Introduction to a Greek Tragedy

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					Introduction to
 Greek Tragedy
“It’s all Greek to me…”
    Background of Greek Tragedy
   Origins
       Tragedy is thought to have developed from the
        ancient choral lyric which was sung by a male
        chorus in honor of Dionysus, god of wine, at his
        annual festivals.
       The word “tragedy” comes from the Greek word
        “tragoidia” meaning “goat song.” At these
        festivals the Greeks sacrificed a goat on the
        altar to Dionysus while singing the choral lyrics.
 The lyric expanded from myths about
  Dionysus to stories from the whole
  legendary tradition.
 The father of drama was said by the
  Greeks to have been Thespis. In 534 B.C.
  Thespis put on the first tragedy at the
  Festival of Dionysus in Athens.
   Plot of a Greek Tragedy
     The stories used in tragedy were taken
     almost exclusively from mythology.
     These ancient myths and heroic legends
     were important to the Greeks, for they
     recorded what was thought to be the
     collective social, political, and religious
     history of the people and included many
     profound tales about the problems of
     human life and the nature of the gods.
 The custom requiring the use of these
 mythological stories in tragedy satisfied
 an essential requirement of the religious
 function of drama, for it enabled the poets
 to deal with subjects of great moral
 dignity and emotional significance.
 The audience then learned from tragedy
 what personal motives and outside forces
 had driven the characters to act as they
 did. Because poets used plots familiar to
 their audience, they would have
 opportunities to use irony and subtle (or
 not so subtle) allusions.
      Who wrote Oedipus Rex?
 Sophocles    (496 B.C. – 406 B.C.)
   His life spanned the rise and decline of the
    Athenian Empire, in which he was a
    playwright, government official, and warrior.
   He preferred plays that dealt with the struggle
    of a strong individual against fate, portraying
    people as they should be.
   The most memorable feature of Sophocles’
    drama is his cast of vivid, dynamic
           Greek Theatre
   The Theatre
     Performances  were held in daylight in
     enormous, open-air arenas. A typical
     theatre was built on a hillside, giving the
     seating area a natural rise so thousands
     of spectators could clearly view the
   The Actors
       the vast outdoor theatre, actors had to
     In
     make themselves appear larger than life.
   Actors, cont.
       Each actor wore a mask of linen, cork, or wood,
        on which was painted an exaggerated
        expression. For example, a sad face for a
        troubled kind, or a woman’s face to distinguish
        that the character was a woman since all actors
        were male. Funnel-shaped mouth openings
        helped actors project their voices.
       Costumes were used to identify a specific type of
        character. These came in different colors to
        represent different characters. For example, to
        represent royalty, Greek actors wore tunics with
        sleeves and actors playing gods and goddesses
        usually had an identifying symbol.
       Structure of a Tragedy
   Greek tragedies were performed without intermissions or
 Prologue – the opening scene, in which the
  background of the story is established, usually
  by a single actor
 Parados – the entrance of the chorus, usually
  chanting a lyric which bears some relation to the
  main theme of the play
 Episode – the counterpart of the modern act or
  scene, in which the plot is developed through
  action and dialogue between the actors, with the
  chorus sometimes playing a minor role.
    Structure of a Tragedy, Cont.
 Stasimon – the choral ode. A stasimon comes
  at the end of each episode so that the tragedy
  is a measured alternation between these two
 Exodus – the final action after the last
  stasimon, ended by the ceremonial exit of all
  the players
 Strophe – stanza that chorus sings as they
  move from right to left across the stage
 Antistrophe – countermovement; stanza that
  chorus sings as they move from left to right
  across the stage
           Define Tragedy
   A tragedy is an imitation of an action
    that is serious, has magnitude, and is
    complete in itself. The incidents in the
    plot arouse pity and fear on the part of
    the audience so the end of the tragedy
    brings about a catharsis, an outlet or
    purging of emotions aroused in the
    play. The audience then leaves the
    theatre cleansed and uplifted.
               Tragic Hero
   Since the aim of a tragedy is to arouse pity and fear
    through an alteration in the status of the central character,
    the tragic hero must be:
     A figure with whom the audience can identify so
      his fate can trigger the emotions of pity and fear
      on the part of the audience
     True to life and consistent
     Highly renowned and prosperous, but not pre-
      eminently virtuous and just
     Possesses a flaw in his character that inevitably
      causes his downfall; this flaw is not a vice but a
      weakness of character
            Tragic Flaw
 The tragic hero possesses a tragic flaw so
  he will not be a completely admirable man,
  and thus a realistic character.
 The tragic flaw is Hubris which means
  overwhelming pride in oneself.
 Because he is so proud of himself, the tragic
  hero makes a mistake, which is called Ate.
 This mistake leads to his downfall or
  retribution or punishment, Nemesis.
    The Legend and the Play
 As with any Greek tragedy, Oedipus
  Rex (the King), is based on a legend.
  The task of the Greek playwright is to
  give the “continuing story” of the
 So listen closely and you will hear the
  Legend of Oedipus. (Introduction p.