European Influence Of Theater

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Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the Arts today is the Performing Arts. Yet, without previous cultures such as the ancient Greeks, the Romans, and the Europeans, we would not have the entertaining, history enriched performing arts that we do now. The history of the Ancient Greek Theater begins with a man known as Thespis. A figure of whom we know very little, he won the play competition in honor of the Greek god Dionysus, in 534 B.C. While it is uncertain whether Thespis was a playwright, an actor or a priest, it is his name with which the dramatic arts are associated in our word Thespian. The Greeks held their performances in theaters located in large (holding up to twenty thousand people) hillside amphitheaters. The players included a chorus and their leader, and the lines were chanted instead of spoken. The actors performed below the audience, rather than performing on a raised stage, as actors do now. They used masks to represent characters and high soled boots worn to add height to the players limited the movement of the actors. The concept of "actors" was not originally a part of Greek theater, but was developed over a period of time. The decline of Greek government and society coincided with the rise of the Roman Empire. The Romans borrowed borrowed much from the Greeks, including their Gods and their theater. Although Roman theater may not be held in the same high esteem as that of the Greeks, they inherited much from the influence of the Roman Theater, including the word "play" itself, which derives from a literal translation of the Latin word ludus, which means recreation, or play. An author of some Roman theatrical dramas is Plautus (250-184 B.C.). Plays of a more serious literary nature continued to be written during Plautus’ time in Rome, but these were not intended to be performed so much as read or recited. Although we have few works by Roman playwrights surviving to us, the influence of the Roman world on the form of the stage is one which had more lasting effect. The semi-circular orchestra of the Greek theater came to be “eclipsed” by the raised stage and the more vigorous style of acting employed by the performers. However, the greatest impact Rome may have had on the theater was to lower it in the esteem of the Church an impact that was to slow the growth of the dramatic arts for several centuries. The theater of that time, being bent toward low comedy, and its mass appeal, coupled with its association with the entertainment of the gladiator arena (which involved the martyrdom and killing of early Christians), almost certainly contributed to its upsetting of officials of the early Christian Church. Plays were associated with either comedy of a coarse and mature nature, or with pagan rituals and holidays. It was the latter, however, which may account for the survival of theater through the Middle Ages. Some have written that theater died following the fall of the Roman Empire, and its memory was kept alive only in the performances of roving bands of “jongleurs”; itinerant street players, jugglers, acrobats and animal trainers. However, while such troupes did help to maintain certain aspects of theatrical art, particularly that involving stock characters, the Church itself contributed to the preservation of theater. It is ironic that the Christian Church, which caused theaters to be outlawed as the Roman Empire declined and then fell, was one of the main reasons that the theater kept alive all through the Middle Ages. This resulted from the Church's need to establish itself in the community -- a community still steeped in pagan ritual and superstition which manifested itself in seasonal festivals. The Church ultimately linked its own religious holidays with these seasonal festivals and began to use dramatic form to illustrate the stories underlying these holidays so as to reinforce their religious beliefs and to better communicate their religious stories to an illiterate congregation. In the years to follow (15th an

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