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Theatrics in the ancient Roman Empire and among the Greeks was an important socio-cultural activity that the then administration embraced. It ranged from songs and dances to acting, but the two differed in some aspects (Kuritz, 1988). However, there were notable similarities, especially in the structural design of the theatres. This was due to the intense structural and architectural influence that the Greeks had over the Romans. Like all the other buildings whose architectural designs had been imported to Rome from Greek, the theatres were not exempted.
The general design of the theatre was similar, wherein in both cases, it was built on a hill and a valley. The bottom of the valley had a flat semicircular floor with a diameter of 78 feet that acted as the acting floor. The audience seats were then semicircularly arranged from this floor in a succession where the seat behind was always higher than the one in front of it. Thus the audience at the back was the most highly positioned. The design was further involved in the seat arrangement that ensured that the actors were clearly heard by the people on the uppermost semicircular bench of the theater. It was usually unroofed, but in the Roman Theater, there was a temporary cloth shelter that was put up in case there was rain or sun during the play or any other theatric (Kuritz, 1988).
Behind the semicircular orchestra (the acting stage), there was a wall that separated the rest of the auditorium and the orchestra. This wall was used as the current day scene, where the actors used to change their attire. Further, killings in the plays were never done before the eyes of the audience and were always made behind the wall. The wall had entry points that actors used for both exit and entry to the orchestra.
In both, acting was absorbed as part of the culture, and the genres addressed were socially fit and addressed the issues that the society was experiencing at that given moment. The Greeks were at war with the Persians, while the Romans were in the process of conquering and enlarge their already big empire (Kuritz, 1988).
Roman theatres then spread to all the other parts of the world, especially in countries where the Roman Empire had its authority stamped on. The Greek theatre also spread all over Europe, and most European theatres today can be traced back to the ancient Greek theatre.
Despite the architecture of the two theatres coming from the Greeks, there were some differences that later on emerged as a result of the site and material for construction as well as the specific conditions in the Roman Empire. The main structural difference between the Roman and Greek theatres was slight and came later as a change from the norm. There were not enough hills to build the theatres; hence the Romans were forced to build their theatres from the level ground using blocks to raise the seats. The seats were made of Roman blocks and concrete. The theatres built within Rome were not hill- dependent at all since the city itself was not hilly (Euripides & Boyask, 2008)
Despite the heavily borrowed architectural design from the Greek theater, the structures were not completely similar, with the Greek theatre being three-quarters of a semicircle while the Roman theatre was perfectly half a circle (Kuritz, 1988).
The Roman Theater had a permanent seating space at the base where the high officials and priests sat during plays. This was unlike the Greek counterparts that did not have these permanent sitting places for the high officials.
Apart from the few structural differences of the theatre highlighted above, there were other differences that involved the actual theatrics between the Roman and the Greek theatres, as will be discussed in the paper.
A major difference between Roman and Greek art is the involvement of women in acting. Roman acting was very receptive to women, whereas the contrary was true in the Greek drama. In the play ‘Make Love Not War’ written by Aristophanes, Greek women went on a sex strike to persuade their men not to go into war against the Spartans (Ruden & Aristophanes, 2003). They declined to give in to the men’s persuasions to have sex, and they eventually win it due to the sex starvation that men were going through with the ladies on strike.
Although the play is largely feminine, all the actors in the comedy were men. The costume changed their appearance by the use of prosterneda, which was a wooden structure that was placed on the men’s busts to fake breasts and, progastreda that faked a large tummy for pregnant women. In contrast, Roman comedy included women, and few of the masks were used. There were only three characters in the Greek plays, whereas more were present in the Roman plays. In a play like ‘The Medea Game’ by Euripide, there are very few characters that made the whole story flow (Euripides & Boyask, 2008). During the classical period, new inventions were made in the Greek theatre that made the playwrights never to use more than three actors (Vervain & Wiles, 2004).
The use of masks was another major difference. The Greeks used different masks to represent different individuals or scenes. The Romans, on the other hand, mainly used real characters with some makeup to give the desired expression to the audience (Vervain & Wiles, 2004). At the same time, the masks were used to magnify the faces of the actors to the large crowd since there was a big distance from the orchestra to the highest audience. Masks were also used to distinguish between characters and their roles on stage due to the exaggerated facial expressions in the masks (Kuritz, 1988).
On top of being used for plays, the Roman theatre was as well used for other performances such as nude dancing, acrobatics, and other festival occasions. This was not the case in the Greek theater, where the main performance in the theater was the plays. Finally, it is notable that the Greek theatre concentrated on comedies and tragedy drama, whereas the Romans expounded from their tragedies to achieve diverse areas of acting. Other sports such as gladiators were introduced in the same arenas, unlike in Greece, where plays remained dominant in their theatres.
Both Greek and Roman Theatres are great cultures that have been absorbed in the modern world. Modern sports arenas are designed in the ancient design of these two important historical theatres. Though they had their structural similarities that rooted in Greek architecture, the cultures were different, and the two theatres’ main differences came as a result of the way plays and activities in the theatre were carried out.
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Euripides, S., & Boyask, R. (2008). Medea. Indiapolis: Hackett Press.
Kuritz, P. (1988).The making of theatre history. Englewood Cliffs: Penguin Publishers.
Ruden, S., & Aristophanes, H. (2003). Lysistrata. Indiapolis: Hackett Press.
Vervain, C., & Wiles, D. (2004). The Masks of Greek Tragedy as Point of Departure for Modern Performance. Burlington, MA : Academic Press.