10 Feb 2011

Sample Essay: History of Greek Drama

The Greek drama is considered as the most developmental form of art in the history of human society. It could be observed that through the years, the Grecian culture has been recognized as the most developmental aspect of human traditions that offered a whole new vision of what art is as recognized by the world today. Note the fact that the Grecian art consisted of many different aspects of interest and one of them is that of the Greek Drama. In the discussion that follows, a comprehensive presentation on how the Greek drama flourished through the years shall be tackled. The history that provided a clear definition of what the Grecian theater art was really for shall further define the implicative condition that made it easier for the modern society to respond specifically to the artful redefinition of this crafty work.


The definitions that pertain to ancient theater art in Greece consist of the words τραγῳδία pronounced as ‘tragoidia’ which means tragedy which is further divided into two words  τράγος pronounced as ‘tragos’ meaning goat and ᾠδή pronounced as ‘ode’ meaning song. These elemental factors of presentation specifically pertain to the developmental procedures of redefining the worship of Dionysius in the early Grecian religious culture. Most of the rituals performed under these particular aspects of development involve the desire for fertility among the performers. How did this completely different aim of presentation actually came to develop as the basis of the theatrical art in the Grecian culture?

The Origins and the Culture of Theatre Presentations

The conditional development of the ancient Greek art has been observed to have dated originally from c.550 and 220 BC (Harsh, 1944, 76). Athens was specifically considered as the breeding ground of artists and performers. The excellence of the city in providing proper education to the society has made a mark that defined it as the city-cradle of development. The honor for Dionysus has been better imposed during this era of cultural growth in Athens. Dionysus was known as the Greco-Roman deity who is worshiped for the believed blessing that he provides for grape wine making which was one of the most expensive export products of Greece in the trading field. The praise for the economic development that the Greeks believed to have been imposed by the power of Dionysus is then inclusive of the major presentations made to supposedly entertain the god of wine and celebration.

During this era, the theatrical genre of tragedy has been among the most important forms of presentations on stage. Likely, these presentations are specifically dedicated to make indicative relation to the lives of the Greeks in the early parts of their history in a rather comedic-satiric way. The combination of such field of presentation makes it more expansive in the process of defining the aspects of human life in the early years of Grecian existence. From here, the aspect of developing theatrical art came into existence.

The Entrance of the Classical Period

Considered as the remaining element of the Athenian cultural pride, the theatrical art of Greece remained an intact presentation of what the Golden Age of Greek drama was all about. Theatrical art has become the basis of the civic pride that even in the middle of colonization and Great Destruction, the mark of the Grecian culture remains intact as it has already been passed on to other civilizations that the Greek society have been in direct contact with. Observe that it was during this era that the competition of excellence between the three particular genres of theatrical presentations came into existence. Each drama presentation submitted a piece of work that defined its effective representation of the society and the elemental factors that makes it an imaginative source of artful dramatic definition of life.

The beginning of the competition in 486 BC provided a better view on how satirical themes further enhanced the messages of tragic drama, comedic drama and satyr drama as it is. From these presentations came the realization of the fact that the playwrights were indeed fond of utilizing female characters in their story although these characters were not portrayed by women performers. Instead, because of the flexibility of the roles, men performers were assigned to take on the challenge (Lesky, 1975, 65). After this competition, the society have now defined the more specific option of manifesting specific messages about life and living through the dramas that were performed during that particular day.

The Hellenistic Era

The coming in of the Persian Empire within Athens specifically provided a rather wider conception of the ideas of comedic theatrical art. Menander was the very specific playwright noted within this era and was hailed to be the best one in handling comedic plots that provide a new essence of comedic art. The succeeding workers of theatrical art that follows the pattern set by Menander during this period of theatrical development are that of Plautus and Terence (Ley, 2006, 89). During this era, several developments on the process of presenting the ideal messages of the dramas have been introduced. These developments include the heightened number of performers staying on stage to give a deeper sense of the realistic presentations made through these theatrical art creations.

Introducing the Facilities

Observe from this diagram (Padilla, 1999, 77) that the dome-formation of the old theatrical facilities established to host theatrical presentations were fashioned to allow all the audiences to have a clear view of the presentations being performed (Padilla, 1999, 78). The levels of viewing section provided the viewers a clear view of the actors and their performance during every theatrical drama presentations. The stage is considered to be where the scenes are to be performed hence has been called as ‘scene’. The parodoi served as the entrance and exit passage ways for the performers on stage (McDonald, et al, 2007, 86). The divisions on the stage allowed for the separation of the actors from that of the choral singers.

Identifying the Crafts and Props

The Scenic Elements

Scenic elements were used to better impose setting and plot redefinition in each performance hence making it easier for the audience to respond to the message being sent out by each playwright in every performance. These scenic elements include the machine which is a crane that provides flying effects for the performers. Another is the Ekkyklema which is a wheeled wage that aims to bring in dead characters for the audience to see. The trap doors are secret openings at the floor of the stage that allows characters to come out from in the middle of the stage through a dramatic entrance [used to lift performers up the stage]. Pinakes on the other hand are the scenic backdrops behind the stage used to suggest the setting of each scene.

The Masks

To impose facial expression which obviously cannot be seen through the distance of the audience from the stage, masks are used to impose the emotions of the actors.

The Creative Costumes

Created to add in life, color and vigor to every presentation, the creative costumes also set a definite understanding on the part of the viewers with regards the class division that the characters belong to within the society.

The Progressive Music

Progressive music entails to redefine the emotional bearing of each scene within each character. It could be observed that somehow, such definition makes it easier for the audiences to relate to the characters’ moods as each scene changes and each setting evolves towards the next.

Summary and Conclusion

The Greek theatrical art indeed set a foundation for the modern western and European dramatic presentations on stage that are now considered as a definite indication of cultural and social development in the human society (Moulton, 1890, 65). The generations that passed the history of Greek Theater towards the next made a definite mark on how the past theatrical presentations should actually affect the future imitations of such theatrical craft which is now being enjoyed by many.


Harsh, Philip Whaley. A handbook of Classical Drama. Stanford University, California, Stanford University Press; London, H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1944.

Lesky, A. Greek Tragedy, trans. H.A., Frankfurt, London and New York 1965.

Ley, Graham. A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theatre. University of Chicago, Chicago: 2006

McDonald, Marianne, Walton, J. Michael (editors), The Cambridge companion to Greek and Roman theatre, Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Moulton, Richard Green, The ancient classical drama; a study in literary evolution intended for readers in English and in the original, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1890.

Padilla, Mark William (editor), “Rites of Passage in Ancient Greece: Literature, Religion, Society”, Bucknell University Press, 1999.

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