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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

    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.

    October 22, 2004


    1. Consider the depictions of mythological scenes:

    i. What are the main similarities and main differences between the way in which the death of Pentheus is depicted in this fresco and in Euripides' Bakkhai? (Use an online text of the Bakkhai if you do not have your copy to hand.)

    There are a number of similarities and differences between the depiction of Pentheus's murder in the Roman Fresco and the description in The Bakkhai. Both show the physical and mental torture that Pentheus suffered at the hands of the possessed woman.

    However, the Roman Fresco does not seem to portray the murder of Pentheus as brutal as suggested in the play. The play talks about the 'ripping' of Pentheus, and goes on to describe how:

    'His body's scattered over the mountain,
    parts strewn on the rocks, the rest in the forest.'

    In my opinion, the Fresco does not depict this raw, animal savageness.

    Another point to take note of is that in the book, Pentheus is said to be dressed as a woman at this point. This again is not depicted in the Fresco. However, I do very much like the Fresco and I believe its strength is in the way that it shows Pentheus's weakness to Dionysus's power.

    ii. Compare and contrast the way in which the death of Iphigenia is depicted in this fresco with how it is recounted in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and/or in Euripdes' play Iphigenia at Aulis.

    This Fresco shows Iphigenia being taken for sacrifice so Agamemnon (her father) can appease the Gods and allow safe passage across the sea to Troy.

    The Fresco, unlike Aeschylus text, does not show Iphigenia being pulled up to the alter with a gag in her mouth and does not show Clytemnsetra singing to her daughter or making libations.

    iii. Why do you think the similarities and differences which you have identified may exist?

    The main reason for such differences is probably due to the fact that the Romans would have wanted much more romantic pieces of art, rather than bloody and violent depictions that would have been true to Greek legends. This would explain the lack of violence in both Frescos.

    iv. On reviewing your responses to the above questions, how useful do you find these Roman frescos to be as evidence for traditions of tragic performance in 5th-century Athens?

    Although the Frescos do depict the basic stories and facts of Greek tragedies, I would not consider them that useful as good translations of the texts.

    2. Examine this mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompei.

    i. What different types of masks can you see?

    The main thing that I noticed about these masks was that they are very suggestive of tragedy. The facial expressions depicted are very sorrowful and therefore perfect for performing tragedies.

    ii. What do you think is going on in this scene?

    To be honest, I am very unsure what is going on in this scene. The only thing I can make out is perhaps the presence of satyrs?

    3. Look at the masks in these frescos depicting actors, and those in the Pronomos Vase.

    i. What differences can you discern between the 'tragic' masks depicted in the frescos and the vase?

    The main difference that I noticed was that the masks on the vase are much more expressive than those in the Frescos.

    ii. Why might the masks be different?

    One possible answer could be that the Roman Fresco is attempting to show a realism that the Greek Vase masks don't have.

    iii. Why do you think the ancient artists (and viewers) might have been so interested in depictions of actors and masks?

    One factor responsible may have been the fact that the theatre was of huge importance to society at this time?

    4. Consider this painting from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii.

    i. Is it similar or different in subject to the vases considered in Q.3 above?

    This depiction is different to the masks and frescos we have looked at in previous questions. This depiction is very close up and really helps emphaize the character and emotion that the individual masks were attemting to portray and relay to the audience.

    ii. What do you think the purpose of such paintings might have been?

    The purpose of such paintings was most probably to help create a record of ancient theatre and its techniques and practices. However, as we have seen, not all the paintings depict a true and correct picture of ancient theatre e.g. the Roman Frescos. It is therefore important to take caution while studying such paintings and depictions.

    October 18, 2004

    Visual Resources – Staging the Eumenides

    1. Working in pairs, review a selection of images from the Web Resources page.

    i. Is it possible to determine whether the ancient vase paintings are depictions of theatrical performances, or of the myths upon which the plays are also based?

    ii. In the light of your response to i. above, how significant may ancient vase paintings be as evidence for ancient theatre practice?

    The vases seen depicting mythical scenes through the above link would seem to be the artist's own interpretation of the myths (handed down from generation to generation). We have come to this conclusion because the vases show women (who did not perform in the theatre at this time), and do not show performers wearing masks, which was the theatre practice at the time. Another factor contributing to this conclusion was that the vases depict scenes of violence between Orestes and Aegisthus. Although this is very true to the legend itself, violent scenes were largely performed off stage in Greek Drama. Finally, these vases were made in 510–500 BC. The Oresteia, which is the legend that these vases are depicting, was in fact written around 458 BC. There would therefore have been no performances to base the image on; only stories. These vases therefore seem to show the myth, rather than the theatrical performance of the myth.

