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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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Page 7

The Theater of Dionysus

 

    Early dawn it is when the crowds pour through the barriers around the Theater of Dionysus upon the southern slope of the Acropolis. They sit (full 15,000 or more) wedged close together upon rough wooden benches set upon the hill slopes.[10] At the foot of their wide semicircle is a circular space of ground, beaten hard, and ringed by a low stone barrier. It is some ninety feet in diameter. This is the "orchestra," the "dancing place," wherein the chorus may disport itself and execute its elaborate figures. Behind the orchestra stretches a kind of tent or booth, the "skenë." Within this the actors may retire to change their costumes, and the side nearest to the audience is provided with a very simple scene,—some kind of elementary scenery panted to represent the front of a temple or palace, or the rocks, or the open country. This is nearly the entire setting.[11] If there are any slight changes of this screen, they must be made in the sight of the entire audience. The Athenian theater has the blue dome of heaven above it, the red Acropolis rock behind it. Beyond the "skenë" one can look far away to the country and the hills. The keen Attic imagination will take the place of the thousand arts of the later stage-setter. Sophocles and his rivals, even as Shakespeare in Elizabeth's England, can sound the very depths and scale the loftiest heights of human passion, with only a simulacrum of the scenery, properties, and mechanical artifices which will trick out a very mean twentieth century theater.

 

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