How Theatre Began H. Melih Sünel
History of Theatre – Imitation and Celebration Mythological Story of Dionysus Birth of Dionysus Attributes of Dionysus Death and Rebirth of Dionysus Emerging of Tragedy Emerging of Comedy
History of Theatre – Imitation and Celebration The history of theatre is indeed the history of mankind. It is rather an act of language by which the phenomenal world is safely imitated and celebrated. This act lies at the very heart of ritual. In Aristotle's definition, drama is the imitation of life on stage. We do not know exactly how drama began, but it probably came into existence through religious rituals, storytelling, mimicry and other early human activities. The origin of drama is even traced back as far as Egypt to the year 4000 B.C.
The history of theatre in Europe begins in Athens more than five and a half centuries before the birth of Christ. The Athenians celebrated the rites of the God, Dionysus. In the 5th century there were three festivals each year, held in the honor of Dionysus at which plays were performed: The Lanaea (in January) The City Dionysia (end of March) The Rural Dionysia (in December)
Dionysus God of wineand fertility; also represented many irrational forces including human passions
He is often described as a beautiful young man with long hairand with grapes on his head.
Birth of Dionysus Dionysus was the only Greek God whose parents were not both divine. He was the son of Zeus and the Theban princess Semele. Zeus was madly in love with her. Thus he told her that anything she asked of him he would do, to please her. Semele wanted to see Zeus in his full splendor as King of Heaven and Lord of the Thunderbolt. According to the myth, it was Hera who put that wish into her heart. Zeus knew that no mortal could behold him but he could do nothing because Zeus has sworn to do whatever she wants.
When Zeus appeared in full splendor Semele died before the awful glorious splendor of Zeus' burning light.
Seeing that Semele was with child, and near birth, Zeus snatched the child from her and hid it away from Hera until the time had come for it to be born. Hermes carried the baby to be cared for by the nymphs of Nysa valley.
Attributes of Dionysus So Dionysus, The God of Wine, was born of fire and nursed by rain; the hard burning heat that ripens the grapes and the water that keeps the plant alive. Dionysus taught men the culture of the vine and the mysteries of worship. The God of Wine could be kind and beneficent. He could also be cruel and drive man on to frightful deeds. The worship of Dionysus was centered in these two ideas apart - of freedom and ecstatic joy and of savage brutality. The duality of Dionysus' nature is often expressed symbolically. He is sometimes depicted as a joy-god sometimes as a heartless, cruel, savage god.
This strange god, the joy giver, the lofty inspirer is also a sufferer. Dionysus was the vine, which is always pruned and every-branch cut away only the bare stock remained, through winter it was like a dead thing. According to the myth, he was torn to pieces, in some stories by the Titans, in other stories by Hera's orders. He was always brought back to life: he died and rose again. In Greek language, Dionysus means ‘twice born’. It was his joyful resurrection they celebrated in the theatre. He was the tragic suffering god.
Emerging of Tragedy Since Dionysus was the deity of wine and fertility, Greek drama originated in those rites by the terms of tragedy and comedy. . The first record of drama belongs to year 534 B.C. when a contest was held for the best tragedy. Thespis was the first dramatist who won this contest. Since Thespis was the first known actor, performers today are still sometimes called as Thespians.
It was customary for the competitors to produce three tragedies and a satyr play, the last being a burlesque character with a chorus of satyrs who were part men, part horse or goat. 'Tragos' means 'goat‘and 'ode' means 'song'. Performers wore goat skins and capered about like goats.
All the actors were male and they used masks to shift their identities. There was also a chorus consisted of 15 members. Chorus was the voice of wisdom. It mentioned the coming danger, the course of events.
Emerging of Comedy The Greeks knew and esteemed the therapeutic powers of laughter. Each performance day of the Dionysia festival ended with the presentation of a comedy, allowing the spectators to end the day with laughter. The Lanaea festival became the true feast of comedy. "Comedy" is derived from the Greek word “Comos” meaning making fun, entertaining, amusing oneself. Comedy is said to have its roots in the Phallos Songs which people sang while parading in the streets with symbols of fertility (or Phallos) in their hands. Phallos symbolized fertility.
The themes of these phallos songs were: Victory of hunting Arrival of spring Fertility Comedy used a Chorus of 24 members whosang and danced with the aim of a comic effect. comedy dealt with contemporary matters of politics or art. Comedies always ended with a happy ending. The language was simple.
I bring you wine from above,From the vats of the storied sun;For every one of your love,And life for every one. I lead you, lord of the maze,In the darkness free of the sun;In spite of the spite that is day’sWe are wed, we are wild, we are one. Aleister Crowley
Works Cited http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1942. 46-49. Estin, Colette and Helene Laporte. Yunan ve Roma Mitolojisi. Trans. Musa Eran. Ankara: Tubitak Yayınları, 2005. 110-112. Magalhaes, Roberto C. Antikçağ’dan Günümüze Sanatta Mitoloji. Trans. Yiğit D. Bengi. İstanbul: Alfa Yayınları: 2007. 478-79.