Ancient Roman Theatre

January 12, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Performing Arts, Comedy
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 When Italy emerged into the light of history about 700 BCE,

it was already inhabited by various peoples of different cultures and languages. Most natives of the country lived in villages or small towns and supported themselves by agriculture or animal husbandry (Italia means “Calf Land”).  By 700 BCE several Greek colonies were established along the southern coast. Both Greeks and Phoenicians were actively engaged in trade with the Italian natives.  The Etruscans were the first highly civilized people of Italy. Encyclopedia Britannica online

 Etruria & the Etrucans

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The region and its people/tribe to the immediate north of Rome Their civilization is established 7th century BCE Peak of power/influence 6th century BCE Earliest kings of Rome were Etruscans Rome achieves dominance in the 3rd century BCE Many features of Etruscan culture adopted by Rome

 Since the Etruscans were the dominant civilization on

the Italian peninsula immediately before the Romans surpassed them, many features of Etruscan culture were adopted by the Romans. For example:  Rome inherited many features of Etruscan religious festivals…and, religious festivals were the only occasions during which theatrical performances were given.  An Etruscan ruler established the ludi Romani, the festival at which Greek drama was eventually first presented.

 Began as a small town and quickly grew into a vast empire

 Unlike the Greeks, who excelled in intellectual and artistic endeavors,

the Romans achieved greatness in their military, political, and social institutions. Encyclopedia Britannica online

 From its beginning, Rome incorporated

conquered peoples into its social and political system.  Allies and subjects who adopted Roman ways were eventually granted Roman citizenship.  Unparalleled professional military  Fantastic engineers  Excelled at bureaucratic, civil administration

Romans are noted for adopting the ideas and practices of others, such as…  Etruscans (as stated previously)  Phoenicians  Greeks  Romans embraced Greek artistic forms and borrowed a

great deal from their art and literature  By 300 BCE, Greek tutors were in demand in Rome  By 146 BCE Rome had conquered Greece  As we will see, most Roman plays were translations or adaptations of Greek originals

 The earliest native Italian farce  perhaps descended from Greek phlyakes

 Name derived from the town of

Atella in the Campania region of southern Italy  not originally Latin/Roman  different native tribe

 Featured masked stock characters  Maccus - the clown  Bucco (“Fat Cheeks”) - the simpleton  Pappus - the old fool  Dossennus - the hunchback  Manducus – the glutton

 rustic/rural settings, characters, and language  base subject matter (cheating, gluttony, fighting, sex)  crude jokes and buffoonish physical antics  improvisational comedy  featured masked stock characters  presented at ludi since 3rd century BCE, but never written

down until c. 100BCE–75BCE  reached height of popularity in 1st century BCE  major influence on Renaissance commedia dell’arte

 Represent broadly drawn stereotypes  More of a caricature because of the exaggerated manner

in which characteristics are portrayed  Establish instant audience expectations based on:  memories of previous performances  assumptions and biases  easily recognizable traits (physical, verbal, behavioral)

 Earliest stock types are found in Greek Old Comedy:  the alazon – the boastful imposter  the eiron – used self deprecating irony to deflate the alazon  the bomolochus – the clown/buffoon

 The Regal Period 753BCE – 509BCE  Mainly ruled by Etruscan monarchs  Atellan Farce

 The Republic 509BCE – 27BCE  Regular drama thrives  ludi Romani

 The Empire 27BCE – 476CE  Regular drama largely abandoned in favor of spectacle and

variety entertainment

 ludi publici (“public games”) were ancient Roman

spectacles, primarily consisting of chariot races and various kinds of theatrical performances, usually held at regular intervals in honor of some god (they are distinct from the gladiatorial contests which were associated with funeral rites).  Most state-sponsored theatrical performances were

given at official these religious festivals, or ludi. (This should sound familiar, no?)

The oldest and most famous festival was the ludi Romani  began in the 6th century BCE  held in September  honored Jupiter  364 BCE – began to include theatrical performances  240 BCE – regular comedy and tragedy presented

Directly comparable to the Athenian’s City Dionysia

Theatre during the Empire became increasingly diversionary, not so much about “art.” Romans craved variety, novelty, and lavish spectacle (and much gratuitous violence) in their entertainment:        

Gladiatorial contests Chariot races Horse races Sea battle reenactments in a flooded Coliseum Trained animal acts (or untrained for unlucky prisoners) Animal fights Acrobats, jugglers, and other circus-like performances Wrestling & boxing matches

