The Greek Theatre Selections from: The Book of the Ancient Greeks: The Greek drama began as a religious observance in honour of Dionysus.
Charles Scribner's Sons, THE law of the theater, as M. A clear understanding of this law is helpful in any question of classification--for example, in the difficult attempt sharply to set off tragedy from melodrama and comedy from farce.
If the obstacle against which the will of the hero finally breaks itself is absolutely insurmountable, the Greek idea of fate, for example, the Christian decree of Providence, or the modern scientific doctrine of heredity, then we have tragedy pure and simple. If the obstacle is not absolutely insurmountable, being no more than a social law, something of man's own making and therefore not finally inexorable then we have the serious drama.
If the obstacle is only the desire of another human being, then the result of the contention of these two characters is likely to give us comedy. And if the obstacle is merely one of the minor conventions of society, then we may have farce.
But as there is no hard-and-fast line separating these several obstacles which the several heroes are struggling to overcome, so the different types of play may shade into one another, until it is often difficult to declare the precise classification.
Who shall say that the 'Comedy of Errors' is not, in fact, essentially a farce? Or that the Elizabethan tragedy-of-blood is not essentially a melodrama? Although the true dramatist cannot but conceive both the incidents of his play and its personages at the same moment, yet we are accustomed to consider tragedy and comedy nobler than melodrama and farce, because in the former the characters themselves seem to create the situations of the plot and to dominate its structure; whereas in the latter it is obvious rather that the situations have evoked the characters, and that these are realized only in so far as the conduct of the story may cause them to reveal the characteristics thus called for.
In all these comedies the plot, the action, the story, is the direct result of the influence of the several characters on one another. Satisfactory as the definition seems on the whole, and useful as it is in aiding us to perceive clearly the true limitations of comedy, we must not insist upon applying it too severely or we shall find that we have erased from the list of the writers of comedy the names of two of the greatest masters of stage-humor, Shakespeare and Aristophanesfrom neither of whom have we a single comic play the action of which is caused solely by the clash of character on character.
The delightful fantasies of Shakespeare fall into another class, which we may term romantic-comedy, and in which we find the comic plot sustained and set off by a serious plot only artificially joined to it.
The imaginative exuberance of Aristophanes displayed itself not in any form fairly to be called comedy, but rather in what may be described as lyrical-burlesque.
Other tragic writers there were, whose works are now lost forever; but these three were ever held to be the foremost, and we are fortunate in having the finest of their plays. Three phases there were also in Greek comedy, although less clearly distinguished; and here we have not been so lucky.
To represent an early stage of its evolution, we have half a score of the lyrical-burlesques of Aristophanes; but only a single play of his survives even to suggest to us the kind of comic drama which was acceptable in a second period when other humorous playwrights rivaled him.
The third epoch, illustrated by the noble name of Menandercan be but guessed at, since we have not the complete manuscript of even a single play. Comedy seems to have sprung into being at the vintage-festival of the Greek villagers, when all was jovial gaiety and jesting license in honor of Dionysus.
So it came to pass that there were companies of young fellows, often disguised grossly as beasts or birds, who broke out into riotous phallic dances, enjoyed equally by those who looked on and by those who took part.
In time the dancers grouped themselves in rival bands, the leaders of which indulged in a give-and-take of banter and repartee, certainly vulgar and personal, and probably as direct and artless as the chop-logic dialogues of the medieval quack-doctor and his jack-pudding, or of the modern ring-master and circus clown.
The happy improvisation of this carnival spirit which happened to delight the crowd one year would surely be repeated the next year deliberately, perhaps only to evoke an unexpected retort with which it would thereafter be conjoined in what might prove to be the nucleus of a comic scene of some length.
Thus a species would tend to appear, as the tradition was handed down from season to season, enriching itself constantly with the accretions of every venturesome jester.
However frail this framework might be, it would be likely to contain a rough realization of the more obvious types of rural character; and almost from the beginning there would be abundant and irreverent parody of heroic legend and of religious myth. Then in time this inchoate medley of ribald song and phallic dance and abusive repartee would come to feel the influence of the other dramatic species, the origin of which was quite as humble; it would come to feel the influence of tragedy as this had been organized at last with its chorus and its three actors.
Indeed, the same native instinct which led the Greeks to regulate tragedy and to attach it to a festival of the state would suggest, sooner or later, that comedy should also be adopted by the city.
And this is what happened in time, although Greek comedy, when taken over by the authorities, was apparently far less advanced and far more archaic than Greek tragedy had been when first officially regulated.
In the earlier dramatic poems of Aeschylus we perceive tragedy not yet developed out of the dithyramb and struggling to find its own form; and so in the earlier comedies of Aristophanes we discover not only a primitive but a very peculiar stage of the evolution of the comic drama.
His work is often so formless, his story sometimes so disconnected, his plot so carelessly put together, as to force us to the conclusion that the Greeks had not yet perceived the need in the comic drama for that unity which is so striking a characteristic of their greater tragedies. Owing to this slowness of the Greeks in evolving a type of pure comedy, as they had already evolved a type of pure tragedy, the works of Aristophanes impress us with their strangeness and their inequality.
Aristophanes himself, as we see him in his plays, appears to us in three aspects, each of which is seemingly incompatible with either of the others. First of all, he is indisputably one of the loftiest lyric poets of Greece, with a surpassing strength of wing for his imaginative flights, and with a surprising sweep of vision when he soars on high.
|The Three Major Greek Playwrights: Ancient Greek Drama Study Guide||Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol.|
Secondly, he is the bitterest of satirists, abounding in scorching invective for his political opponents, and never refraining from any violence, any malignity, or any unfair accusation that would help the cause he had at heart.SECTION 2: CLASSICAL GREEK TRAGEDY AND THEATRE.
Chapter 7: Classical Greek Tragedy, Part 1. I. Introduction: The Data, or the Depressing Lack Thereof.
Regrettably, many of the oldest classics such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Bible (Well, sections of the Bible, especially the Old Testament) are essentially anonymous works. For the purposes of this page, "Classical" refers to all writers before the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD.
The Book of the Ancient Greeks, Chapter XIV: The Greek Theatre ; Aeschylus; Sophocles; Euripides; Note: For English Translations of the Greek Dramas mentioned in this page, see the Online Books site for Classical Languages and Literature.: The Book of the Ancient Greeks, Chapter XIV: The Greek Theatre.
Greek dramatist. Written By: Chief among these motives is the desire for vengeance, which was basic to the ancient Greek scheme of values. In the one complete extant trilogy, the Oresteia, But there is now evidence that the trilogy of which Suppliants formed a part was produced in .
A history of Ancient Greece (Greeks) from the Dorians to Alexander including their cities, Philosophy, Government, Contributions, rise and decline. Sophocles was an ancient Greek dramatist who lived from about to about BCE. He wrote over plays and was one of the three famous Greek tragedians (along with Aeschylus and Euripides).He is credited with diverging from the typical format of a tragedy: he increased the number of speaking actors, increased the number of chorus members, and used painted scenery.