What was the Importance/significance of Theatre in Ancient Greek society?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Theater was hugely important for the Greeks. Today, we tend to look at theater primarily as a source of entertainment; the Greeks wanted to be entertained too. But for them, these performances had a much deeper cultural significance, one which we no longer share in the 21st century.

From the outset, Greek theater was indissolubly linked with religion, which was itself an integral component of Greek culture. The first tragedies were performed at religious festivals and undoubtedly had a cultic element to them. The most significant of such festivals was that devoted to Dionysus, God of wine and merriment. The Dionysia, as it was called, took place at the beginning of each spring and lasted for about a week. During that time, the Athenians would be treated to a huge number of performances, covering every form of drama.

It is interesting to note that, initially, there were no permanent theaters in Athens. Theaters were temporary structures erected for the duration of the relevant festival. There was no sense, then, in which Greek theater had a life of its own apart from community festivities.

And if nothing else, Greek theater was a communal activity. The populations of Greek city states such as Athens were relatively small by today's standards so it was entirely practical for most citizens at any one time to come and watch a play. This high level of community engagement was crucial to the Greeks. Playgoers weren't simply spectators looking on from their seats at the unfolding action below; they were active participants in a social ritual that reinforced the bonds between citizens. In addition, theater became a way for Greeks to inculcate themselves with a sense of civic pride and virtue, celebrate their achievements in war, culture, and civilization, and project their power in relation to other cities and territories.

In Athens, the theater also served as a forum for political debate and disputation. For the duration of the Dionysia, the institutions of government and law would be suspended and the center of Athenian political life would then shift to the theater, where contentious issues could be aired and discussed through the medium of drama. In this way, the substance of political life of the city state could still continue, albeit in a different outward form.



Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Theatre in Ancient Greece was popularized in Athens around 550 B.C Theater was an important part of the cultural festival of Dionysian. Dionysus was the Greek god of grape harvest, and wine, and served as a symbol of pleasure and ecstasy within Greek culture. Theater was an important part of this festival, and represented its climax.

Greek theater served as an important tool by which cultural exchange could take place. Plays commonly referenced important, political, social, cultural and religious themes. They offered new views and asked thought provoking questions, and helped to form what we have come to know as the philosophical and moral base of Greek culture.

Doing so with the use of what were at the time novel theatric devices such as, costumes, masks, staging, acting, singing, and sarcasm.



cocostar98 | Student

The Theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalized as part of a festival called the Dionysian, which honoured the god Dionysus. Tragedy (late 6th century BC), comedy (486 BC), and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity. Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

Hope I helped. :)