All entries for November 2004

November 12, 2004

Menander & Roman Comedy

Menander in Performance

What do these two different kinds of article, and the multimedia elements, contribute to your knowledge and understanding of ancient drama and/or places of performance?

I found both the article by Richard Williams, and Marianne McDonald's review very useful contributions to my understanding of ancient drama. However, I found the video clips of Chris Vervain particularly interesting. The points I found most fascinating were :

  1. The left side of the mask is different from the right (different expressions can be used at different angles)

  2. Cross-eyed (eyes always appears to always be looking at the audience, no matter which directon the mask is facing)

  3. Body and mask need to be integrated to create an inner life to the mask, not just an empty shell (the need for costume etc.)

  4. In the performance Chris performed, it amazed me at the varied amount of emotions that came over (e.g. happiness, worry, surprise) despite the expression of the mask never really changing.

Roman Drama

  • 1. Temporary Stages

i. In the Temporary Stages section of the Theatron Module, explore the Explore the Greek ('Phlyakes') and Roman stages.

Do they differ significantly, or only superficially?


  1. Both made out of wood.

  2. Raised off the ground.

  3. Include windows-looking through to the ‘back stage’ area.

  4. Both stages have roofs.


  1. The Roman Stage had two sets of stairs going down to the audience, where as the Greek had one.

  2. The Roman stage was far more elaborate than the Greek.

  3. The Roman Stage used brighter colours to decorate set. For example, in the theatron, the colours are strong reds, gold’s and olive greens.

  4. The Roman theatre was three Dimensional. For example it had pillars used to bring the roof further forward and to help reflect the dimensions of a real life place. The stage came in and out at different points. This again reflected ‘real life’ far more than the Greek stage.

  5. The Roman stage had far more exits off stage than the Greek. These were in the form of very elaborate doorways. The Greeks (as shown in the theatron picture) had only one exit, which was no more than a hole in the backdrop.

Conclusion – The differences between the Greek and Roman stages were quite significant. The Roman audience must have had a far more ‘spectacular’ experience than the Greeks. The fact that the Romans were forever building on the Greek’s culture like this is again reflected in the fact that where the Greeks had 12,000 spectators on average, the Romans had 25,000.

ii. Review these Roman wall paintings. On the basis of these examples, do wall paintings offer more or less valuable evidence than vase paintings?

They are far more detailed than the vases in my opinion. For example, in the first painting one can see a Greek mask very close up and in great detail. Although vases do vaguely depict these masks, the paintings provide more concrete evidence of masks in roman theatre.

  • 2. Roman Theatrical Frescos

Explore any two paintings studied by the Pompeiian Wall-Painting Project [skenographia1003], excluding the 'Medea' and 'Room of the Masks' paintings.

Basing your analysis on these two paintings, what appear to be the typical structural elements of a Roman temporary stage?

House of the Cryptoporticus and Pinarius Cerialis:

  1. Three Dimensional.

  2. Used screen paintings to create a background.

  3. Lots of elaborate and grand pillars and statues.

  4. Some Roman stages had many levels.

  5. Expensive materials used.

  6. Symmetrical, with an opening in the middle.
  • 3. The Theatre of Pompey
  • i. In the Theatron Module, explore the Theatre of Pompey (including the left- and right-hand information panels).

    What appear to be the main similarities and differences between the temporary and permanent (stone) Roman stages?


    1. Includes audience seating.

    2. Is on a much larger scale.

    3. 4 levels – a temporary stage may not have been able to compete with this.

    4. Within the auditorium it included a form of primitive air-conditioning.

    5. Included an active theatre community outside of the immediate stage but within the theatre grounds.


    1. Both were extremely ornate.

    2. Both had the same number of entrances/exits (3 at the back and 2 at the side)

    ii. Explore the website of The Pompey Project [tp55bc]

    Briefly review the 'Massing Models' and 'Burge Reconstructions'.

    What different kinds of information do these models offer?

