The Origins of Theater
The history of theater and drama goes back to the 6th century BC. The roots stemmed from Athens, where “dithyrambs”, Greek ancient hymns were chanted in the honor of the god Dionysus. They were later adapted into choral processions and the participants would wear masks and costumes. Eventually, the participants took up role playing.
A priest by the name of Thespis who worshipped Dionysus – the god of fertility, wine and drama, introduced a new element into the choral form and it was seen as the birth of theater. He incorporated dialogue within the chorus and in effect, became the first actor. Ever since, the western actors proudly call themselves ‘Thespians’.
Thespis entertained the audience by adding dramatics into his recital. According to the 3rd century BC Greek chronicle, Thespis was also the first winner of a theatrical award. He participated in a ‘competition for tragedy’ and won the prize in a ceremony held in Athens in 534 BC. Theater contests became regular after that and were held at the annual Dionysus festival. Spread over four days, it was called the City Dionysia. The festival invited four authors to compete and they each had to write three tragedies along with one satyr play. Seated on the Athenian hillside, the audience enjoyed performances taking place on the circular space (stage) where the chorus sang and danced. A wooden structure was placed in the back to give the feel of scenery. The winner was chosen at the end of the festival.
The first play was performed at the Theatre of Dionysus, built in the beginning of 5th century and soon theaters were built all over Greece. Theater tickets also started selling for the first time and it was thus the beginning of the performing arts.
Types of Theater
Theater was divided into three genres – comedy, satyr and tragedy.
Comedy: Aristophanes was the first comedic playwright and his work paved way for other writers. He used everything from slapstick, satire to sexual jokes and literary parody in his comedy. In contrast to tragedy, he used his imagination to come up with a story and mostly the theme was social and political satire. With time the genre moved to relationships, family matters and complications of love. It travelled from Greece to Roman civilization, moved into Renaissance Europe, infiltrated to England, and finally into the modern world of the 20th and 21st centuries. Demand for tickets for theater also increased, as more and more people turned up for light entertainment.
Tragedy: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are the three great tragedy playwrights. Dealing with deep themes of love, pride, loss and abuse of power, it typically featured a protagonist who made mistakes and committed crimes without realizing the foolishness of his acts. Once he realized, it was too late and his world had crumpled around him. Aristotle believed that tragedy cleansed hearts, making people aware that there is nobility in suffering.
Satyr: Short plays; these were a mix of tragedy and humor. Mythical characters, Satyr were half human and half animals, and wore huge phalluses for comic effect. Satyr plays didn’t find that much popularity and there are very few examples of the plays that survived.
The Greatest Playwrights in History
Theater has been a way for people to escape their lives and enter a new reality. Great minds, writers and poets have turned common ideas into artistic masterpieces. Here are three playwrights who are worth mentioning here, for their extraordinary contribution to theater.
William Shakespeare: Widely considered as the greatest English language writer, William Shakespeare is a distinguished dramatist. Regarded as England’s national poet as well as the “Bard of Avon”, his repertoire includes 38 plays, several collaborations and 154 sonnets. His best plays include “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth”. Among the recent performances, “Romeo and Juliet” is being presented by the Metropolitan Opera and fans of the classics can even buy Chicago Symphony Orchestra discount theater tickets.
Oscar Wilde: His most enduring popular play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is still being performed in theaters, since its first date of premiere in 1895. Fans continue to buy theater tickets to watch this masterpiece by the Irish playwright, author and poet. Oscar Wilde has written on various forms and genres, becoming the most popular writer in London during the 1890s.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: The Russian physician, author and playwright found place among the greatest short stories writers. A practiced medical doctor, Chekhov described his career in words, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress”. His best known plays include “Three Sisters”, “The Seagull” and “A Marriage Proposal”. Another classic by Chekhov, “The Cherry Orchard” has been revived on Broadway, online theater tickets for which are being bought by the classics’ fans.