The question of the origin of the drama is one of the most controversial issues due to the lack of direct historical information about the initial period of its formation. To find its answer, they try to guess what period can be called the one of drama formation. The representatives of the extreme bourgeois directions are looking for the roots of drama in the spirit of pessimism, music, religious sense, and the cult of the dead. However, the only reliable method is to examine the material contained in the surviving works and historical data about theater and drama of ancient times. The present paper is devoted to the discussion of the origin of Greek drama and theater as well as analyses the role of women in ancient Greek drama on the examples of the works of its brightest representatives, Euripidis and Sophocles.
Drama was born in Greece in VI century BC in Athens. Quite a long period of time preceded the emergence of drama in Greece while the leading theatrical genres were epic and lyric. Drama was the unique synthesis of the achievements of the earlier formed childbirth literature, absorbing the “epic” heroic, monumental character and “lyrical” individual start (Haigh 17). The emergence and development of Greek drama and theatre were mainly related to ceremonial games of mimic nature, which were marked by many peoples and were preserved for centuries. The mimic games of agricultural people were part of the celebrations devoted to the dying and resurrecting Gods of fertility. Such holidays had two sides – serious, “passionate”, and carnival, celebrating the victory of the light forces of life.
In Greece, the ceremonies were associated with the cult of the patron of Gods of agriculture: Dionysus, Demeter and her daughter Persephone. During the festivities in honor of the God Dionysus, people sang festive and fun carnival songs, wore masks and goatskins (Haigh 18). The festivity was accompanied by songs and performances, which have eventually rooted in the Greek culture. Three genres of ancient Greek drama – comedy, tragedy and satire drama came from the ritual games and songs in honor of Dionysus. An integral part of national holiday activities, connected with agricultural work, was singing and dancing that have led to the emergence of classical Greek drama.
From ancient times, Greek art was associated with the famous Greek theater that consisted of two scenes: one scene was meant for the actors, while the other – the orchestra – for chorus consisting of 12 or 15 people. The ancient Greeks believed that the theatre should disclose widely and deep themes, famous high-quality human spirit and reveal the vices of people and society (Burn 7). The person, who watched drama, had to experience spiritual and moral shock. During the performance of the tragedy the audience should cry, while during the comedy, the audience should laugh. In other words, drama was created to call for the deepest strings of human nature. The ancient Greeks created such theatrical forms as monologue and dialogue. They widely used multidimensional opening in the drama, using the chorus as a commentator of current events. Choral warehouse was monophonic, sung in unison, performed mainly by men, whose voices dominated in the choirs.
Ancient Greek theatre had special structure – the amphitheater, designed specifically for the actor’s performance and audience perception. It used scenes and the layout of seats for spectators, which are still applied by modern theatres. The Greeks created the scenery for plays, where the actors demonstrated special pathetic manner of pronouncing texts, with the use of pantomime and expressive plasticity (Arnott 45). However they deliberately did not use facial expressions and wore special masks, which were symbolically reflecting the generalized image of joy and sorrow.
Greek drama was intended for wide layers of the population. It was a reflection of the passionate side of the Dionysian cult. According to Aristotle, drama originates from the singers of the dithyramb, but later the dialogue was sung with the choir and was gradually added with elements of acting. Greek drama, as a rule, borrowed its plots from well-known Greek mythology. The interest of the audience was focused on the story, but on the author’s interpretation of the myth, on social and moral issues, which were revolved around the well-known episodes of the myth (Ashby 27). Within the mythological frame, drama playwrights reflected contemporary socio-political situation, expressed their philosophical, ethnic, and religious beliefs; therefore it is undoubtedly that the role of drama in developing of the socio-political and ethical education of citizens was enormous.
The drama witnessed its significant growth in the second half of the VI century BC According to ancient tradition; the first Athenian tragic poet was Fespid. The first performance of his drama was demonstrated in spring in 534 B. C. on the feast of the Great Dionysius (Ashby). This year is regarded as the birth year of world theatre. Fespid invented a great number of innovations that are associated with the Greek drama; for example, he perfected masks and theatrical costumes, but the major innovation of Fespid was the selection of one artist, actor, and glee. The actor could answer the questions of the choir or contact the choir with questions, leave the stage and return to it, portray different characters. Thus, early Greek drama was a kind of dialogue between the actor and the chorus; thus, the actor became a carrier of effective beginning, although the most considerable part of the drama was performed by the choir, which was given the special role.
