III. Roman and Byzantine Theatre and Drama
Roman theatre derived from religious festivals. The Romans' carnival-like festivals included acting, flute playing, dancing, and prizefighting. Almost all festivals used music, dance, and masks in their ceremonies. The first Roman performance occurred in Rome around 364 B.C. The Romans have been known for using other cultures and practices and improving on them, and the same can be said of their approach to the theatre. Romans borrowed Greek and Etruscan methods in their own theatre, but made them distinctly Roman by improving and modifying those methods.
In contrast to ancient Greece, comedy was more popular in Rome than tragedy. Titus Maccius Plautus was an extremely popular Roman comedy writer. He is attributed with 130 plays including The Braggart Warrior, The Casket and Pot of Gold. Publius Terentius Afer was another Roman comedy writer who wrote six plays, all of which have survived including Mother-in-Law, Self-Tormentor and The Brother. Terence wasn't as popular as Plautus but his critics consider his writing deeper and more developed.
Only three names of Roman playwrights of tragedy are known from the early times: Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pascuvius, and Lucius Accius. The later Roman period had a few surviving plays by Lucius Annareus Seneca who wrote The Trojan Women, Medea, Oedipus, Phaedra and Hercules on Oeta among others. Later Seneca's popularity declined, and he committed suicide in 65 A.D.
The theatre was certainly not the only form of entertainment in Rome. Roman theatrical entertainment included the popular chariot racing, horse racing, foot races, wrestling, fights between wild animals (called venationes), and fights between men, or gladiators. Chariot races were held in the Circus Maximus which could accommodate 60,000 people. It also housed wrestling, fighting, and wild animals like lions. The Romans also had what was called naumachiae or sea battles in which lakes were dug or amphitheatres like the Colosseum were flooded for the occasion. Christians were often the victims of the Romans' thirst for blood, and many were sentenced to battle to the death in the Colosseum.
The first permanent theatre structures in Rome were dedicated to the god Venus. It is not clear where the Roman got the plan for their theatre but the design was elaborate. The theaters had a stage house which were corridors that provided access to the orchestra area or auditorium. The pulpitum or stage was raised about five feet and had a curtain. The scanae frons was the method of scenery for Roman theatre.
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