Study Guides > Greek Theater Study Guide
- Overview of Greek Theater
- The Physical Theater
- Important Facts About Greek Theater and Greek Drama
- Select Greek Theater Bibliography
- Greek Chorus
- Tragedy - Setting the Stage
Ancient Greek Playwrights
Principal Poets of Tragedy and Comedy
- Aeschylus: See Study Guide for his Seven Against Thebes
- Sophocles: See Summary for his Oedipus Tyrannos
- Euripides: See Study Guide for his The Bacchae
The conventional theater of Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde (e.g. The Importance of Being Earnest) has discrete acts subdivided into scenes, with a cast of characters engaged in dialogue with one another. It's hard to believe that this easy to understand and familiar format comes from the ancient Greeks whose drama originally had no individual speaking parts.
Scholars debate the origins of Greek drama, but it is thought that drama developed out of a form of religious, ritual worship by a chorus of (singing and dancing) men, possibly dressed as horses, connected with the vegetation god Dionysus. Thespis, from whose name comes the term 'thespian' for someone interested in acting, is supposed to be the man responsible for giving the first speaking role to someone. Perhaps he gave it to the leader of the chorus.
The three famous Greek tragedians whose works survive, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, made further contributions to the genre of tragedy.
Aristophanes, a writer of comedy, wrote mostly what is known as Old Comedy. He is the last old comedy writer whose works survive. New Comedy, almost a century later, is represented by Menander. We have much less of his works: many fragments, and one almost complete, prize-winning comedy, Dyskolos.
Rome has a tradition of derivative comedy. Plautus and Terence were the most influential writers of the Romans' Fabula Palliata) comedy. Shakespeare used some of their plots in his comedies. Plautus was even the inspiration for the 20th century's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. There were also Romans (including Naevius and Ennius) who, adapting the Greek tradition, wrote tragedy in Latin. Unfortunately, their tragedies haven't survived. For extant Roman tragedy we can read Seneca; however, Seneca may have intended his plays for readings rather than performances in the theater.