The Golden Age of Greek Theatrical Arts, Its Features and Essence
Every year, plays were performed at the Theater of Dionysia. Songs were first sung in praise of the god of wine and fertility, Dionysus. Among them, Aristotle’s poetry was outstanding. Its major element was a tragedy which was the inspiration behind the tragic stories. another poet Arion developed the choral singing known as Dithyramb. Later, the chorus became an integral part of Greek theater alongside actors, commentators and narrators who were also part of the chorus team. In some plays, the chorus acted as a separately different character. They all synchronized with each other to project the image of a single entity rather than a group. At first, the choir consisted of twelve singing and dancing participants known as Choreutai. Later the number was increased to fifteen and two groups of seven, known as the Hemichoria, were formed with a lead singer known as Koryphaios.
The pieces were written by Thespis at the beginning with an actor who played different characters wearing different masks. He interacted with the choir who narrated parts of the story and sang when needed. The themes of his play were tragedy and God Dionysus. Aeschylus introduced a second actor, followed by Sophocles, who introduced a third actor. This increased the complexity of the story and opened up the horizons as other Greek mythological characters were considered. And it was then that the leader of the choir was also introduced. He was in charge of interacting with the actors on stage and with the public too, for their opinion and their synthesis. Sometimes the interaction was in the form of a song and other times he spoke directly. The rest of the choir sang in the background and illustrated the main theme.
And so two masks became the symbol of the Greek theater or Theatron. One had a smile and a happy expression representing the comic side of the play and the other mask had a sad expression which represented the tragic side of the play. By the 500s BC, theaters were more dignified and became the pride of Athenian culture. The first renowned theater was the Theater of Dionysos. Annual competitions were held where three tragic plays were performed and the best play was awarded. Competition between comedy plays began in the 430s BC.
In the 4th century BC. AD, King Alexander attacked Athens, which led to the Peloponnesian War. It was then that the power of Athens began to deteriorate. Despite the threat to Greek theatrical traditions, it survived and moved on to the Hellenistic period. It was during this time that comic theater reached its full form, reflecting the life of the common man. The script of the plays has never been mixed, that is, comedy has never been mixed with tragedy and vice versa. Menander was the writer who achieved fame during this period.
The three main elements of the theater became Orchestra, Skene and Audience. The platform on which the artists performed and the choir performed was known as the orchestra or dance venue. At other times it was used to conduct religious rites. Skene was a huge rectangular building behind the orchestra. Originally it was a simple hut or tent used as a backstage. Actors changed their costumes here and it was also used for religious purposes. But later it took the form of a solid stone structure with two or three doors that opened onto the orchestra. Paintings were made on this structure which served as the background of the piece and this is how the term Skene came into being. Later, another structure named Proskene was also erected in front of the Skene which was exclusively for the performance of actors. The audience was seated on a round, rising staircase. Therefore, the shape of the mountain in which the whole structure is carved is important.
The theatrical arts that emerged during this era are reflected in today’s plays all over the world. Of all the plays written at that time, tragedy plays like Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and the plays of the comedian Aristophanes became famous in the golden history of Greek arts.