non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources

How the Theatre began

Cretan threshing floor The threshing floor

Greek villages had a flat round place where people brought the grain at harvest time and beat or threshed it to separate the grain from the outer husks.

This threshing floor made a good place for open-air dancing and singing, and on special occasions the villagers might gather to watch their young men singing and dancing. The dances might be in honour of one of their gods, like Dionysus the god of wine, and the songs might tell stories of the god.

The Greeks believed that a man named Thespis, who lived near Athens, was the first to act out a song in honour of Dionysus while the rest of the young men sang. So Thespis is remembered as the very first actor, and the man who invented drama in about 534 BC.

When there was only one actor, he had to wear different masks to show he was acting different people. Soon a second actor was used, and then a third, but there were hardly ever more than three actors in a Greek play.

Types of Play
From the very beginning, plays were of three kinds (Read more):

  • 1. Tragedies. These were serious plays, usually about gods and heroes from Greek myths;
  • 2. Comedies. These were usually ridiculous, and often made fun of important people in Athens;
  • 3. Satyr plays. These were short, funny plays, that the writers of tragedies made up to perform after the serious plays.

  • Theatres
    In the early years of drama, the theatres were not built of stone, like the Greek theatres we can see today, but used a low wooden platform with a tent behind it as a stage, while the chorus sang and danced on the bare earth, and the audience sat on a hillside to watch.


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