In a world where the stage was a market place and the word “play” was rarely heard of unless in reference to recreation, began a revolution so mighty, that not until several centuries later, was to ever be witnesses again. In the booming cities of Greece and Rome bore the art that we all cherish, the art that set the basis of entertainment from the time of it’s birth even until this day: theatre. It all began in 525 BC with a man named Aeschylus.
Aeschylus is considered the founder and father of Greek tragedy. He was born in 525 B.C. in Eleusis. Throughout his life, Aeschylus did many things. He introduced the second actor to Greek theater, and removed bloodshed from view of the audience. He tried to involve the chorus directly in the action of the play. All of these are things that made Greek theatre more interesting. He was proud, stern, and impatient, which makes sense because he fought at Marathon. He involved military terms in his plays for this reason. He also improved the costumes of the theatre. Aeschylus is said to have written 90 plays, however only 79 of them are named but only 7 have survived the many years. He liked to write trilogies as shown in The Orestia, which contains the famous Agamemnon. Unfortunately, Aeschylus passed away in 456 B.C. The tale goes that an eagle mistook his head for a stone and dropped a tortoise on his head.
Aristophanes was the only major ancient Greek playwright who wrote comedies. The “Father of comedy” was born in 446 B.C. He was said to having been able to create the most realistic portrayal of the life in ancient Athens. Aristophanes made 46 plays but sadly, only 11 have survived. He was known for writing “The Wasps”, “Peace”, and “The Birds. Sadly, he passed away in 386 B.C. to the sorrow of his fans.
As the years continued, so too did the playwrights. Born in 480 BC in Athens, Euripides , the third musketeer to the Greek trio, took the pen. As the years went on, he crafted the genre of tragic-comedy, love-drama, and New Comedy. Throughout his works he had a certain dignified technique that created a personal perspective, as if he were verbally writing the words. He viewed his works in a rhetorical and strategic manner rather that poetic and insightful and sought to “intrigue” his audience, a very creative twist to a common perception at the time. Although he wrote between 75 and 92 plays, only 19 survived and he maintained an inferior position to his predecessors. The imagination in his plays was derived from women (he was actually the first playwright to introduce LIVE women to the stage) and mythology such as Medea and the Helen of Troy! His women-hating habits in the script and unorthodox views degraded him in society. Interestingly, it wasn’t until after his controversial death that his popularity spiked. When the death day arrived, the cause was strangely similar to the plot of one of his most famous plays: Bacchae.
Still active in the Greek world came Sophocles. He did much service as a priest for numerous year in the footsteps of Alcon and Asclepius. He soon gave up the profession and in 468 B.C. he defeated Aeschylus in a competition of drama, and shortly after, Euripides defeated him! He was renowned for his 20 first place rankings and the conflict he had with his jealous son at an elder age, as he was accused of mental incapacitation. In defense, Sophocles successfully recited a portion of Oedipus Coloneus, a play he had recently finished. At this same time, he finished the well known work of Antigone! His style consisted mainly of finding human character, not to mention, he was the first to add a third actor!
Across the way, Rome experienced this flourish of stage art. Terence was one of the few comedic playwrights of the Ancient Greek and Roman times. Hewas born in either Carthage or in Greece, the true whereabouts are unknown. He was forced into slavery at a young age. He was moved from Rome to Carthage as a slave. While in Rome he worked inside the household of his master. His owner freed Terence so he could write plays and receive recognition for them. He wrote 6 plays and all of them were comedies, which is surprising because of all of the tragedies that were being written at that time. His first and last plays were Andria and Adelphoe. Terence was less liked because he was more refined than other roman playwrights, like Plautus. Sadly, he died along a trip to Greece to learn about theatre but no one truly knows what happened.
Next in line was Plautus, born in 254 BC, one of the major writers of Roman comedy to which several modern plays are based upon. Growing up as a stage carpenter (essentially a techie of those times), he was very fimiliar with the stage and its processes. As a traveling Roman soldier, he was introduced to plays overseas and thus gained inspiration (especially from Menander) to write and entertain his own people, building him a questionable reputation. In the end, he wrote around 130 pieces, such as the Pot of Gold, The Rope, and the Merchant, with only 21 surviving. In these pieces, he tried to incorporate the various settings that he had experienced in his lifetime, intertwining unique songs and dances at the end of his plays as well! He was ALL about the humor: puns, sarcasm, whatever it took to get a laugh!
“Seneca Suicide”; Seneca was born in Spain in 4 B.C. He received and education in Rome and took on the titles of a playwright, orator, and philosopher. Seneca was the tutor to Nero and when Nero became emperor, Seneca became his advisor. Eight of Seneca’s plays have survived the many years and they are all different versions of plays written prior to his existence. He adapted the works of both Sophocles and Aeschylus with Oedipus and Agamemnon. Seneca’s plays contained five different episodes, and the chorus separated each. He incorporated soliloquies and asides within his works as well. Seneca was best known for his scenes of violence. In Oedipus, the queen, Locasta, rips open her womb. Unfortunately, in 65 A.D. Nero became suspicious of Seneca conspiring against him, and was forced to commit suicide.
As this method of tradition was carried throughout history, some of today’s most renowned playwrights have resulted. This journey of the stage does not come to an end, but rather a new beginning… who’s next?