History of Western Theatre: Greeks to Elizabethans/Origins and Traditions

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During the 5th century in the city of Athens, our first examples of public performance began to take place. Originally held in Eleutherae, was a temple dedicated to Dionysus, the Olympian Greek god of wine, the grape harvest, madness and ecstasy. On the southern slope of this temple, the earliest known formation of an agora developed which created the platform for all kinds of activities. All original dithyrambs and tragedies took place in this space along the hillside. Aside from performance art, other gatherings were held in the space including political, social, and religious gatherings, specifically the Dionysian festival, where competitions were held to judge the best tragedies and, from 487 B.C., comedies. The first winner in the tragedy genre was the 5th-century BC tragic poet and playwright Aeschylus of the Classical, Periclean age who also served as a hoplite in the Greco-Persian wars. It is this conflict that would heavily influence his later work The Persians: the only drama at the time to deal with relatively recent and contemporary events his audience would be familiar with.

Some would consider the agora as the center of the polis because of the various activities that frequently trafficked through the venue. However, the argument arises as to whether the first instance of "Greek Theatre" began here due to some defining qualities that are absent. There is little confirmation that the agora had an orchestra or whether they designated a particular space for an orchestra . If there was confirmation of an orchestra, then we can infer that the agora had designed a space for dancing and choral hymns. The presence of a "chorus" would also be an important factor in deciding whether "theatre" in the traditional sense took place there.