Women in the Ancient Greek Society
The development of art and drama in particular, is connected to numerous spheres of life of the ancient Greek society and the role of women is given a special place in the whole Greek art. Position of women in society determined the development of drama and provided this genre with numerous characters; therefore, many heroines of the Greek dramas are women. It is a well-known fact that woman took the secondary place in the society of ancient Greece. The major role of a simple woman in Ancient Greece was to take care for the families and serve their husbands; therefore ancient Greek women did not spend much time for education, as it was considered they did not need it. The basic idea stated women did not require education, as they were not competing with men. In other words, women were not highly educated, therefore, they were not allowed to take high positions in society.
Hetaeras were considered a special category of ancient Greek women, who were attending a special school, where they studied different kinds of arts, types of entertainment for men, improved their communication and public speaking skills. Due to the fact that these women accompanied men during their feasts, they needed to be more educated in order to correspond to the level of men, who have chosen them. However, these women were not considered urban residents and those who did not have the honor to receive education, were considered slaves (male or female). Those women who had the opportunity to receive education, had the right to work and could get freedom back. Greek girls were taught weaving and other domestic affairs. Moreover, Greek girls were taught dancing, music and physical education. Girls, who were going to become Hetaeras, studied grammar, rhetoric and dialectic as well.
Modern woman, having read about the educational system of Ancient Greece, might think that the Greeks did not pay attention to women; however, there are historical facts that actually Greek women were considered the most educated ones among representatives of all other cultures and this tendency preserved up to the 19th century. Interestingly, some Greek women even managed to play major roles in theatre, where all the roles were played by men. The music was one of the main facets of women’s learning. It proves that the role of women in the ancient Greek theater was big, although much attention was paid to the roles of men. Moreover, most Greek playwrights, who demonstrated their plays on the stage, were men as well.
Roles of Women in Ancient Greek Theater and Greek drama
The roles of women in ancient Greek drama were played by men, in most cases, because all the playwrights were men and women were not allowed to perform in the theatrical performances. In order to play women more naturally, men turned to women in real life in order to teach how it was to be a woman. Of course, women attended theater, but they were more likely to be Hateares and courtesans. The role of woman in religion was extremely huge, therefore they were not allowed to participate in theatrical performances and were excluded from festivals and carnivals. However, there were cases when women played in theaters, but they played only the roles of Goddesses, like in the Minoan culture. Such performances were dramatization, but drama performance.
As was mentioned, women did not participate in drama, as it was a custom. Drama was considered to be the entertainment for men and was a festival in the honor of Dionysus, that is why only men were allowed to participate in it. However, there were special festivals for women, during which women were allowed to play in the theaters and perform the roles of goddesses. During the fertility festival, a festival queen and king were selected, and were personalization of God and Goddess of fertility. They might even participate in a hallowed marriage, which was meant to be the union of deities. It was likely for the women in Ancient Greece to participate in such ceremonies. In this case, men could not substitute women. Such limitation of the rights of women and their roles in the Greek theater was to demonstrate that the major role of the women was to serve men and take care of their children, while men’s role was earning the lives and entertainment.
Major playwrights of Ancient Greeks
The development of Greek tragedy is associated with such playwrights of Ancient Greece as Sophocles and Euripides. They are the creators of ancient tragedy in its classical form and their works are the reflection of life of the Greek policies with their ideology and morality.
The content of tragedies, their orientation and sense distinguish Euripides from the other great playwrights. He does not idealize his characters, but depicts people as they really are with all their advantages and drawbacks. In the hands of Euripides traditional myths are exposed to such interpretations and changes that the characters lose their heroic traits and become ordinary people (Taplin 34). Only humble and despised characters of Euripides – women (especially young girls) and peasants are sometimes able to rise above the general level, having performed a feat of courage, loyalty and dedication. The major characters of Euripides are depicted as people with sympathy and courage, who are able to change their lives and influence the lives of the others. The theme of the tragedy is unhappiness and suffering of people, who are guilty in their destiny, themselves. Euripides saw the reason of sorrows of people in the peculiarities of human nature: it is the ignorance and stupidity of the people themselves, their unbridled passions and feelings, their greed, ambition and cruelty, which are ruining their own lives and the lives of loved ones.