    However, it would be fair to say that the artists would probably have been influenced and informed by theatrical performances, because before the myths were simply narrated rather than acted out in a real form.

    2. View digital visualisations of the 5th-century Theatre of Dionysus in (a) the swimming pool - Greek Drama Gallery, and (b) the Theatron Module.

    i. The 4th century B.C.E. Phlyakes vases from the south of Italy show temporary wooden stages which we believe are similar or identical to those that would have been used for comic performance in the 5th century B.C.E. How adequate or appropriate would such a stage have been for the performance of tragedy in the 5th century B.C.E., in particular the Eumenides?

    ii. Where could Klytemnestra, Apollo and Orestes have performed in the opening scene of the play?

    iii. Where could the chorus have performed?

    The Phylax stage (see below for picture) is surprisingly small and would create a very intimate performance (despite the outdoors setting).

    I think that it would be very interesting to see how the chorus would be incorporated onto the set, as the stage looks quite cramped, and only adequate for 5 or 6 performers. However, it was common for the Chorus to perform in the orchestra (dancing place), leaving the stage open for the main three protagonists.

    It is important to note however that Phylax stages tended to be used more for comedy than tragedy. The stage is more intimate and the windows seen as part of the skene (seen in the picture below) will provide excellent opportunities for comedy situations e.g. characters over-hearing something.

    The opening scene between Apollo, Kltyemnestra and Orestes takes place in the inner shrine, and could easily take place in the orchestra. I think it would be effective if the performers were on the ground with the audience, looking onto the stage as if a shrine.

    3. In Theatron, explore the model of the Theatre of Dionysos, which represents the theatre as it may have been during the Lycurgan period (338 - 326 B.C.E.). Compare and contrast its stone skene with the wooden Phlyakes stage.

    i. What possibilities and limitations for performance does each type of scene building allow or impose?

    ii. The action of the Eumenides is set in three locations. What are they?

    iii. How might these scene changes have been staged?

    The limitations of both of these theatres are obvious. The Dionysus stage offers a huge space for extravagant chorus and grandiose scenes. However, it is obvious by using the Theatron and going to the top row of the huge theatre space that the audience is going to find it very difficult to see or hear any of the action.

    The Phylax stages, in contrast, offer audience space for only fifty or so members compared to the thousands in Dionysus, and the performance may be more powerful for the audience, due to their proximity to the action. However, the small stage will not allow many performers or props to be used.

    The 3 Eumenides Settings

    1 Temple of Apollo, Delphi
    2 Inner shrine
    3 Acropolis

    I believe the scene changes would be very limited, with performers simply going off stage, and perhaps small changes in scenery. However, I think the main indication of a change of scenery would be through the chorus' descriptions.

    4. Traditionally, it has been assumed that the theatrically 'strongest' position for an actor was directly in front of the central doors of the skene. Recently, however, in Tragedy in Athens, David Wiles has argued that, for Athenians, the most symbolically potent position was the centre of the orchestra. Explore both of these theories by considering the 'binding scene' in the Eumenides

    i. What kinds of spatial and choreographic relationships between theatre, spectators, actors and chorus, could have been established in each case?

    ii. How might different spatial relationships have affected the meaning of the scene, or the characterisation and status of the characters and chorus?

    By performning directly in front of the central doors of the skene, I feel the action (in this case – the 'binding scene' from the Eumenides), would be very distant from the audience and the emotion and movement involved in such a scene would be lost. However, in the centre of the orchestra (which is the centre of the whole theatre) the audience would be a lot closer to the action and the performance would be more alive.

    5. Where are the best and worst seats in the 4th century theatron? Why?

    i. How did the physical conditions of spectatorship for ancient Athenian audiences differ from the usual conditions of spectatorship in a conventional theatre building today?

    ii. Do these differences suggest a fundamentally, or merely superficially different theatrical experience?

    iii. Read the short note on Greek Audiences, and the longer text by Csapo and Slater. How might a style, or styles, of performance have evolved in response to the scale and sight-lines of the theatre, and the nature of the spatial and emotional relationship between Athenian spectators and performers?

    iv. Might different parts of the theatre have demanded different styles of performance?

    v. How might the style of choral performance have differed from that of the character actors?

