More than two thousand five hundred years ago, theatre was born into the western world, all thanks to Athens in Greece. Athenians between 600BC and 200BC came up with a theatre culture that had a culture, techniques and terminologies have lasted for more than two millenniums now. In addition to this, the Athenians came up with plays that up to now are still considered to be among the greatest works in the history of drama. The achievements that these people made can be said to have been remarkable especially when we pay a consideration it is only two periods in history especially the dram history that have neared these achievements. A number of playwrights have been produced and the greatest of them being Shakespeare who hailed from England, however Athens has too produced renowned playwrights. This does not imply that the 20th century has not produced good plays, the century has also had its better share especially since a number of plays and films have been produced. However, these present plays and films are based on innovations and improvements of the ancient Athenian plays.
Origin of theatre
Since Greece seems has played a major role in influencing the direction that current and ancient theatre has followed, most of the discussion in this paper shall borrow from it and see how theatre has developed with time. Ancient Greece Theater is asserted to have evolved and influenced majorly by religion. This goes back to as far as 1200BC. At this particular period, Greece was occupied by various people, people who belonged to different groups and walks of life. The tribes can be labeled by the current people as having been primitive (Green, 2006).
For instance in a place that was referred to as Thrace in the northern part of Greece, there a rose a cult that considered Dionysus their god. They considered him the god in charge of fertility and the one in charge of procreation. This made them to worship him relentlessly. There are numerous origins that have been associated with this cult; some asserted that it originated from a minor Asian tribe that in addition to this worship practiced other numerous rituals such as alcohol intoxication, animal and human sacrifices, orgies and women that were known as maenads were involved in rampages that could only be said to have been very hysterical.
Theatre development and the renaissance period
By the time Greece was clocking 600 BC, there were states and cities making it up, a number of nations were born and they majored and took the center location of ancient Greece. Among these cities, Athens was considered very prominent and it majored in a number of things. As noted by Green (2006) around 15000 people inhibited these cities. This is the city where Dionysus’ rites evolved in; this is what is currently called theatres.
Athens was situated in a place that was called Attica, as a fact, it is not strange to find Athenian and Greek theaters being denoted to as Attic Theater. Arion of Corinth which at the time was called Mehtymna composed some lyrics in 600 BC for dirtyramb.In the next seventy five years that followed, Thespis from Attica came up with an actor who he added to this chorus so that he could interact with it. This actor at the time was known as the protagonist giving rise to the current protagonist that denotes the main character in a play.
The introduction of a single character implies that ten piece of art is transformed from the one for chanting chronically to that of a theater. Ancient ascribes the innovation to that of Thespis and they have even gone ahead to give him a date. Thespis is assumed to have performed around 534 BC in Athens. Nobody seems to know how accurate this is. However irrespective of this, the name has gained immortality in relation to theatrical jargons or terminologies, actors and Thespians are considered to be synonymous. The renaissance era was the period between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries and this is the period that has ever remained the richest when it comes to English literature.
The two core plays in this period that can be compared and show how theatre has developed, these are Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and the Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd. It is asserted that the devil would always appear after every performance of the play Doctor Faustus. The devil would appear threaten and frighten the audience and damning those who attended. Similarly, Kyd’s play denoting vengeance and murder is considered to have stood out during the Elizabethan Era, it drew audience more than any play had done, Shakespeare’s play could not even equal Kyd’s play’s popularity.
Pisistratus who was Athens ruler in 534 BC brought a new dimension to the Dionysian festivals; he instituted competitions in drama to take their place. The first completion that was conducted in the same year was won by Thespis. In the years that followed, these competitions grew in fame and they were very popular annually. Competitors, choregos, patrons who would be in charge of supporting the competitions were decided on by government authorities. However, as Cairns (2009) notes, the influential and wealthy people who were in charge of financing these arts did so in order to avoid paying taxes. The choregos who financed the arts were exempted from paying taxes in that particular year. This denotes that corruption is deep rooted in society and it has been among us for centuries. Plays and casts have been produced that teach and show how this vice is widely spread among us.
It is in this time that a number of core theatres were built and some of the major ones included the Delphi, Attic Theatre and the theatre of Dionysus that is located in Athens. The Dionysus theatre that was built at the foot of acropolis in Athens was spacious enough to be occupied by 17,000 spectators. These were times when the theatres would draw close to 30,000 people in a good day. The terms amphitheatre and theatre are drawn from the Greek word theatron that refers to wooded spectator stands that were elected in this hill sides.
The actors in these times would wear very little or no make-up at all unlike the current actors. Instead they used masks that they carried and which had exaggerated facial expressions. The actors in ancient time would wear buskins or cothornos. These were laced leather boots, they had laces running up to the knee level, very little scene play was involved in ancient theatre and most of the actions in the play were in form of an orchestra. However, as times changed and the significance was shifting from the chorus to those acting in the plays, action was ushered in stage.
