Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th century BCE, with the Sopocles, the
great writer of tragedy. In his plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were
depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for honor and fame, his action was
courageous and glorious and his life would climax in a great and noble death.
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Originally, the hero’s recognition was created by selfish behaviors and little thought of service
to others. As the Greeks grew toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and ambition of
the hero to gain honor by serving his city.
The second major characteristic of the early Greek world was
the supernatural. The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world as the men, and
they interfered in the men’s lives as they chose to. It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men.
In the plays of Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero’s downfall because of a tragic flaw in the
character of the hero.
In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly matters and of the individual. Aristotle
attempted to explain how an audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable experience.
Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose
Oedipus Rex he considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his definition of tragedy.
explanation has a profound influence for more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most
significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle’s analysis of tragedy began with a description of the effect such a
work had on the audience as a “catharsis” or purging of the emotions.
He decided that catharsis was the
purging of two specific emotions, pity and fear. The hero has made a mistake due to ignorance, not
because of wickedness or corruption. Aristotle used the word “hamartia”, which is the “tragic flaw” or
offense committed in ignorance.
For example, Oedipus is ignorant of his true parentage when he commits his fatal deed.
Oedipus Rex is one of the stories in a three-part myth called the Thebian cycle. The structure of
most all Greek tragedies is similar to Oedipus Rex. Such plays are divided in to five parts, the prologue
or introduction, the “prados” or entrance of the chorus, four episode or acts separates from one another
by “stasimons” or choral odes, and “exodos”, the action after the last stasimon.
These odes are lyric
poetry, lines chanted or sung as the chorus moved rhythmically across the orchestra. The lines that
accompanied the movement of the chorus in one direction were called “strophe”, the return movement was
accompanied by lines called “antistrophe”. The choral ode might contain more than one strophe or