    W.B. Stanford makes the interesting point that, unlike today's segregated theatre seats, the Greeks would have been tightly packed together:

    "If someone beside you sobbed or shuddered or trembled, you would feel it directly, and a wave of physical reaction could pass like an electric shock through all your neighbours... mass emotionalism flourishes in compact crowds of that kind"

    This would help create a really emotional, fundamental atmosphere within the theatre. It would be impossible to escape the communal emotion in such a tightly packed audience and this would heighten the overall experience of the performance.

    It is clear that performing in different areas of the theatre would require different skills. The use of such techniques as vocal projection and gestures would have been of upmost importance (considering the size of the theatres e.g Dionysia could hold up to 20,000), and these techinques would have had to be adapted for various situations and locations.

    The Chorus would generally represent the voice of the masses. They would perform in tandem and would often use song and dance to convey their feelings to the audience. The character actors on the other hand were individuals that spoke on their own and that demanded their own stage space.

    This professional and concise review, brought to you by Gethin Jones and Jack Howson

    October 15, 2004

    Gethin&Jack's evaluation of William Hill's SST1 responses

    Writing about web page

    Unfortunately the only entry he has under the SST1 umbrella is entitled : 'Relationships already??'

    Granted, it has received eight coments but, unless he is talking in some Grecian code, it has little to no info about Greek Theatre Websites!

    Instead it recounts an intimate encounter between our very own HannahCTovey and a random computer student.

    I believe this site bears no relevance for students of theatre, Greek or otherwise!

    This professional and concise review brought to you by Gethin Jones and Jack Howson

    Gethin&Jack's evaluation of ScarfyScarfyHatJack's SST1 answers

    Writing about web page

    Includes thorough search of the library, earning himself a nice little comment from Mary Kate Puddle.



    In his website evaluations he has failed to hyperlink the relevant pages…......Lazy! – making it hard to skip easily from page to page.

    Struggles with the English language prevail throughout : …'imply' in stead of 'simply'?… gimme a break Jack!!!!

    The site he's reviewed is "packed-full" of info, but the photos fail to appear….casting into doubt his glowing review!

    'Syage' instead of 'Stage'….hmmm!!


    The second evaluation, again no hyperlinking! Oh Dear!

    The photos accompanying his blog entries, however, certainly brighten an otherwise dull morning!


    Jack tosses in some humour here, but the oddly sized map is not beneficial, even for those with the squintiest eyes!

    NB His vague numbering system and cunning nature leaves us questioning if he has in fact completed the task at hand.

    A slap on the wrists Jack!

    This professional and concise review brought to you by Gethin Jones and Jack Howson

    October 08, 2004

    SST1 – Historiography 1

    A. Perseus Atlas

    This aim of this site is obviously to give us the general idea of where Greece is in relation to the rest of the World and how it looked back in the day! Although I found this site very temperamental, I was able to find one particularly useful map of Ancient Greece. However, the subsequent link did not work and the picture was unable to be enlarged to a more manageable size, thus greatly limiting the usefulness of this site! Therefore, this site was greatly restricted by the fact that it didn't work!!!

    B. Greek Architecture

    This site is really useful! It has a vast number of links to access and is overflowing with information on Greek Architecture. For example, there is one link, that once accessed creates a doorway to widespread amounts of info on various Greek monuments such as the Ancient Theatre of Argos. This site is easy to navigate and the presence of images adds a real visual interest to the site.

    C. Ancient Greece and Rome

    This site is full of images on Ancient Greece and Rome e.g the Colosseum. However, there are no annotations provided and I see this as a huge limitation. It is therefore neccessary to use other resources alongside this when researching into Ancient Greece and Rome.

    D. Ancient Theatre

    This was site that looked the most exciting to me at first glance. Its aim is to provides us with a 'virtual tour' of historic theatres around the world. It is possible to specify Greek theatres, alongside French, Turkish, Spanish and Italian theatres. However, I was unable to navigate the site (maybe it was just me?) and found it of no help whatsoever. The only thing of interest I found was that it provides us with an execllent map of Greece.

    All in all, I found the site on Greek Architecture the most useful. It contains huge amounts of info and provides a good balance of pictures and text.

    In addition to the above sites mentioned, I found another very good site on Greek Architecture. This site contains a vast amount of info and presents it through a mixture of text and pictures, giving the researcher a considerable amount of insight into the great architecture of the time e.g the Parthenon.

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