Students explore Greek drama, research Greek playwrights and plays, and present scenes from Greek plays.
- Length: 1-5 class periods
- Grades: 7-12
- Students will identify characteristics of Greek theater.
- Students will compare and contrast Greek theater and modern theater.
- Students will apply knowledge of performance elements and Greek theater to a Greek play.
Greek Theater: Oedipus
Found On: Aspects of Drama Part 3: Cultures, Periods, and Styles
Introduction to Greek Drama
Found On: About Drama
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
character, comedy, isolations, literary elements, performance elements, purposes, reader’s theater, storytelling, technical elements, tragedy, tragic hero
TV/VCR or DVD player, overhead/chart paper, class set of literature books containing the script of a Greek play, “Introduction to Greek Theater” guide from the “Periods and Styles” section of the Drama Arts Toolkit binder, computers with Internet access
- Greek Theater Discussion Questions (with Answers)
- Oedipus the King Discussion Questions
- Multiple-Choice Questions
- Multiple-Choice Questions Answer Key
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Oedipus the King Background
Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus the King tells the story of the young, inexperienced king Oedipus. Learning that King Laius, his predecessor, had been murdered, Oedipus vows to avenge the king in order to bring prosperity back to his kingdom. He foolishly condemns the murderer before learning who that is and the truth behind the murder.
The scene presented in reader’s theater format occurs early in the play, just after the prologue and the entrance of the chorus. Oedipus argues with the blind sage Teiresias about Laius’ murder. In his rage, Oedipus accuses his friend Creon of the crime. Because his pride overshadows any willingness to listen to Teiresias and heed his warnings concerning the truth of past events, Oedipus fails to see his own guilt.
Setting the Context
Ask students to write down in their notes what they know about Greek theater. Give them a few minutes to collect their thoughts and then have them share what they wrote. You might want to write their responses on the overhead or on chart paper.
Explain that the video segment you are about to show is an introduction to Greek drama. Identify what you want the students to watch for, using the Greek Theater Discussion Questions handout as your guide. You may want to write the discussion questions on the overhead/chart paper or create a graphic organizer to hand out for note taking. If you have the Drama Arts Toolkit binder, distribute the parts of the Greek Stage handout (from “Introduction to Greek Theater” in “Periods and Styles”); if not, you may want to pause during this section of the video so students can draw and label the parts of the stage.
Watch the segment. Discuss, using the Greek Theater Discussion Questions handout. Have students compare what they learned to what they knew before they watched.
Introduce the scene from Sophocles’ great tragedy Oedipus the King. Explain the reader’s theater format: In reader’s theater, the play is not done in costume or on a set (generally in limbo with a black curtain or with a minimal set). The actors neither memorize their lines nor move about the stage. Instead, the actors, usually dressed in everyday clothes, read from the script and interpret their characters with the aim of stimulating the audience to imaginatively experience the play. The introduction to the scene in the video segment explains who the characters are (Oedipus and Teiresias) and gives the audience a sense of what’s happening. You may need to show the scene two or more times in order for students to grasp the plot and fully understand the situation.
Use the Oedipus the King Discussion Questions as your guide for the follow-up discussion. Again, you may want to write the questions on the overhead/chart paper or create a graphic organizer for note taking.
Using information from the “Introduction to Greek Theater” guide, have students contrast Greek theater to contemporary theater. Discuss how the reader’s theater production of the scene from Oedipus the King is in keeping with the characteristics of Greek theater. Ask: What characteristics of Greek theater are missing?
Depending on the level and sophistication of your students (Greek plays often have adult themes), as well as the time you’ve allotted to this lesson, select one or both of the following activities and/or conclude with the assessment activities.
- As they listen to the scene, ask students to imagine how it would have looked to the Greeks as they watched this play more than 2,000 years ago. Discuss: If you were producing Oedipus today and wanted it to appear authentic, how would your production differ from the reader’s theater production? Extend by having students create visual representations, such as a poster for their production or drawings of the stage or costumes.
- Put a list of Greek playwright/play pairs on the overhead/chart paper (e.g., Aeschylus/Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus/Agamemnon, Sophocles/Antigone, Sophocles/Oedipus the King, Euripides/Medea, Euripides/The Trojan Women, Aristophanes/The Frogs). Assign students to small groups and have each group research one of the playwright/play pairs, making sure every group has a different pair. Include Oedipus so that students can get a sense of the complete play. Have them report back to the class background information about the playwright, the type of play they’ve researched (tragedy/comedy), and essential information about the play (when it was written/performed, themes, characters, etc.). Full texts of these plays can be found on the Internet (see Support/Connections/Resources).
