The History of Greek Theater

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Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th

century BCE, with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy. In his

plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were

depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for

honor and fame, his action was courageous and glorious and his life

would climax in a great and noble death.

Originally, the hero's recognition was created by selfish

behaviors and little thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew

toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and

ambition of the hero to gain honor by serving his city. The second

major characteristic of the early Greek world was the supernatural.

The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world

as the men, and they interfered in the men's lives as they chose to.

It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men.

In the plays of

Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero's downfall because of a

tragic flaw in the character of the hero.

In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly

matters and of the individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an

audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable

experience. Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek

tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose Oedipus Rex he

considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his

definition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for

more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most

significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle's analysis of tragedy began with

a description of the effect such a work had on the audience as a

"catharsis" or purging of the emotions. He decided that catharsis was

the purging of two specific emotions, pity...