Regular drama had much to compete with for the public’s attention

The earliest notable Roman playwrights were…  Livius Andronicus (fl. 240 BCE – 204 BCE)  first to adapt & translate Greek plays into Latin  his were the first important literary works in Latin  not originally from Rome  considered to be better at tragedy  Gnaeus Naevius (fl. 235 BCE – 201 BCE)  first native-born Roman dramatist  “naturalized” drama by introducing Roman allusions into Greek

originals, and…  also wrote some plays based on Roman stories rather than Greek  considered to be better at comedy

 Apparently they did…but unfortunately none survive

 Plays based on Greek originals were called 

fabula palliata Plays based on Roman material were called fabula togata The Latin word fabula means: “story, play, fable, narrative, account, tale” literally “that which is told” palliata derives from pallium, the Latin name for the himation (a Greek cloak), so fabula palliata means roughly “a play in Greek dress.” Likewise, togata derives from the Roman toga, therefore it means “a play in Roman dress.”

 All of his surviving plays are based on Greek

New Comedy originals  He added many Roman allusions, such as…  place names, towns, landmarks, etc.  Latin names for characters  Roman manners and customs

 His works featured…  boisterous, often coarse humor  physical comedy  fast-paced action  burlesque  much from Atellan farce

 Wrote six plays (comedies), all have survived  Wrote more complex plots  Combined stories from

multiple Greek originals  Avoided inserting Roman allusions  Never matched the popularity of Plautus

 Their works are valued as models of spoken Latin  Later critics considered their works to be the foremost    

examples of comic drama, therefore… Their works exerted enormous influence a millennium and a half later during the Renaissance They eliminated the chorus of the Greek plays Musical accompaniment was added to the dialogue Their works are the only extant examples of Roman comedy…and ALL are based on Greek originals

 No Roman tragedies survive  Based on fragments, titles, and the commentary of

contemporary critics, most were…all together now… BASED ON GREEK ORIGINALS  It seems that no tragedies intended for public performance were written after 29 BCE  The only extant Roman tragedies are closet dramas from this later period  “closet drama” refers to works written primarily for reading

rather than production  closet in this context does not refer to our modern understanding of a place to hang clothes; it means “private” or “secret.”

 Author of all but one of the extant Roman tragedies  All were adapted from Greek originals  Born in Spain, educated in Rome  Was tutor to the eventual

Emperor Nero  Also renowned as a philosopher  His works were not written for performance, but were perhaps recited at elite gatherings  His works became the model for much of Renaissance tragedy (“revenge tragedy” in particular)

Characteristics:  Divided into five episodes  Long, elaborate speeches  reflective soliloquies  declamatory, narrative accounts of action  bombastic rhetoric

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Moralizing Violence and horror Supernatural elements (ghosts, witches, magic) Characters dominated by a single obsessive passion (e.g., revenge) Theatrical devices such as soliloquies (see above), asides, and confidantes; all allow characters to reveal inner thoughts

Later, we will see how highly influential this model was to become during the Renaissance

 Atellan Farce (fabula Atellana)  Pantomime (pantomimus)  literally "imitator of all"

 Mime (mimus)  from Greek mimos "imitator, mimic, actor, mime, buffoon"

 a story telling dance, as such it was…  a forerunner of today’s ballet  a solo performance  plots taken from mythology or history

 accompanied by a chorus singing explanatory narration  also an orchestra of flutes, pipes, and cymbals  mostly serious, though occasionally comic  usurped tragedy’s position of favor with sophisticated


 Originally a short but elaborate dramatic form:  utilized large casts and spectacle (impressively lavish visual

display)  usually a satiric/comic treatment of some common, everyday aspect of life – similar in this way to Greek New Comedy  Especially disliked by the Christians whose sacraments and

beliefs were often ridiculed on stage  Over time, to cater to evolving public tastes, mime troupes presented a wide range of incidental entertainment, e.g., trapeze and tightrope acts, juggling, stilt walking, fire spitting, sword swallowing, trained animals, singing, dancing, etc.  Therefore, eventually the term was applied to almost any kind of theatrical entertainment

At the end of the Roman era, mime actors were performing throughout the empire, but after the triumph of Christianity the theatre of the day was abominated by the Church Fathers as an art so debased as to have lost any relevance to the general good of society. In the 5th century all performers of mime were excommunicated, and in the following century the theatres were closed. The mimes dispersed. Though the church did its best to prohibit them through the Middle Ages, they managed to carry on their art illicitly, finding audiences wherever they could. Mime, as performed by jesters, jongleurs, bands, and acrobats, is an unbroken dramatic tradition that reaches from the Classical world to modern Europe. -Encyclopedia Britannica online

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