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THEATRE (BEarpov, " a place for seein...

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 729 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THEATRE (BEarpov, " a place for seeing," from OeacOae), a building specially devised for dramatic representations. The drama arose from the choric dances in honour of Dionysus, which were held in a circular dancing-place (opxiivrpa, Lat. orchestra) in his precinct at the foot of the Acropolis at Athens. When the leader of the chorus held a dialogue with the remaining choreutae he mounted the table which stood beside the altar of Dionysus in the centre of the orchestra; but as the number of actors and the importance of the dialogue increased, it became necessary to erect a platform at the side of the dancing-place and a booth in which the performers could change their dresses and masks. At the same time temporary wooden stands (iKpea) were set up for the spectators, who no longer ranged themselves around the whole ring, but only on the slope of the Acropolis, facing southward. We are told that the collapse of the ZKpta, in 499 B.C. led to the erection of a permanent theatre; this was not, however, a stone building. Embankments were made for the support of the spectators' benches: the stage buildings were of wood, and, although some traces of a stone theatre belonging to the end of the 5th century have been pointed out, the " theatre of Dionysus," whose remains may still be seen (Pl. I. and II.), is in the main a work of the 4th century. It was completed soon after 340 B.C. under the administration of the statesman and financier Lycurgus. Alterations were made in the stage-buildings in the Hellenistic period, under Nero, and again in the 3rd century A.D. Although the prototype of Greek theatres, it is not the most perfectly preserved. Amongst those of purely Greek design the most typical is that of Epidaurus (Pl. I.), which was built in the latter part of the 4th century B.C. by Polyclitus the Younger. The largest known to Pausanias was that of Megalopolis, excavated by the British School at Athens in 1889-91, in which the stage buildings were replaced by the Thersilion, a large council - chamber. Others of importance for the study of the ancient theatre have been excavated at Delos, Eretria, Sicyon and Oropus. None of these, of course, is contemporary with the classical period of the Greek drama, and their stone stage-fronts belong to the Hellenistic period. In Asia Minor we find a type of theatre (belonging to a some-what later date) with a broader, lower and deeper stage; and ry the Roman theatre (see below) carries these changes still further. Before discussing their significance it will be best to describe the parts of the ancient theatre, the fullest account of which is to be found in the fifth book of Vitruvius (written in the Augustan period). Its three main divisions were the auditorium (Lat. cavea; it had no technical name in Greek), the orchestra, and the stage buildings (ec,pvip, literally " tent " or " booth " Lat. scena). As the orchestra was the germ of the theatre, so it determined its shape, and in the Greek theatre preserved its circular form in many instances (as at729 Epidaurus). In the scheme of proportions given by Vitruvius, however (see fig. 1, which carries its own explanation), a segment (ihgf) was cut off by the stage-front (srporcipvwv, proscenium). The auditorium was divided by flights of seats into wedge-shaped blocks (KEpKISES, cunei) and also longitudinally by a gangway (Seib-o ea, praecinctio). In Greece the slope of a hill was always chosen For the auditorium and furnished with stone seats in tiers like steps. The slope of the Acropolis faces south, which (as Vitruvius points out) was the worst aspect for the spectators; but this was unavoidable for religious reasons, since the performances had to be held in the precinct of Dionysus. At Athens the inner boundary was a semicircle with the ends prolonged in parallel straight lines, which gave the spectators in the wings a better view of the stage than that obtainable in those theatres where (according to the Vitruvian rule) the boundary was segmental. At Epidaurus Scale 20 yards. FIG. 2. From Dorpfeld and Reisch, Das griechische Theater. ab, double western wall. be, single wall. aa, gg, walls terminating wings of auditorium. b, f, entrances. c, the " katatome " (where the rock of the Acropolis was met by the walls). d, e, diazoma. fg, eastern boundary wall. hh, front wall of Neronian stage. i, fragment 5th-century orchestra. klm, ancient masonry (? of supporting walls). nn, oldest stage buildings. oo, stone proscenium (1st or 2nd century B.C.). p, foundations of Neronian side wings. qr, fragments 5th-century orchestra. s, 4th-century portico. t, old Dionysus temple. a compromise was effected by prolonging the ends of the semi-circle as segments of a curve with a longer radius. The best seats were in the lowest row; at Athens this was formed by a series of marble thrones assigned to various priests or officials whose titles may be read on those (6o out of 67) which are now preserved. The priest of Dionysus occupied the central throne. In some theatres benches with backs took the place of separate thrones. The right of sitting in reserved places was called apoe5pia. The orchestra, which was separated from the auditorium by a gutter and kerb and generally paved with slabs, contained an altar of Dionysus called the Bv;.cEX,p, whence the choral or musical contests which took place in it were called a.y End of Article: THEATRE (BEarpov, " a place for seeing," from OeacOae)
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