Ancient Greek Theater

Lecture Notes



Question to consider:

To what extent was theatrical performance and production the most enduring Greek cultural innovation?


Background Notes

By 5th century B.C. The "polis" or city-state was the governing unit. Athens was the strongest polis for art and literature - the first democracy -- all could participate (citizens -- no women, slaves, or foreigners)

Pericles (c. 460-430 B.C.) -- "first citizen" of Athens -- led Athens in the "Golden Age of Greece" -- "Age of Pericles" -- he emphasized culture --architecture, art, and drama; had temples and public building built, including the Theatre of Dionysus (Dionysus) and the Parthenon

Greek society viewed gods in human terms - gods held grudges, etc., fought with each other - therefore their destiny (and those of humans) was uncertain

A strong concern for humanity - the founders of philosophy came from this period

Humans were elevated from animals, but harmony depended on a conjunction of human and divine forces. If disharmony, peace was endangered.

Drama therefore focused on human struggles, but with a "supernatural" element.


Tragic Drama 5th Century BC





Greek Comedy







Functions of the chorus

The chorus was usually made up of amateurs - 11 months training - the most expensive part of the production.







Ø  Aeschylus (525-456 BC)

Ø  Sophocles (496-406 BC)

Ø  Euripides (485 -406 BC)




The Greek Tragedies portrayal of Women

The Three Greek Tragedieans:

Aeschylus - his are the oldest surviving plays - began competing 449 at Dionysus Theatre. Most of his plays were part of trilogies; the only extant Greek trilogy is The Orestia.

Characteristics of Aeschylus's plays:


Characteristics of Sophocles' plays:

Euripides (480-406 B.C.) very popular in later Greek times, little appreciated during his life sometimes known as "the father of melodrama"

Characteristics of Euripides' plays:

Tragedy was abandoned in favor of melodramatic treatment.

Theme emphasized: sometimes chance rules world, people are more concerned with morals than gods are.
















Dr.  Eric W. Trumbell, Professor of Theater and Speech


 The Ancient Greeks by Thomas R. Martin