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The Ancient Greek theatre

Q. Give a brief discount on ancient Greek theatre.

Ans. Greek theatre began in the 6th century BCE in Athens with the performance of tragic plays at religious festivals. These, in turn, inspired the genre of Greek comedy plays… the works of such great playwrights as Sophocles and Aristophanes formed the foundation upon which all modern theatre is based.

          Ancient Greek theatre began with festivals honouring their pantheon of gods. All classical Greek plays were presented in the theatre of Dionysus. During the 5th century BC, the theatre served as a platform for dramatic contests in which the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were first performed. The three major forms of the plays performed were Tragedy plays, Comedy plays and Satyrs plays which dealt with mythological plays in a comic manner.

           The word ‘tragedy’ in common parlance, use indiscriminately to refer to any unfortunate, shocking event. ‘Tragic’ refers to something that is calamitous or disastrous, involving catastrophic and grievous destruction all around. Tragedy as a literary genre is often associated with theatre though the term is now applicable to other literary compositions such as a tragic novel or a tragic poem. As a theatre form it refers to a play in which the protagonist or the hero, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing or flaw and circumstances beyond him which he can neither prevent nor triumph over. Thus, the fall of a great man at the height of his glory is devasting, not only because of the overwhelming grief that the events entail, but also highlights the colossal waste of human potential.

                 The earliest tragedies are from Greece where they were performed during religious festivals. As a result, a majority of these plays show Man’s subjection to Gods and how his fall was engineered both by the gods and his own (intentional or unintentional) faulty actions. The audience’s empathy with the fallen hero makes drama a shared experience.

                The simple answer is tragedy provides the audience with a comforting lesson that through suffering man grows both mentally and spiritually. The essence of tragedy is in man’s recognition of his own folly and his acceptance of the misfortunes that follow as a means of atonement. He does not fault others for his suffering but accepts his flawed actions and in that moment of recognition, he rises in stature. Oliver Goldsmith, the 18th-century Irish writer wrote: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” When the audience watches Oedipus Rex, they realise how tall Oedipus rises as the curtain comes down when he accepts his guilt, blinds himself as punishment and walks out of his own kingdom into a life of exile. The representation of personal suffering and its heroic endurance which everyone witness in a tragic drama is distinctive of Western tradition.


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