Monthly Archives: June 2012

Roman/Byzantine Theatre

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Roman theatre was borne in their religious festivals. Those festivals contained acting along with flute playing, dancing, and prizefighting. Their first theatrical performance was around 364 B.C.E. Comedy was more popular than tragedy in Rome, and a few of the better known playwrights were Titus Maccius Plautus-who wrote 130 plays (including The Casket, and Pot of Gold)-and Publius Terentius (Terence) Afer-who wrote 6 plays, all of which have survived, including Mother-in-Law, The Brother, and Self-Tormentor. For the tragic playwrights of this era, only three are known of: Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pascuvius, and Lucius Accius. Also, the theatres in which these plays were put on were all dedicated to the God Venus, and where all quite complex-having elaborate designs that incorporated various corridors connecting the orchestra area with the auditorium and the stage house. Lastly, theatrical entertainment in Rome wasn’t only acting. Chariot racing, horse racing, foot races, wrestling, venations (fights with wild animals), fights between men, and gladiators were all considered theatrical.

For one example of how, at this time period and in this place, dramatics mirrored or commented on the present society: throughout his plays Plautus had a tendency to give the people who were talking with servants, but weren’t servants themselves, rather harsh lines. Such as:

What’ll I do to you? First of all, I’ll make you torch-bearer to this bride of mine. After that you’ll be the same worthless good-for-nothing as always; and subsequently when you come to the villa you shall be provided with just one pitcher and one path, on spring, one kettle, and–eight big casks: and unless those casks are always full, I’ll give you your fill–of welts. I’ll make you carry water till you have such a beautiful crook in your back that they can use you for a horse’s crupper. Yes, and furthermore, when it comes to your wanting a bit of food, you shall either feed on the fodder-stack, or on dirt like a worm, or, by the Lord, I’ll starve you thinner than Starvation’s self at that farm! And then at night, when you’re all fagged out and famishing, we’ll see you’re supplied with the sleeping quarters you deserve. You shall be fastened tight in the window-frame where you can listen while I’m kissing my Casina. And when she says to me: [in languishing accents] “Oh you little darling, Olympio dearier, my life, my little honey boy, joy of my soul, let me kiss and kiss those sweet eyes of yours, precious! Do, do let me love you, my day of delight, my little sparrow, my dove, my rabbit!”–when she is saying these soft things to me, then you’ll wriggle, you hangdog, you, wriggle like a mouse, in the middle of the wall there. [turning away] Now you needn’t reckon on making any reply; I’m going inside. I’m sick of talking with you.

This was a monologue that Plautus wrote for the character Olympio in his play Casina. The fact that this is not even close to the only time that one of Plautus’ more powerful characters spoke this way, combined with the knowledge that Plautus was an extremely popular playwright (more with the crowd than the aristocracy), signals that society in his time had an awful aristocracy and Plautus enjoyed commenting on it.

In Ancient Greece

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Around 700 B.C.E. the Greeks began to hold many festivals for the God’s. One of these festivals, held to honor Dionysus, was called City Dionysia and was basically a competition over who could write the best play; Historians believe it was shaped after the Egyptian’s festivals for Osiris. Every year at the City Dionysia there were choruses filled by drunken men wearing goat skins as their costumes. These costumes originated as a way to honor Dionysus because goats were considered sexually potent and Dionysus is the God fertility and wine. He eventually was considered a patron of the arts, as well, because, due to his festival, Greece was the birth of dramatics in the Western world. The part of the choruses at the City Dionysia was to sing and act in the plays that were written and put on. Well-known playwrights from this era include Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus for tragedies, and Aristophanes for comedies. Aeschylus was a competitor around 499 B.C.E. and takes credit for some of the world’s oldest tragedies. Of Sophocles’ tragedies, 7 have survived the long journey to modern day, including Oedipus Rex, Electra, and Antigone. Sophocles is responsible for setting the number of people in the chorus to 15 and was also the first playwright to think of a play as numerous scenes. Euripides is believed to have written 90 tragedies, 18 of which have survived-among those is Hercules, Medea, and The Trogan Woman. Euripides was the first playwright we know of to examine the psychological motivations of his character’s action, and he was often ridiculed due to his questioning of “traditional values” on stage. Lastly, Aristophanes was one of the only well-known comedic playwrights of this era, he was also rather controversial, as he continues to be today. Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata-the most controversial of the ancient scripts. Lysistrata is about a woman who leads a female coalition to end war in Greece.

