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Athenian Theatre

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Torsten Kehler

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English 103 D100
Lecture #2
Athenian Theatre: prized and valued competition, included theatre in competitive culture. Had special
theatre competitions. We have access to 46 complete plays by Greek playwrights, who all wrote in
Athens (not all were from Athens, but moved there because it was the theatrical centre and the
epicentre of cultural life).
Plato: a philosopher and playwright. Fancied himself a great writer and went to Athens, having worked
very hard on his tragedies. Took a shortcut to get to Athens, ran into Socrates who was telling a crowd
of people a story. By the time he finished listening to Socrates, he discovered philosophy. Now knows
as a philosopher. Known for western philosophy, logos. Wrote Plato Dialogues. The centre of his works
was Socrates' execution in Athens for corrupting the young. It is a tragedy.
Persians were the great enemies of the Greeks, and invaded them regularly. Aeschylys' first play was
about Persians (472 BCE). It was a first play that took the enemy seriously, not portraying them in a
cliched manner. He set the play at the Persian court. Aeschylys' great trademark is that he imagines
things from an opposite point of views. In Agammemnon, shows points of views of the Watchman,
Clym, Cassandra, who's points of view would not have been a concern in ancient Greece. Aeschylys
looks at complicated events and makes them even more complicated by showing that there's different
points of views on them.
Another period of popularity for tragedy as good as one in Greece was in England from
1570-1630, with Shakespeare from 1590 to 1610.
Italian Renaissance (16th century) was said to fail because Greek tragedy (possibly meant
''goat song'') was not recreated. Castrated boys to make them sing with a high voice
(castration at the right age does something to the chest and makes them sing better.) This
created Opera, which is about loss and tragedy. Tragedy did not die, it was recreated in
Opera (recreation of Tragic theatre). Opera was the most spread musical form in the west
before pop culture of the 60s.
Athenians and Greeks were fascinated by plays, and came from all over to Athens to watch tragedy.
Athenians made it central to their cultural life. Athenian playwrights travelled to other towns to put on
Tragedy was seen as intimately linked to God Dionysus. He was worshipped on little village shrines,
but had a shrine built to him in Athens. He was the god of wine, and the god of ecstasy. Ex-stasis means
to be beside yourself, or out of yourself (brought by intoxicants out of your regular state of mind).
Ecstasy was worshipped because it was believed to bring people closer to the gods. To be close to the
gods meant to understand and accept the nature of necessity; to surrender to want must be (Amor
fati=accept to love fate). Greeks thought it was religious to loose yourself in that activity. The gift of
Dionysus was wine. The Greeks said they have wine, but the Gods have something greater: the nectar,
which is the perfect form of wine. Wine, like theatre, was supposed to give you a glimpse of something
non-ordinary. At the beginning, theatre was probably linked to celebration of wine harvest. Wine
harvest celebrations included singing, dancing, processions, and sacrifices. Theatre is believed to be
born out of these kinds of celebrations of Dionysus. Went from singing, to having a singer on a stage
telling a story, led to playwrights writing songs and stories for singers, then to acting it all out.
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