The Greek theatre tradition was born at a theatre built beneath the Acropolis in Athens, at an annual religious festival at which a large chorus of men would dance, play instruments and sing odes to the God of the festival, Dionysus. These choral odes to Dionysus were called dithyrambs, performed by fifty men dressed as satyrs, the half-man, half-goat servants of Dionysus. The hymn-like dithyramb was essentially a song of praise for Dionysus and to attend the City Dionysia was an act of worship in its self. The City Dionysia happened every spring in the Theatre of Dionysus, the first home of theatre and the form of the play.
It was from the dithyramb that the roots of drama developed. In 534 B.C. the tyrant-ruler of Athens changed the City Dionysia by introducing the first of the drama competitions at the Theatre of Dionysus, a contest that would continue for well over one hundred years and that would involve playwrights that are still world famous in the twenty first century. Each playwright would produce a tetralogy of plays: usually three tragedies and a satyr play. The first contest was won by Thespis of Icarus, known as the first actor for standing forward from the chorus of the play and speaking separately from the group. By doing this Thespis performed dramatic dialogue for the first t...
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...contests, its influence on the drama of the age appears in every play that still survives from that age with its charms and its flaws. It inspired an age of drama and creativity that would not be seen upon the earth for at least one thousand years and it is the prolific playwrights and their stories that are remembered most of all. The same stories that had been passed on for hundreds of years previous to the contests are still remembered now, beautifully crafted and dramatized by the dramatists of the Greek age.
Aristotle, Poetics, trans. By Kenneth McLeish (London: Nick Hern Books, 1998)
Banham, Martin, ed., The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, 3rd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
Brown, John Russell, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
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