Throughout the course of Drama 115 I learned about the different aspects of dramatic art, or the art of theater. Theater is a visual or auditory production of an idea that delivers a message or simply to entertain the audiences it targets. We delved into the historic roots of Ancient Greece drama and comedy, Classical Japanese drama, and of course, Europe Renaissance drama.
Like many other forms of art, dramatic art origins from Ancient Greece. We can divide Ancient Greek drama into two simple categories: tragedy and comedy. Between 550 and 220 B.C, ancient Greek drama was a phenomenon that became an important culture. The plays were in form of songs performed by a large number of actors, like what we call musicals nowadays. They were usually performed during a festival called Dionysia, and in giant semi-circular buildings that were built to hold a large number of people, including the actors on stage and the audiences. Only male actors were allowed to perform and they wore masks that covered their entire face. Greek tragedy is characterized by the usual existence of a tragic hero whose desire and action to achieve a specific goal spreads throughout the play but often ends in misery, be it death or downfall. For the example of Greek tragedy, we studied Antigone, a tragedy written by Sophocles. It was a play about Antigone, a woman who tried to bury her brother's, Polyneices's body against the order of King Creon of Thebes. The stubborn but pious and loyal Antigone was pitted against the prideful, impious and misogynistic to achieve her goal. Her first attempt was discovered by the King and she was punished by being buried alive. The King was warned by a prophet that he had to bury Polyneices and spare Antigone or he would lose his own son, whom Antigone was engaged to, and be despised by the whole country. However it was too late and before he could do anything, Antigone already hung herself and Haemon, his son, killed himself upon finding her body. The crisis of the play was Creon's degree, which was the main obstacle in Antigone's path to achieve her goal. The play ended with Antigone ending her own life, which was the usual downfall of a tragic hero in a tragedy. Antigone was one of the most enduring works of Greek drama and there was even a resurgence of interest in 18th century. The original performance was not realistic, it was highly stylistic, and presentational acting, characters in masks and only performed by 3 actors and a chorus.
Ancient Greek comedy was divided chronological into three categories: Old Comedy (486-440 B.C), Middle Comedy (400-320 B.C), and New Comedy (320 B.C. -). Old Comedy was about satyr plays, which take on a social topic and look at it with a comic perspective. Middle Comedy was similar to Old Comedy but with a more general subject of ridicule rather than specific personalities. New Comedy concentrated on middle class struggles and social manners rather than satyr. One of the examples of ancient Greek comedy is Lysistrata, a play written by Aristophanes. It was a bout Lysistrata, a strong, clever, reasonable and individual woman, opposed to the other weak-willed and shallow women in the play, who tried to end the war by getting other women to refuse sex to their husbands. The comical conceit was to ridicule the men whose desire of sex clouded their judgment and reason. The Peloponnesian War was going on between Sparta and Athens and the women of both areas wanted it to end but their husbands did not listen to them, thus affecting others' lives with the war. Lysistrata assembled all women and convinced them to swear to refuse their husbands' desire to have sex until both sides attempted a treaty of peace. The men finally gave in and agreed to meet to talk about ending the war and Lysistrata, being a smart woman, managed to have a moment of pride before the play ended where she lectured the men about how Spartans and Athenians had the same heritage and should not be at war.
Noh is the form of classical Japanese drama that has been performed since the 14th century. In the past the actors were only men but nowadays women are allowed to perform. Noh was special in the way that the plays were actual usual plays with plot and a flow of narration but the actors tried to tell in in their appearances and movements, not actions. They used number of props to accompany their performances, most notably masks, which were made of clay and paper, and fans, which were carried by almost every performer, regardless of who they played. Noh was a phenomenon in terms of style and assistant factors like dance, movement, vocal, musicâ€¦ instead of literary (plot, characters' portrayalâ€¦) One example from classical Japanese dramatic art is The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, a play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. It was about the love that ended in tragedy between Tokubei and Ohatsu. Tokubei is an innocent but kind-hearted and honorable young man who loved the loyal and noble Ohatsu. Their love made him refuse to marry his uncle's wife's niece many times and it infuriated his uncle, leading him to fire Tokubei and threaten to exile him from Osaka if he didn't give back the money he lent Tobukei's stepmother. However, when he successfully got the money from her, he lent it to his friend Kuheiji, a cunning and dishonest bad man. Kuheiji later denied that he borrowed any money from Tokubei and even beat him with the help of his friends. Kuheiji later came to Ohatsu's place and threatened that he would possess her, now that Tokubei would be exiled by his uncle. Tokubei and Ohatsu, in the moment of no other solutions, escaped and committed suicide to die together. I would hardly say it was romantic. The play was performed with music, dance movements and the actors' make up and appearances play a huge part in their effort to enact the play.
English Renaissance drama got its name sake because it took place from late 16th century to the beginning of 17th century, also known as the Renaissance period in England. It was sometimes referred to as Elizabethan drama because most of its major ups and downs started when Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603. Although the term was not widely accepted by many critics because the English Renaissance period continued after Queen Elizabeth I's death. Plays were written in both categories of drama, tragedy and comedy, and in form of poetry. Notable playwrights during English Renaissance drama period included Ben Jonson (Volpone and The Alchemist), Christopher Marlowe (The Massacre at Paris, Edward II, Doctor Fautus, The Jew of Malta), and the greatest playwright of all time: William Shakespeare. "Not only were plays shifting emphasis from teaching to entertaining, they were also slowly changing focus from the religious towards the political." (1) The plays, besides tragedy and comedy, also focus on history as some of them were about previous historic figures (mostly kings) and the events of their time. Othello, a tragedy by Shakespeare, is an example from English Renaissance drama. The play is about Othello, a noble, respected, impressionable and susceptible general whose downfall was caused by Iago, a manipulative villain and equal-opportunist of evil. Iago was Othello's ensign and passed over a promotion to Othello's lieutenant, Cassio, thus angering Iago and he planned to take revenge on both Othello and Cassio. Iago always found the worst in people and managed to brought it out. He tricked Othello and Cassio so that Othello stripped Cassio off his rank, but Iago used Cassio's want to be back in his position to persuade him to beg Othello's wife, Desdemona, to ask Othello for it. Iago later used this connection to persuade Othello that Cassio and Desdemona were having an affair. Cassio was later killed by Iago and Othello, angered and hurted by his wife's 'affair', killed her in her bed. Emilia, Desdemona's maid and Iago's wife, arrived right after and explained the situation including the fact that she unknowingly helped her husband create the affair. Othello, like other tragic heroes, had a moment of pride by refusing to kill Iago, reasoning that he would rather Iago living the rest of his life in pain. Othello then committed suicide with his sword, thus the downfall of the main character. It was a story about how bad company corrupted good character and jealously condemned. The play also displayed sexism, as the idea crept in that he shouldn't have killed his wife because she was innocent instead of he shouldn't have killed her because he had no right to kill a human being, and that men had the right to abuse women and a man had control over his wife, alive or dead.
Pre-modern art of theater was a flow of culture. Europe Renaissance drama period was very similar to Ancient Greek drama period in terms of tragedy and comedy plays and comparable literary elements. In tragedy both usually had a heroic main character that had to overcome many obstacles to achieve their goal yet always ended up in misery or death. In comedy they share the habit of ridicule or simply made a good laugh out of, political personalities. Classical Japanese drama was similar with Ancient Greek drama in terms of style, music, and staging. They both used props like masks or make up to portray the basics of the characters, as if they were heroes or villains and through music, they narrated the plot and delivered the message of the plays. English Renaissance drama enjoyed a good long period of time before Realism came along that began the Modern era for all forms of art, including the art of theater.