under their clothes, while maintaining the natural proportions of the body. In comedy, the use of pillows and pads, on the contrary, was a desire to disrupt the normal proportions of the human body and thus cause laughter.
Female comedy characters wore the usual women’s costume, male characters – a short suit or cloak. Many statuettes depicting actors of ancient Greek comedy have survived. The mask has wide eyes, an ugly nose, a wide open mouth, an enlarged abdomen and buttocks with the help of pillows.
Choir and audience
The tragic choir first numbered 12 people, then its composition was increased to 15. In comedy, the choir always consisted of 24 people. The members of the choir were called choreographers, the leader of the choir – the luminary. At the exit of the orchestra at the head of the choir was a flutist, who stopped on the steps of the altar, located in the center of the orchestra. In a tragedy, the choir usually portrayed people close to the protagonist. Thus, in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Chained, the choir consists of the Oceanids, the daughters of the Ocean, who sympathize with the suffering of Prometheus and are ready to share his fate.
The comic choir depicted not only people but also animal and fairy-tale creatures.