The role of women is paid much attention in his works, as well as in the works of other bright representatives of the ancient Greek drama who presented many plays, where the major role was given to woman. Helen is a character of the three tragedies of Euripides: “Troiades”, “Helen” and “Orestes”. Two of them, “Troiades” and “Orestes”, represent the traditional image of Helen, who escaped with Paris, infidel wife and the guilty in the sorrows and tragedies of the Greek people, while in the tragedy “Helen”, Euripides portrays her as innocent. It proves that the role of women was diverse and playwrights wanted to show the numerous sides of female nature (Austin 12). The tragedy “Troiades” depicts the period of slavery of women and shows Helen as an obedient woman, who is ready to do everything for her people.
In the interpretation of the image of Helen there are two aspects in the tragedy. On the one hand, Helen is the image of the woman in a way it was perceived by the ancient Greeks, the “Queen of evil”, the heroine of the war and all the troubles caused by the war (Rayer 25). The image of Helen, as a woman, is surrounded by the hatred t crowd, which considers her to be guilty in sorrows and troubles of Greece. On the other hand, Euripidis emphasizes Helen’s divine and magic power. He wanted to demonstrate that despite low position of woman in Greek society, she had great power in her hands (Suzuki 27). The beauty, courtesy and witty mind of Helen is the embodiment of Greek woman, who can be wise and obedient, but become the reason of the bloody wars (Euripidis and Griffith, 34-35)
In Helen, the image of Helen is the image of devoted wife. Two sides of Helen are shown by Euripides in his dramas. In The Trojan Women, the audience sees her feminine wiles put to use on Menelaus. Essentially happy in Troy while in Helen, this woman is depicted as devoted to Menelaus and an absolute pawn in the plans of God.
The next bright representative of the ancient Greek drama is Sophocles. The image of woman, as the central character, is also depicted in his plays. Antigone is the play under analysis, where the central image is that of Antigone, the Greek young woman. In Sophocle’s play, Antigone is the ideal of loving parents and a noble self-sacrifice in the performance of her duties towards his brother, which led to her tragic death. At least, this is the image that we see in two famous tragedies of Sophocles: “Oedipus at Colonus” and “Antigone”, which have immortalized her name.
Antigone by Sophocles is a very young girl. She was engaged, but not married yet. Greek girls were engaged at a very young age; therefore, Antigone is a very young heroine, of about fifteen years old. Her behavior may see very strange, wild and daring for the girl of her age, but Sophocles wanted to show the real nature of Greek woman. Antigone is a kind of woman, who refuses to live by the rules, adopted by the society; therefore, she chooses her own destiny, demonstrating the free will. Moreover, Antigone allows herself to intervene in such cases which were the prerogative of men. Thus, it seems unlikely that the Athenian audience sympathizes Antigone, although she is not obedient as a woman should be. Moreover, Sophocles entrusted Antigone with the mission to fulfill the will of Gods.
The next famous representative of the Ancient Greek drama is Aeschylus, who was one of the geniuses of his era. He was a poet of enormous, almost incredible creative energy.
Aeschylus created his heroic poems to serve the people and honor spiritual power of man, his indomitable power, moral energy of heroism. Together with other representatives of the ancient Greek drama, Aeschylus paid much attention to the image of woman. Klimenestra is his major heroine of his trilogy Orestea.
Sometimes it seems (but this is just an illusion) that the story of Agamemnon and Kilimenestra is possible to tell just as the history of the spouses, who had ample reason to be mutual hatred, so much and compelling that Klimenestra could have killed her husband. This point of view, emphasizing the cruelty of men’s nature, is expressed abruptly and very realistically by the poet. Before the appearance of Klimenestra on stage, the audience gets an idea of her strong-willed character. She is the “unfeminine woman, but with hopes and the soul of men” (Ashby 67).
Klimenestra is the only character appearing in all three tragedies; she is presented as a terrible incarnation of marital hatred. This woman would never be able to forget the actions of her husband Agamemnon, who was near Troy, and who did not prevent the murder of their daughter Iphigenia, obeying the Oracle who had foretold him that he would succeed in a pointless war started to return Helen to Menelaus. Klimenestra has been preserving hatreds to her husband and has been living by the desire to revenge. The image of Klimenestra is the representation of the strong will and men’s character, embodied in a woman. Also, I will take my chance to tell you that in the XXI century we need to seek equality and you can read about why in this man and woman should have equal rights essay.