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Greek Architecture - Theatres

( Originally Published 1921 )

The Greek theatre, which consisted of orchestra, auditorium, and stage, was generally hollowed out of the slope of a hill near a city, was unroofed, and was intended for use in the daytime (p. 109). The orchestra, the germ of the Greek theatre, was a complete circle, and here the chorus chanted and danced, as by voice and gesture they unfolded the tale of the drama acted on the stage. The auditorium rose in tiers of seats cut out of the solid rock, sometimes faced with marble, encircling about two-thirds of the orchestra, and thus spectators at the two extremities faced towards the orchestra, but away from the stage. The stage or " logeion " (speaking-place), for the few actors usual in a Greek drama, was a long, narrow plat-form with permanent architectural background connected with the booth or dressing-room behind, known as the " skene," a name retained in the " scene " of modern theatres. To what height above the level of the orchestra this platform or stage was raised is a question that has been much debated. The most probable theory as to the evolution of the stage and its relation to the orchestra seems to be the following: (I) In pre-AEschylean drama, before regular theatres were built, an actor mounted on a table, possibly the table-altar of the god Dionysos, and held a dialogue with the dancers and chorus. The rude table-stage illustrated on vases from South Italy may represent a local retention of this primitive custom. (z) In the fifth century B.C., though no direct evidence is available, it is practically certain that there was a low wooden stage connected by steps with the orchestra. (3) The fourth century B.C. is the earliest period in which there is architectural evidence that at Megalopolis there was a wooden platform from 3 ft. 3 ins. to 4 ft. 6 ins. high, with a stone colonnade as a background, and that at Epidauros the wooden platform was sup-ported by a wall 12 ft. high. (4) In later Hellenistic and Roman times, the Greek stage, according to Vitruvius, was from 10 to 12 ft. high, and his statement is borne out by extant examples.

The Theatre of Dionysos, Athens (B.C. 340) (p. 75 C), in which it is said thirty thousand spectators could be accommodated, is the prototype of all Greek theatres. It is scooped out of the slope of the Acropolis rook and was thus at the centre of the life of the city, and here the plays of the great Athenian dramatists were presented, and here those famous choragic competitions took place during the Panathenaic festivals, for which the tripods were awarded, such as that which was borne aloft on the Monument of Lysicrates.

The Theatre, Epidauros (p. log A, B, C), designed by Polycleitos, is the most beautiful as well as the best preserved of Greek theatres. The circle of the orchestra, which is intact, is about 66 ft. across, and the entire theatre is 373 ft. in diameter. Thirty-two rows of seats forming the lower division are separated by a broad passage or diazoma from the twenty rows above, while twenty-four flights of steps diverge as radii from bottom to top, and give access to all parts of the theatre.

There was usually such a theatre in every Greek settlement, as at Egesta, Syracuse, Argos, and Ephesus, but they have been altered by the Romans.

The Theatre, Bradfield College (p. log D), excavated out of a chalk pit, gives an excellent idea of a Greek theatre on a small scale, with its concrete-lined steps and seats and its wooden stage and scene, and reality is given to the use of the various parts by the Greek plays periodically given there.

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