History of Theatre 1 – From Ritual to Theatre (Subtitles: English, Español, Dutch)


History of Western Theatre From ritual to theatre The origin of theatre
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. might be found in the ritual circle or rectangle: the orchestra or dancing place, laid out at the foot of a hill. Here, Dionysus was celebrated, the Greek God of fertility and wine,
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. said to be born out of the thigh of Zeus.
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. The worship of Dionysus was ecstatic by nature.
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. In the sixth century Before Christ the celebration became formalized and ritualized. Women were not allowed anymore to participate. Nearby the orchestra, a temple of Dionysus was built, and in the middle of the orchestra a thymele, or altar was placed,
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. and it is thought that the celebration started with the sacrificing of a goat called ‘Tragos’.
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, A probably uniformly dressed chorus of up to fifty men sang, accompanied by perhaps
more or less Oriental sounding music a socalled Dithyramb,
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. a hymn in honor of Dionysus.
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. Symbolic gestures of the chorus dance seem to have been closely related to the words that were sung. Allegedly, the poet Arion was the first to transform the dithyramb
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. into a literary compostion.
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. With Arion, the beauty of language entered the ritual celebration. In the late fivehundreds Before Christ in Athens, a democratic discourse arose, striving to give all male inhabitants
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. of middle and lower classes
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. a voice in state-affairs. In that period. a singer of dithyrambs, named Thespis,
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. is credited with innovating a new way of performing the dithyrambs, in which a solo actor impersonated the characters of the songs. He used masks to distinguish between different characters. He became the answerer or hypokrites. By wearing a mask of, for instance, a god, he, as it were, steppped out his normal being: the extase, and came in a state of divinity the enthoustase. The actor spoke and acted as if he was divine, and interacted with the leader
of the chorus and its members, who acted as narrators and commentators. This new style of performance, based on a written text, and not to forget, in the presence of an audience, may have marked the birth of theatre as we know it today. It is claimed that Thespis travelled about on a cart with plays. This could mean that he performed in several Greek towns. This itinerant theatre is kept up until long after the middle ages. In 534 Before Christ, during an annual festival,
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. called: ‘The City of Dionysia’
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. a competition for the best tragedy was instituted
by the ruler of Athens at that time: Peisistratus, and Thespis won this first documented competition. Thespis’ pupil, Phrynichus, was credited with introducing into drama female characters, played by men, wearing female masks. He also introduced contemporary subjects. he won the competion with the Phoenissae, who celebrated the defeat of the Persian king: Xerxes at the Sea-battle of Salamis.

However, none of his works, nor that of any other dramatist from the sixth century BC, have survived. In the fifth century the ‘City Dionysia Festival’ became very popular in Athens. Temporary wooden tiers of benches were built up on the side of the Acropolis. Note the rectangular shape of this orchestra. During the festival a rectangular building, called the skene,
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. meaning tent or hut,
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. was erected behind the orchestra, where the actor, who played several rolls, could change his costume and mask. Perhaps the skene itself served to represent the location of the plays, usually set in front of a temple, palace or house. Typically, there were two or three doors in the skene that led out onto the orchestra, and from which the actor probably could enter and exit. Only much later, in the fourth century BC, the skene became a permanent stone structure. Of all the hundreds of tragedies known to be written in the fifth century thirty-two tragedies of only three playwrights have survived. The first of these playrights was Aeschylus.
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. He diminished the importance of the chorus, and reduced it to twelve men. He probably innovated a second actor, thus making dialogue between characters possible. Each of the two actors usually played more than one roll, including female characters. They wore always painted masks
made of perishable linen, cork or lightweight wood. In particular on vase paintings, these tragic masks and costumes are depicted, But. in most cases these vases are from a period later than the fifth century. Tragic actors in costume Members of the chorus with mask Tragic actors in costume. Aeschylus has written about eighty plays, only seven have survived. Now we see a brief summary of a TV recording of his tragedy: ‘Agamemnon’, in which the actors wear masks. Note that the performance is indoors. In Aeschylus times the actors played in the open air, with thousands of spectators. so in those days the delivery was probably
more declamatory than realistic. The play starts with a Prologue. This watchman is standing on the roof of the skene, representing the palace of Agamemnon. He is waiting for a signal, announcing the fall of Troy to the Greek armies.>>WATCHMAN: The torch place that means
that Troy is finally taken. Next comes the Parodos, or the entrance of the chorus,

made up of old citizens, telling and singing the story of the Trojan war.>>CHORUS: This blood king Agamemnon The Queen Clytemnestra appears,

and the Chorus hears from her

that Troy has fallen.>>CHORUS: Clytemnestra>>CLYTEMNESTRA: The Greek armies have taken the city of Priam. A herald appears, and confirms the tidings.

>>HERALD: King Agamemnon, welcome him warmly. King Agamemnon enters in his chariot with Cassandra, a Trojan Princess whom he has taken as his slave and concubine.>>AGAMEMNON: First I greet Argos and the Gods of this blood clan. Clytemnestra welcomes him, professing her love.>>CLYTEMNESTRA: I am not ashamed to confess
in your prensence my love, for my manlord… Agamemnon acts coldly toward her.>>AGAMEMNON: Your words, like my absence,
lasted too long. and eventually he walks on a carpet of purple robes and he enters the palace.>>AGAMEMNON: If it means so much… Cassandra tells the chorus

that they will see their king dead.

>>CASSANDRA: One strokes for the slave girl,
butchered defenceless. The Chorus’ fears grow, and they hear Agamemnon cry out in pain
from inside the palace.[scream of Agamemnon] Clytemnestra appears, standing over the corpses of her husband and Cassandra She declares that she has killed him to avenge Iphigenia, their daughter who was sacrificed so that
the Greek fleet could sail to Troy.>>Clytemnestra: A rebel in glory Then the queen is joined by her lover Aegisthus. They take over the government.

>>AEGISTHUS: A dose of the strong arm
will soon get you docile. The Chorus declares that Clytemnestra’s son,
Orestes, will return from exile to avenge his father.>>CHORUS: He will kill this couple.>>AEGISTHUS: You and I, we will rule this house. Exodus: departure of the chorus With this tragedy, part of the trilogy:
Oresteia, followed by a satyr play,
Aeschylus won in 453 BC the annual
competition of the ‘City of Dionysia’.

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