The Structure of Greek Tragedy

     The earliest tragedies seem to have developed from the emotional, intense dithyrambs sung by Athenian choruses. The Chorus in most tragedies numbered twelve or fifteen men. They usually represented the citizenry in the drama. They dressed simply, and their song was sometimes sung in unison, sometimes delivered by the chorus leader. Originally, there were no actors separate from the chorus.
    According to legend, Thespis was the first actor, well the first to step from chorus to act in dialogue with it. Thus creating the Agon, or dramatic confrontation. He won the first prize for tragedy in 532 B.C. As the only actor, he took several parts, wearing masks to distinguish the different characters. One actor was the norm in tragedies until Aeschylus, the first important Greek tragedian introduced a second actor, and then Sophocles added a third. Only comedy used more.
    Like the actors, the members of the chorus wore masks. At first the masks were simple, but they became or ornate, often trimmed with hair and decorated with details that established the gender age or station of each character. The chorus and all actors were male.
Eventually the structure of the plays became elaborated into a series of alternations between the characters' dialogue and the choral odes, with each speaking part developing the action or responding to it. Often crucial information furthering the action came from the mouth of a messenger, as in Oedipus Rex.

The tragedies were structured in three parts: the Prologue established the conflict; the episodes or agons developed the dramatic relationships between characters; and the Exodos concluded the action. Between these sections the chorus performed different songs: Parodos while moving onto the stage Stasima while standing still. In some plays the chorus sang choral odes called the Strophe as it moved from right to left. The Antistrophe has the chorus moving back to the right. The actors' episodes consisted of dialogue with each other and with the chorus.