In their small groups, have students select a scene from the play they’ve researched. It might be helpful to discuss in advance some things to think about when selecting a scene (e.g., number of characters, what happens, sense of completeness, how the scene relates to the play as a whole, etc.). Using the reader’s theater format, have students prepare and present a staged reading to the class of the scene. As a part of their presentation, they should include an introduction to the scene.
Extensions for Diverse Learners
- Provide graphic organizers (create your own using the Greek Theater discussion questions).
- Provide a pre-recorded tape of lecture information.
- Write important information on overhead or chart paper.
- Identify the most important concepts or vocabulary words.
- Have students write summaries of what they learned, using information from the overhead or chart paper as well as their own notes and/or graphic organizers.
- Have students select and produce a scene or scenes from a classic Greek tragedy or comedy. Ask them to provide an introduction to the scene that puts it into context.
- Create a three-dimensional replica or a drawing of a Greek theater.
- Adapt a modern story into ancient Greek theatrical style.
- Create character masks for a dramatic production.
Writing To Communicate
- Literary: Adapt a Greek myth or an original myth into a script.
- Transactive: Write a feature article about a Greek playwright you have researched or a play you have read, showing why the playwright or play still has meaning for contemporary audiences.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Read a play written by Sophocles, Euripides, or Aeschylus.
- Research the scientific achievements of the Bronze and/or the Athenian Age.
- Compare and contrast the Greek city/state political system to the American democratic system.
- Participate in Olympic sports or sponsor your own Olympics. Provide support or assistance for a Special Olympics event.
- Interview a person with a degree in philosophy and ask him or her to share knowledge about Aristotle (or an overview of Greek philosophy) with you.
Open Response Assessment
As a director, you are considering directing a Greek play, but you are having difficulty deciding whether to adhere to the style in which Greeks would have produced/performed it or whether to modernize it and use realistic scenery and costumes.
- Identify the style you have decided to use (classic Greek or modernized version).
- Compare and contrast the two styles and justify why you think it is important to produce the play in the style you have chosen.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of Greek and modern theater styles and applies this knowledge consistently and effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, with insightful use of supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates broad knowledge of Greek and modern theater styles and applies this knowledge effectively. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding effectively, using supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates basic knowledge of Greek and modern theater styles and makes some correct application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge and understanding using some supporting examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates limited knowledge of Greek and modern theater styles and makes inappropriate or underdeveloped application of this knowledge. Student communicates this knowledge ineffectively, with few or no supporting examples and/or details.||Student offers blank or irrelevant response.|
Your school is holding a “Greek Week,” and you are asked to create a short performance piece in keeping with the week’s theme.
- Choose a monologue from The Actor’s Book of Classical Monologues that you would like to perform. You will also need to read the entire play in order to understand the character’s motivation and who he/she is before you begin working on your characterization.
- Dressed in period costume and mask, perform your monologue for an audience.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting extensive understanding of the elements of performance and drama. Student demonstrates extensive critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student completes all aspects of the task in an incisive and thorough manner.||Student completes assignment effectively, exhibiting broad understanding of the elements of performance and the elements of drama. Student demonstrates broad critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student successfully completes all aspects of the task.||Student completes assignment, exhibiting basic understanding of the elements of performance and the elements of drama. Student demonstrates basic use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student partially completes the task and/or is unsuccessful in attempts to address some aspects of the task.||Student works on assignment, exhibiting minimal understanding of the elements of performance and the elements of drama. Student demonstrates little use of critical thinking skills and creativity in completing the assignment. Student minimally completes the task, showing minimal interest or enthusiasm.||Student shows little or no evidence of having addressed the task.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- Barranger, Milly S. Theatre Past and Present. Wadsworth Publishing, 1984.
- Gillespie, Patti and Kenneth M. Cameron. Western Theatre—Revolution and Revival. MacMillan, 1984.
- Rudnicki, Stefan, ed. Actor’s Book of Classical Monologues. Penguin Books, 1999.
- Schanker, Harry H. and Katherine Anne Ommanney. The Stage and the School. Glencoe McGraw Hill, 2004.