Theater unites the past and present in a unique cultural experience. Theatre continues to thrive and has become an important subject for study in schools and universities. Reaching back in time and across the world, this ranging new history draws on the latest scholarly research to describe and celebrate theatre?s greatest achievements over 4,500 years, from festival performances in Egypt to international multicultural theatre in the late twentieth century. English theatre has been changed by different cultures throughout the world.
The Father of drama was Thesis of Athens, 535 BC, who created the first actor. The actor performed in intervals between the dancing of the chorus and conversing at times with the leader of the chorus. The tragedy was further developed when new myths became part of the performance, changing the nature of the chorus to a group appropriate to the individual story. Aeschylus added a second actor and a third actor was added by Sophocles, and the number of the chorus was fixed at fifteen. The chorus? part was gradually reduced, and the dialogue of the actors became increasingly important. The word ?chorus? meant ?dance or ?dancing ground?, which was how dance evolved into the drama. Members of the chorus were characters in the play that commented on the action. They drew the audience into the play and reflected the audience?s reactions.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who observed the basic human tendancy to imitate, recognized the origins of Greek theatre in the dithyramb, a hymn sung and danced to honor the god Dionysus. This had evolved from earlier ecstatic dances by female celebrants of shamanism. A chorus of 50 men and related episodes from the god?s life performed the dithyramb at annual festivals of Dionysus.
The Greeks of Athens invented Western drama. Athenian playwrights used myths and heroic legends drawn from Homer and other sources, but shaped them to reflect contemporary issues. Theatre was a civic responsibility: writers and actors helped the people confront current political and religious problems. Greek drama was at its height between 500 ? 400 BC, when three Athenian tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and the comic playwright Aristophanes were creating there works.
Although based on Greek forms, Roman theatre differed in being largely for entertainment. The farces of Plautus were based on stock characters, such as the braggart soldier and the scheming slave. Terence included less buffoonery in his comedies and had a more realistic treatment of character and dialogue. Seneca wrote violent, blood-and-thunder tragedies that were intended to be recited rather than performed.
Based on the critical theories of the Greek thinker Aristotle and the Roman poet Horace, the neoclassical ideal was influenced throughout Europe in the mid- 1600s. Dramatic unites of time, place, and action; division of plays into 5 acts; purity of genre; and the concepts of decorum and verisimilitude were taken as rules of playwriting, particularly by French dramatists.
Renaissance ideas came late to England, where medieval influences were felt well into the 1500s – when Elizabeth I banned all religious plays. The resulting secularization of theatre, combined with classical ideas from Italian humanism, led university students and graduates to write for London theatre companies. Notable among these ?university wits? was Christopher Marlowe, whose Dr. Faustus is a traditional work, showing elements of the medieval morality play, but also anticipating Shakespeare in its use of blank verse.
The greatest playwright in the English language, Shakespeare was also an actor-manager of a professional company. He wrote to be performed; the script was only important until the actors knew there lines. Shakespeare never bothered to publish his plays- the first Folio of 1623, which includes texts of most of his 38 plays, was collected only after his death. His work, covering a broad range of comedy, tragedy, history, and pastoral, includes such immoral characters as Hamlet and Falstaff, Rosalind and Lady Macbeth.