Plays began in ancient Greece thousands of years ago as religious ceremonies. To attend one was a sign of religious devotion. The first actors were members of a chorus, who spoke their lines together in a straight line. The first actor was named thespis, who gave his lines separately instead of with the group. The religous ceremonies were very tagic events because of the goat sacrificing and so the first genre of plays was tragedy (which comes from the word for “goat song” in ancient greek) Three early playwrights also contributed to the beginning of theater.

Aeschyles was the first of these famous early Greece tragedians. Their concepts survive and flourish to this day. Aeschyles’s most important legacy was his addition of another character in a play, so that they could interact with each other. Before this idea became popular, characters only or mostly interacted with the chorus. This allowed for more dramatic activity and made the chorus a less important role.

The second of these great playwrights was Sophocles. He wrote over a hundred plays, but only seven survive today. Sophocles did even more addition to the number of the cast by adding as much as three important actors on stage at once. Aritotle credits Sophocles as the inventor of skenographia or scenery painting. He went on to use Sophocles’s play, “Oedipus Rex” as an example in his book “Poetics” of a perfect tragedy.

Euripedes was the third and last of the early Greek tragedians. His most important contribution changed the themes and characters commonly represented in plays. For one thing, his plays made fun of famous Greek heroes. Another new concept was having women and intelligent slaves as major characters.

Theater is an amazing legacy that started in a culture very different then out own and yet flourishes to this day.

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April 2021

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