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Theatre of ancient Rome


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about theatrical performances in ancient Rome. For the building, see Roman theatre
(structure).

The theatre of ancient Rome refers to dramatic


performances performed in Rome and its
dominions during classical antiquity.

Ancient Roman theatre was heavily influenced


by the Greek tradition, and as with many other
literary genres Roman dramatists tended to adapt
and translate from the Greek. For example,
Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of
Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus
were direct translations of works by Menander.
The Roman's were more interested in comedy
however and many found tragedies to be boring
and too depressing for the stage.
Roman theatre at Orange, France
When comparing and contrasting ancient Roman
theatre to that of Greek theatre it can easily be
said that Roman theatre was less influenced by religion. Also, Roman theatre was more for aesthetic
appeal. In Roman theatre war was a more common thing to appear on stage as opposed to the Greek
theatre where the plays were mimed and repetitive. The actors developed a kind of code that would
tell the audience about the characters just by looking at them.

A purple robe meant the character was a young man.


A yellow robe meant the character was a woman. (Needed in early Roman theatre, as
originally female characters were played by men, however as the Roman theatre progressed,
women slaves took the roles of women in plays.)
A yellow tassel meant the character was a god.

Roman costumes mirrored traditional Greek garments. Actors commonly wore a long robe, called a
Chiton. Chitons were often colored to denote character and rank.

Plays lasted for two hours, and were usually comedies. Most comedies involved mistaken identity
(such as gods disguised as humans).

Contents
1 Types of plays
1.1 Mime plays

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1.2 Bloodthirsty Entertainment


2 Stock Characters
3 Notable Roman Playwrights
4 See also
5 External links

Types of plays
The Roman theatre consisted of many different types of plays. The Romans copied and modified
many aspects of Greek culture such as their religion and drama to suit themselves. They tried to take
many Greek plays and adapt them for the Roman stage as well as pay for writers such as Andronicus
to write poems glorifying and praising Rome. However, most plays were set in Greece and actors
wore Greek masks and costumes. At Roman festivals, plays were part of the entertainment. Not
much work survives from the Roman theatre with the exception of Plautus and Terence. Both men
copied Greek plays and adapted and changed them to suit the Romans. As a result there is no such
thing as a 'typical' Roman play, like in Greek Tragedies, except for the later comedies. The Romans
did not take theatre or drama as seriously as the Greeks and seemed to be mocking them..

Mime plays

The Romans preferred comedies, especially exaggerated crude ones. Rather than challenge and
explore the deep questions raised by Greek plays, the Romans wanted pure entertainment, lots of
laughs and excitement. Mime, or performing without speaking, was popular with the audiences. Such
mimes recreated and made fun of middle class citizens, as well as famous myths. Features included
drunkenness, obscenity, adultery, semi-naked dances, greed, acrobatics and jokes! As a result of the
crudeness on stage, actors were seen as an inferior group whereas they had been respected in Greece.
By the end of the Roman Empire, a particular type of mime began to emerge. One actor played all
the parts in the performance (wearing masks), danced and mimed while a chorus narrated or told the
story he was acting out to music. This became known as pantomime, and still survives today in
children's plays.

Bloodthirsty Entertainment

Unfortunately, the Roman need for excitement and action seemed to know no limits, causing
problems for the future of theatre in their society. More and more people, especially the Christian
Church began to attack the theatre because of the shocking acts taking place on stage. Obscene
language and actions were applauded, real bloody violence was acceptable, criminals were killed on
stage, sexual acts were performed by prostitutes, and gladiators fought to their bloody deaths.
Watching performances was like watching sport for the Roman audiences. Other popular
entertainments of the time included chariot races, horse racing, battles, acrobatics, wrestling, animal
fights and fights between people and animals such as lions. In the Colosseum amphitheatre, seating
fifty thousand spectators, thousand of animals were killed, and people enjoyed watching Christians
being eaten by lions. Needless to say, the theatre had lost its way for a time.

Stock Characters

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Theatre of ancient Rome - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theatre_of_ancien...

and has seen a lot. The second type is truly in love with the adulescens. Both are very attractive with
a complex hairdo and outfit, which is yellow. She also has a mantel.

The virgo (young maiden) is the love interest of the adulescens, but does not get much stage time.
She is beautiful and virtuous with little personality. She is treated as a prize.

Notable Roman Playwrights


Plautus - 3rd century BC comedic playwright and writer of Miles Gloriosus, Pseudolus, and
Menaechmi.
Terence, who wrote between 170 and 160 BC.
Seneca the Younger - 1st century dramatist most famous for Roman adaptations of ancient
Greek plays like Medea and Phaedra.
Quintus Ennius - contemporary of Plautus who wrote both comedies and tragedies
Marcus Pacuvius - Ennius's nephew and tragic playwright

See also
History of theatre
Theatre of ancient Greece
Roman theatre (structure)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

External links
The Ancient Theatre Archive, Greek and Roman theatre architecture (http://www.whitman.edu
/theatre/theatretour/home.htm) - Dr. Thomas G. Hines, Department of Theatre, Whitman
College

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Categories: Ancient Greek and Roman leisure | History of theatre | Ancient Roman theatre
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