These plays were still based on myths and things of that nature, but this era was where the context began to become significantly more social and political. These plays made a statement. Sochocles, for instance, wrote about extreme corruption within the king’s family in both Oedipus the King, and Antigone. For one thing, this plants the idea of corruption in the government, for lack of a better term, into the audience’s minds; the possibility that no one in charge actually care’s what happens to their people. And then Aristophanes tackled the topic of strong women. Even today a woman leading a feminine coalition to end war (Lysistrata, Aristophanes) could be construed controversial, as some people still believe women to be of lower capability than men-imagine how that could have gone around 400 B.C.E.! Of the hundreds of plays that were written in this era, for this festival, only 44 remain, and yet I could continue pointing out various satirical statements and slight suggestions of what was happening in ancient Greece from these texts for quite some time. This is where I truly believe the birthplace of commenting on life in theatrics was.

~Siobhan

Ancient Egyptian Theatre, and the First Ever Recorded Script

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The oldest example of theatre that has been found is the “pyramid texts” or “passion plays” of ancient Egypt, dating back to 2800 B.C.E. These texts were all dramatic type shows about sending pharos to the underworld after they died. They were done as a way to keep the pharos “alive” in people’s minds, so that they could keep some power-even after their death. The first actual full play to be discovered was the Abydos passion play. Pertaining to the story of Osiris-a “legendary king-divinity” and a wise ruler who was cruelly murdered by a traitor and then avenged by his wife and son-the Abydos passion was the most important passion play for the Egyptians. It was put on annually from 2500 to 550 B.C.E. at Abydos, Busiris, and Heliopolis, among other places.

This section of history is fairly political due to the idea that putting on plays allows the pharos to continue to rule, and the fact that that was the major reason for showing these plays in itself is a political statement saying that the citizens of ancient Egypt either truly loved their pharos, or that they were truly afraid of them.

~Siobhan

The Origin of Theatre

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Today I read an article that began to explain how acting and theatre came about. It talked about how early dramatics came from myth, ritual, and ceremony; and it cited Joseph Campbell, a mythologist. According to him, rituals were directly related to three things; Power, pleasure, and duty. Power because the rituals and ceremonies were done in attempt to influence and control events, such as pleasing the Gods and having a successful crop season. Also, these events were often made to be a duty to various supernatural powers and or heroes. Pleasure and entertainment were what people experienced while and after watching these. Along with these rituals and ceremonies went myths, and from there people began to story tell and perform the stories for the tales own sake. Leaders of these projects became the actors, and soon enough mankind was stepping toward theatre as a real possibility!

So, the very first plays were based on tales of Gods and brave heroes? As for the Gods this is an expression of religion before it can even be classified as of theatrics, seeing as those had yet to be invented. Religion, being part of the six major aspects of humanity-Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellect, and Arts (or PERSIA)-is obviously a large part of people’s lives and thus the choice people made of acting religion out was an act of displaying their own society. And for the heroes, these stories must be of valiant deeds, the sorts of things you would have heard bards singing in the middle ages. Actual acts that happened and were being recounted. Both of these plots are not only mirrored, but completely copied from human life, and support that drama was created in an un-blurred reflection!

~Siobhan

Hello World!

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Hi, everybody!!

 I am going to use this blog to talk about theatre throughout history. From the origin all the way to now; from the actors to the audience, and from the author’s words to their impact, or reflection, on society! I believe that theatre, and performance-art in general, really-is a mirror of society, and I intend to discuss how much political and social life are conected to the theatrical world.

I hope that you enjoy reading this just as much as I will enjoy writing it!

~Siobhan