In the periods between 600 BC and 500 BC, dirtyramb had evolved significantly into a number of forms, most significantly was the satyr and the tragedy play. Tragedy is derived from a Greek word tragos denoting a goat and ode that refers to a song. This is a play that told a story that had religious teachings attached to it. Just as the biblical parables, tragedies were structured in a way that they were able to teach what was right and wrong in a person’s life. Tragedy plays were not specifically ended with very bad endings; similarly, they were neither designed to make the spectators laugh all the way. They were plays that had a theme of ritual purification attached to them. In Aristotle’s catharsis, another term is given rise to, the pathos, this is term that is borrowed from Greek and tends to imply to instructive sufferings. The same can be detected in the Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd.
The renaissance era plays depicted life voyages of people, especially after being steered by their inner selves, fate or the general society. The rules one has set in life or mare fate could be used as the main themes in the catharsis. Tragic protagonist was considered as the person who through either weakness or strength did not acquiesce with fate; to us these are considered as the objectivities that are presented to us in form of realities. Hubris is considered the main fault for a protagonist in a play. Hubris which is both a Greek and English name refers to overwhelming arrogance or false. This as noted by the playwrights was considered as the arrogance by the protagonists of not wanting to accept what destiny has in store for an individual.
A good example of such a protagonist is Oedipus Rex; this is a character who assumed the arrogance of killing Agamemnon. Similarly, it can be compared to the arrogance that he assumed in order to seek vengeance i.e. on Orestes (Brown, 2001). Irrespective of what triggers the protagonist’s actions, the collision, the reality he is to have with fate and everything that unfolds can be said to be irrevocable and inevitable. The same lessons are depicted in Thomas Kyd’s play, the Spanish Tragedy.
Tragedy does not owe the vacuum to having contributed to its development. It is something that grew from the things that were taking place in Athens. On one hand we had the religion whereas free thought and intelligent inquiry was laid on the other hand. From Bullfinch’s Mythology, it is categorical that everything and how it was to unfold was there. It stated how people were to think and act for centuries. During the fourth and the fifth century, Athens was faced by a bustling of ideas, ideas such as democracy, science, mathematics, philosophy and art.
This is the period that philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Democritus and Epicurus received their shaping from. This in essence is the period when people had numerous questions regarding nature and how it worked. In addition they were wondering what the role of man in the scheming of these things was. The answer to these queries was derived from tragedy; the poet used it to tell the people how they were expected to behave how to accept the various injustices that life presented to a person and the price of hubris. These are categorically illustrated in the soliloquy of the Greek tragedy and also in Hamlet and Macbeth.
Influences of renaissance plays on modern theatre
Till 484 BC, the drama competitions in Athens were based on trilogies that were extracted from the dithyrambs and a satyr play. The style was more of a choral presentation and not drama, however in this period; Aeschylus a playwright from Athens gave theatre a new picture. Dithyramb was turned into drama by the addition of a new character; the new actor was the antagonist and was expected to have an interaction with the first character already in the play. Props and scenes were introduced into drama and the choruses reduced and the play that was written in 472 BC that is, Aeschylus Persians is still in existence today. The Oresteia is a trilogy and a crowning piece for Aeschylus that was written and acted in 458 BC.
It is a play on the legend known as Agamemnon who was murdered by Clytemnestra his wife and how his children Electra and Orestes pursue for justice. The main lessons for this play are on the effects of excessive pride and arrogance or hubris. The hubris is at the end expected to kill and do away with a person for personal gains as depicted by Clytemnestra and Aegithus her lover. Similarly, the hubris is supposed to hunt and kill them at the end just as Orestes and Electra did.
At the end, it is the gods of vengeance, fury and emissary that are supposed to pose trial for Orestes and Electra. From this, it is evident that Aeschylus is echoing a point that has for a very long time been in the lips of historians, psychologists, dramatists and crime writers i.e. the root of all evils in the society is often tied to the arrogance in human beings. From the drama perspective, it is apparent that the play is conveying to us a family that is suffering and which has been torn apart by matricide and patricide (Brown, 2001).
A number of assumptions have been raised claiming that theater died with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the only memory about it that keeps it alive is the performances from roving groups or bands. However it is very absurd to claim so while what is being practiced currently owes a lot to ancient theatre. While these bands or groups played an integral part in keeping theatre alive, the church should also be appraised for the role it played in keeping theatre alive. It sounds ironic that the same church had played an essential role leading to the fall of the theatres during the reigning of the Roman Empire (Cairns, 2009).
People’s development lies highly on their interaction, nothing is of utter importance like theatre and other communication channels that encourage efficient communication and participation. Though only thirty three tragedies and eleven comedies are still heard off from the creative Greek period, it is no doubt that Greeks are owed to giving birth to drama and theatre in the western world.