Roman Theatre

By Dominique and Ethan

Roman History Overview

  • By 240 B.C., Greek Theatre was familiar to Romans and then translated into Latin, and brought to Rome
  • The beginnings of Roman theatre state that the first record of drama was at the Ludi Romani
  • By 345 A.D., there were 101 festivals devoted to theatre
  • In 55 B.C., the first stone theatre was built in Rome by Julius Caesar

Roman Theatre

Roman Theatre

  • Roman theatre borrowed Greek traditions and ideas
  • Entertainment tended to be grandiose, sentimental, diversionary
  • Performers were called "Histriones"


  • Greek Drama
  • Etruscan influences (circus-like)
  • Fabula Atellana
  1. May have influenced commedia dell ‘Arte

Stock Characters

  • Bucco: braggart, boisterous
  • Pappas: foolish old man
  • Dossenus: swindler, drunk, hunchback

Roman Festivals Brief Overview

  • Held in honor of the gods, but much less religious than in Greece
  • Held in September (the autumn)and honored Jupiter
  • By 240 B.C., both comedy and tragedy were performed

Forms of Roman Theatre

  • Pantomime: solo dance, with music and a chorus

  1. Used masks, story-telling, mythology or historical stories, usually serious but sometimes comic

  • Mime:

  1. Spoken
  2. Usually short
  3. Sometimes elaborate casts and spectacle
  4. Serious or comic (satiric)
  5. No masks
  6. Had women
  7. Violence and sex depicted literally
  8. Scoffed at Christianity

Roman Comedy

  • Roman comedy was by far the most popular
  1. Titus Maccius Plautus- 130 plays
  2. Publius Terenius
  • Characteristics
  1. Chorus was abandoned
  2. Songs
  3. Everyday domestic affairs
  4. Action placed in the street

Roman Tragedy

  • Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  1. Closet Dramas- not performed
  • Characteristics
  1. Five acts
  2. Elaborate speeches
  3. Interest in morality
  4. Violence and horror onstage, unlike Greek
  5. Characters dominated by a single passion – obsessive (such as revenge) – drives them to doom
  6. Interest in the Renaissance

Roman Theatre Buildings

The first permanent Roman theatre built 54 A.D.
  • Characteristics:

    • Built on level ground with stadium-style seating (audience raised)
    • Stage raised to five feet
    • Stages were large – 20-40 feet deep, 100-300 feet long, could seat 10-15,000 people
    • 3-5 doors in rear wall and at least one in the wings
    • stage was covered with a roof
    • dressing rooms in side wings
    • trap doors were common

Roman Actors and Styling

    1. Actors
    • Referred to as histriones and mimes – later primarily histriones
    • Mostly male – women were in mimes
    1. Styles
    • Greek based
    • Tragedy- slow
    • Comedy- rapid
    • Mimes
    • Used a ton of music

The Roman Fall

The Roman Fall cont.

Church opposition to Theatre:

    1. association with pagan gods
    2. ridicule of church by mimes (sacrament and baptism)

533 A.D. is the last record we have of a performance in the Roman Empire.