A Brief History of Theatre - Paper Example

Published: 2021-08-02
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Vanderbilt University
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Research paper
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Theatre refers to the communal human expression, and evidence of its existence can be traced back to as far as two thousand five hundred years ago (YouTube, 2010). In the western world, the earliest forms of theatre are found in Athens, within the ancient Greece in the 4th and 5th B.C (Balme & Davis, 2015). The old Greek communities revered supernatural forces and upheld theatre as a form of veneration. The types of plays in ancient Greek included satyr play (short and teasers to the Greek mythology), tragedies and comedy. Dionysus, the god of good fortune and productivity, inspired plays. There were four festivals held in honor of the god, and the most important was the festival of city Dionysia (Berberovic, 2015). The theme of harmony between the divinity and mankind is central to Greek theatre and played a great role in setting the standards for theatre many years after the extinction of the Greek civilization.

In preparation for theatre, the ancient Greeks were very meticulous and exhibited grandeur in their designs, in keeping with the conception of their gods. Because of the importance attached to a theatre, the Athens built an essential structure dedicated to Dionysus in the remote hills of Acropolis (Brockett et al. 2016). Furthermore, the Greek started making elaborate preparations for the theatre, eleven months in advance, when they selected the choruses, just so that the presentations would be perfect. During the festival of the city of Dionysus, three dramatists were carefully chosen to present four plays comprising of three tragedies and one satyr on a morning at the event. The remarkable skill of the performers is still alive in the character of Sophocles, who is believed to be the finest of all the dramatists. The high-quality performances even became standards by which others were judged. For instance, in the 3rd century B.C one priest, Thespian, a tragedian, and actor won a prize, and since then, most dramatists after him have referred to themselves as Thespian, a word used to connote a victor. The meticulousness and grandeur are still part of theatre even today, and the theme of divinity still permeates modern drama.

Even with the consideration for the gods, the Greek plays still represented the human element. The content of theatre was a conflation of divine and human affairs, and the purpose of the occasion was not only veneration of the deities, but also the entertainment of the population. Aristotle described tragedy as a copy of a deed that is whole and broad and is of a given magnitude (1968). Greek tragedies often cast men as willful beings against the powerful gods, and the struggle between man and fate is still evident in modern theatre. As time passed, the plays progressively moved away from the veneration of the supernatural forces to a form of entertainment, as evidenced by the architecture that provided the optimal experience for its audience. The magnificent Athenian theatre had a sitting capacity of more than 14,000 people and is strategically bow-shaped with the ability of the sun rays to illuminate behind the stage. At a time when there were no microphones to project the performers voices from the platform, the constructors designed the theatre in such a way that voice echoes from the stage to the people and even the people in the back rows can hear anything even as little as the dropping noise made by a coin. The inclusion of humanity, therefore, served to improve the content and presentation of theatre and made it even more palatable for the masses.

The theme of humanity and divinity was central to Greek theatre. By mixing the two, the Greek developed standards for theatre that continue to influence the field in modern times. Also, putting humanity against divinity in the tragedies is one of the most significant contributions of Greek theatre to the field in modern times.


Aristotle, L., & Golden, O. B. (1968). Aristotle's Poetics a Translation and Commentary for Students of Literature.

Balme, C., & Davis, T. C. (2015). A cultural history of theatre: a prospectus. Theatre Survey, 56(3), 402-421.

Berberovic, N. (2015). Ritual, myth and tragedy: Origins of theatre in Dionysian rites. Epiphany, 8(1), 30-38.

Brockett, O. G., Ball, R. J., Fleming, J., & Carlson, A. (2016). The essential theatre. Cengage Learning.

YouTube. (2010). Brief history of theatre Pt 1. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjdF7CHP99A [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017].

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