The oldest plays come from Greek theater, currently thought to be the earliest known civilization participating in theater. Theater research has found that Greece was known for their drama, comedy, and tragedy. Greek theater has inspired many theater productions throughout time and will continue to do so.
Theater research points to an evolution of festivals in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine, as the possible origin of the Athenian theater. Theater research has found that dramas were commonly performed at these festivals. Yet, there is no evidence of tragedies or comedies taking place during these festivals. This leaves a bit of mystery on when and how they came about and their relationship to fertility festivals.
It is further believed that Greek theater may have sprung from narrative songs. In fact, Thespis took this narrative song one step further by acting out the main character. Theater research has named him the first Greek actor. Thespis incorporated the chorus who added to the effect and theater was born.
It wasn’t long before someone came along and offered their critique. Aristotle may be famous for a number of accomplishments, but theater research has found that he was also the first theater critic in his writing “Poetics.” Aristotle wrote about the rise of theater from the songs of praise that were sang at the Dionysia every year.
By the fifth century, theaters were found all over Greece and had become a major staple of life in Athens. In fact, there was a competition each year that included three competing playwrights. Each playwright performed a total of four plays with three of them being tragedies and all of the four were related.
Theater research shows that by this time, theater had changed in a few ways. The number of actors had grown to three. However, another change involved the chorus taking on the third character. Dionysus was no longer the sole focus of the plays. Instead, the plays included all sorts of famous characters from Greek mythology. These plays inspired a number of cultures including the Romans and eventually led to the creation of theater as we know it.