The Ancient World: Classical Roman Drama


Figure 1.--

Drama was also an important art form in ancient Rome. Drama was both an art form and like the gladatorial contsts, a public spectacle. Thus they were performed in huge ampitheaters. Rome had a nunber of large theaters. The challenge of sound and lighting faced by the Greeks was handled in the same way--outdoor ampitheaters. Rome itself had several large ampitheaters especially designed to perform plays. The best surving example is the theatre Marcellus. Unlike Greece, drama was not an indegenous Roman art form. The Roman drama of Seneca (for tragedy) and of Plautus and Terence (for comedy) derived ultimately (with many changes of course) from the drama of Greece. Despite the design of the amphhiaters, seeing the stage and hearing the actors was a problem. Roman audiences were notorious for making noise. This led to a degree of styliazation, inluding a range of conventions. Masks and costumes helped to clue the audience into what was happening even if the actors could not be heard well. The masks were color coded, brown for men and white for women. Masks might be smiling or sad. This was determined by the type of play. Costumes were used to identify the character. A purple costume identified a rich man. Boys wore striped togas. Other conventions were: short cloak (soldier), red toga (poor man), and short tunic (slave). There were no women actors, this was considered inappropriate. Thus a male actor of small stature or a boy would play the female roles. Roman dramas hd two sets of actors. There was an actor who spoke the character's lines. A diiferent actor mimed the part on stage. The gestures used were also styilized to emphasze the lines. A way of identifying some one who was sick, for example was to take his pulse. Boys were important in Roman theater necaus so many of the femle roles were played by them.

Importance

Drama was also an important art form in ancient Rome. Drama was both an art form and like the gladatorial contsts, a public spectacle.

Productions

Thus they were performed in huge ampitheaters. Rome had a nunber of large theaters. The challenge of sound and lighting faced by the Greeks was handled in the same way--outdoor ampitheaters. Rome itself had several large ampitheaters especially designed to perform plays. The best surving example is the theatre Marcellus. Despite the design of the amphhiaters, seeing the stage and hearing the actors was a problem. Roman audiences were notorious for making noise. This di not mean only that they talked to each other, but they liked to react to the actors. There was not a lot of applause, but a great deal of insults and loud boos when something upset them. This appaently was part of the entertaiment going to the thrtre. This led to a degree of styliazation, inluding a range of conventions. Masks and costumes helped to clue the audience into what was happening even if the actors could not be heard well. The masks were color coded, brown for men and white for women. Masks might be smiling or sad. This was determined by the type of play. The masks had cheek supports as well as chambers which acted as amplifiers. Costumes were used to identify the character. The use of multi-colored masks was derived directly from the same practice in Greek drama. A purple costume identified a rich man. Boys wore striped togas. Other conventions were: short cloak (soldier), red toga (poor man), and short tunic (slave).

Greek Influence

Greece had an enormous influence on Rome, especially in the cultural sphere. No where was the Greek influence more important than in drama. Unlike Greece, drama was not an indegenous Roman art form. The Roman drama of Seneca (for tragedy) and of Plautus and Terence (for comedy) derived ultimately (with many changes of course) from the drama of Greece. The Roman dramas did not have the power and originality of the Greeks, but the Roman works were known to early European authors before the Greek works.

Formats

Both Greek and Roman plasys were performed in Roman theaters. There were also performances called mimes. This included cts like we now refer to as mimes, but a variery of acts we now associate with the circus or Vaudeville, including clowning, juggling and athletic exhibitions. These performances gradually became increasingly vulgar. Many such performances ended with a procession of beautiful naked women.

Individual Plays

In the tragedies of Seneca based on Greek plays, the roles of children are continued, as in his "Mad Hercules" and "Trojan Women". In this second play, the courageous behavior of the boy Astyanax before he is executed offstage is described in detail. In addition, we have the "Thyestes" of Seneca in which the sons of Thyestes appeared on the stage with their father before they were led off, without their fatherís knowledge, to be killed, cooked and served up to their father. In this play, one of the sons participates in a dialogue with his father.

Actors

There were no women actors, this was considered inappropriate. Thus a male actor of small stature or a boy would play the female roles. I thought Roman dramas had two sets of actors. There was an actor who spoke the character's lines. A diiferent actor mimed the part on stage. A reader tells us that this is not correct. He writes, "You mention voices offstage in Roman drama that speak the lines of silent actors--the stage actors who mime the partk. I think you are confusing two different dramatic forms here. The Romans had mime--a form of drama in which actors performed stylized movements and someone else spoke for them. But this is quite different from Roman spoken drama by authors such as Seneca in which the actors themselves did the speaking on stage but through masks that amplified their voices." The gestures used were also styilized to emphasze the lines. A way of identifying some one who was sick, for example was to take his pulse. Boys were important in Roman theater because so many of the female roles were played by them. I'm not sure about slaves acting in the theatre. One source reports that actors were all slaves. They seemed to have beem involved in many other functions including teachers and physcicians. Some actors were famous. We know that one of the most famous Roman actors was called Roscius. There are multiple references to him as being especially effective and popular.

Audiences

I am not sure just who went to the theater. I assume it was much the same as the audience at the gladitorial games in the colliseums. This would mean both men and women. One source suggests that early Roman theaters excluded women, but this prohibition was gradually relaxed. I'm less sure about children and at what age they began to attend.

Sources









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Created: 12:25 AM 7/19/2006
Last updated: 4:15 AM 7/30/2006