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The Greek Greats: The Rise of Drama and Actors

The Greek Greats: The Rise of Drama and Actors

The Greek Greats: The Rise of Drama and the Thespian Arts

In the history of Greece, drama began as a group effort with the choruses as group of about 50 actors who sang, danced and spoke in unison about the story line and the message of a play. These plays had their roots in ancient Greek mythology and were an extension of the oral tradition of the poets and storytellers of earlier times, and they were enacted to honor the Greek god Dionysus, known as Bacchus in the Roman empire, the god of wine and the grape harvest, But then along came Thespis, the first Greek actor to step away from the group to play individual characters using masks.

Thus, the theater, more as we know it was born. Thespis was also the first actor to win an award for his craft and to go on a multi city-state tour and to become very popular, making him the world’s first celebrity! Also the authorship of several plays was attributed to him, however most scholars today believe they were forgeries perpetrated by scholars in the later Christian era. Thespis was born in the latter part of the Archaic age, but the most important figure to rise in Greek drama was Sophocles of the Classical age, the author of the great Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.

A tragedy is a play in which the hero suffers from some glaring personality defect, called a fatal flaw, that leads him to utter ruin. In the case of Oedipus it was his overmuch pride that led him to doubt and resist the will of the gods for him as spoken by the seer at his birth that he would kill his father, Laius, the king of Thebes, and marry his mother, thereby incurring their wrath. So indeed he did inadvertently kill his father as the result of a war and unknowingly marry his mother, Queen Jocasta, and upon the revelation of this error his wife kills herself and Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile in utter disgrace. His flaw here is hubris and his sin is unbelief and the moral is that you cannot resist the will of the gods.

Oedipus says to the audience before his departure,

May Providence deal with thee kindlier than it has dealt with me. His will set forth fully to destroy the parricide, the scoundrel, and I am he.”

But I am the god’s abhorrence.

Later on in the Classical Age there was the rise of the comedy, a play with a more lighthearted plot and humor and in which no one dies and has a happy ending, and satyr, a burlesque type play in which the actors played the mythical mischievous satyrs would mock drunkenness and and depict wild sex acts.

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