The Greek tragedy is a form of theatre from Ancient Greece and Asia minor. It’s widely believed to be an extension of the ancient rites done in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine, and it profoundly influenced the theatre of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance. The plots were mainly based upon myths from oral traditions and the narratives were presented by actors. The most well known Greek tragedians were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
The origins of the Greek Tragedy are still an unsolved problem. According to Aristotle, the tragedy derived by the satyr dithyramb, an Ancient Greek hymn, which was sung along witch dancing in honour of Dionysus. So we have “τραγῳδία” (tragodía) that derived from τράγος “goat” and ᾠδή “song”, means “song of the goats” (Chorus of Satyrs).
Aristotle writes in the “Poetics” that the tragedy was an improvisation “by these who led off the dithyramb”.
Then the language became more serious and the meter changed from trochaic tetramer to the iambic trimeter. There’s also another hypothesis about Thespis who combined spoken verses with choral songs. So, the tragedy developed and the actors began to interact more with each other.
The three major authors
Aeschylus established the basic rules of tragic drama. He invented the trilogy, a serie of three tragedies that told one long story, and introduced the second actor. Trilogies were performed from sunrise to sunset and, at the end, a satyr play was arranged to revive the public, possibly sad or depressed by the events showed in the play. Comparing the first tragedies with the next ones, it’s possible to see and evolution and enrichment of dialogues, contexts and theatrical effects.
We only have 7 tragedies such as the Persians, Seven against Thebes, the Orestea (Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides) and the Suppliants.
Many innovations were introduced by Sophocles like the third actor, an increased number of chorus members, the scenery and the use of scenes. We have the Theban plays (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone). All three plays concern the faith of Thebes during the reign of Oedipus.
The peculiarities that distinguished the Euripidean tragedies from those of the other two authors were the technical experimentation and an extreme attention for feelings. He turned the prologue into a monologue, introduced the deus ex machina and lowered the choir’s prominence in favour of a monody sung by the characters. He portrayed the psychological traits and he was excessively realistic. He used female protagonists such as Andromaca, Phaedra and Medea.
It begins with a prologue, the we have the parodos and the stasima. The tragedy ends with the exodus. Some plays do not adhere to the classic structure.