    Massing Models:

    Put the sheer scale of the theatre into a perspective that we can comprehend.
    Give an idea of the imprint that Roman theatre has had on the landscape.
    Are a reliable source documenting what is known about the aesthetics of a Roman theatre.

    Burge Reconstructions:

    Brings Roman theatre to life and makes it more relevant because it is three dimensional.
    Shows details that would be hard to find else where.

    • 4. Performance

    i. If you were preparing to direct a performance of Plautus' Pseudolus, which of the ancient stages / theatres you have explored would be the most challenging? Why?

    ii. What practical steps might you take to rise to these challenges?

    I think that both stages have positive and negative aspects. The temporary stage may have been too small to present a production with so many characters and set changes. Indeed the stage would have become cluttered and confused the story line unnecessarily. To avoid this problem I would avoid too many set changes and just have the two doors off stage to represent the two different houses. To set the rest of the scenes, I would allow the text to speak for itself. To avoid confusion with so many characters on stage I would carefully choreograph the piece but also use some of the space in front of the stage like an orchestra. The permanent stage would also confuse the story line because the audience members are so far away from the action. Therefore all characters would use very individual masks and their gestures would be greatly exaggerated. Because some of the audience would not be able to see the action quite so clearly, I would make sure that each of the brothers had a unique voice or accent, to differentiate which one is which.

    November 09, 2004

    The Beautiful Game…

    Just a quick note for all you Actington Stanley fans:

    We drew our game 1–1 today! It was a wonderful, brave performance by all and the support we had was once again inspiring! Special thanks go out to Hugh Denard for all his support!

    As the great song states:

    "things can only get better"

    Is there room for fruit on a pizza?

    Hello everyone!
    I would like to put forward this widely debated question:

    Is there room for fruit on a pizza?

    As a big fan of the Hawaiian pizza, I am in favour of fruit on a pizza. However, I am aware of the varied opinions on this topic and would like to open it up to the Warwick Blog community.

    Thanks very much,

    Old Comedy and Satyr Plays

    Writing about web page

    1. Which of the following vase paintings appear to depict scenes from Old Comedy, and which from Satyr plays?

    The Aulos-playing Satyr Vase – Satyr Play

    The Cheiron Vase – Old Comedy (vulgar costumes and grotesque figures again)

    The Choregos Vase – Old Comedy

    The Pronomos Vase – Satyr Play (less vulgar costumes, more serious masks etc.)

    The Tarentine Vase – Satyr Play

    Vase 96AB113 – Old Comedy

    Vase 96AE112 – Old Comedy

    The Wurzburg Orestes – Satyr Play

    2. Drawing on the evidence provided by these vase paintings, the plays you have read, and other appropriate online sources:

    i. what would seem to be the main characteristics of Old Comic masks, costumes and stages?

    Grotesque figures,
    Exaggerated features,
    Small stages used (less grand than those used in tragedies)

    ii. what appear to be the main characteristics of Satyr play masks, costumes and actors?

    Most often they are depicted as half man, half goat. Also, the masks are much more serious than those used in Old Comedies

    3. Read the analytical descriptions for the Pronomos Vase and the Choregos Vase. Using the web-searching and site-evaluation skills that you have developed, find information about, and devise an analytical description that might accompany one of the other vases.

    The Vase 96AB113 is clearly depicting a scene from an Old Comedy. The costumes suggest this as they are grotesque and exaggerate features such as the stomach, phallus and chest. The stage depicted in the vase also suggests an Old Comedy as it is very sparse and not as extravagant as those used in tragedies.

    4. With reference to the extract from Csapo and Slater on Comic Vases, how reliable are these vase paintings as evidence for 5th-century B.C.E. staging of Old Comedy and Satyr plays in Athens?

    The vases do help record an idea of what Old Comedies and Satyr Plays were like e.g the costumes, the staging etc. However, they are based on artistic interpretation and were most probably originally made for visual pleasing e.g for display. Therefore, they are not entirely reliable.

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