Here, you will find the full text of the plays of the great classical tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, plus the works of the comic playwright Aristophanes. The standard texts of ancient Greek play scripts are all in the public domain. It is only certain modern translations that may have some copyright restrictions. If you are looking for an overview of the period in which ancient Greek play scripts were first performed, click here. – Justin Cash
Greek theatre originates in ancient Greece’s religious and mythological traditions, specifically in worshipping Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and revelry. The annual festival, Dionysia, celebrated with choral hymns called dithyrambs, gave rise to formal theatrical performances. The City Dionysia festival in Athens formalised competitions in tragedy and comedy, marking the institutionalisation of theatre. The contributions of Thespis, who introduced a single actor to interact with the chorus, were particularly pivotal in transforming choral performances into dramatic presentations.
Development of Tragedy
Tragedy, having evolved from early dithyrambs, peaked in the 5th century BCE in Greece. Playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides expanded and enriched the genre, focusing on complex characters, intricate plot structures, and universal themes. These elements took Greek tragedy beyond mere entertainment, embedding it in the cultural and philosophical dialogues of the time.
Emergence of Comedy
Comedy emerged later in Greek theatre and represented a more fluid, dynamic form. It often focused on political satire, social criticism, and farce. Notable figures like Aristophanes played a significant role in shaping Old Comedy, providing a counterpoint to the more sombre tragic form, reflecting various aspects of everyday Athenian life.
Architectural and Theatrical Conventions
Innovations in architecture and theatrical devices accompanied the evolution of Greek theatre. The physical theatre space incorporated features such as the orchestra, the skene, and tiered seating. The use of masks, costumes, and special machinery, such as the mechane (machine), was vital in enhancing the theatrical experience, adding visual and aesthetic dimensions to performances.
Aeschylus (c. 525/524 BC – c. 456/455 BC, pronounced eee-skill-us <UK> or eh-skill-us <US>) is often considered the father of Greek tragedy. He wrote over seventy plays, of which only seven survive today. Aeschylus was credited by the Greek philosopher Aristotle for introducing the second actor to collaborate with the chorus.
Aristophanes (c. 446 – c. 386 BC, pronounced aa-ri-stof-an-ees) is often regarded as the father of comedy. He wrote forty plays, of which eleven survive today. Aristophanes was writing during the period known as Old Comedy.
Sophocles (c.?497/6 – c.?406/5 BC, pronounced sof-o-klees) wrote over one hundred and twenty plays, of which only seven survive today. He is attributed by Euripides as being responsible for adding the third actor to the acting area. Sophocles’ Oedipus The King is regarded by many as the greatest tragedy ever written.