Last evening Professor Doerpfeld gave his fifth lecture in the Fogg Museum. Though the subject was the "Theatre at Athens, his lecture was in reality a contribution to our knowledge of the history and character of Greek dramatic art.
He began with the remark that the question as to the form and inner arrangements of the Greek Theatre is one most ardently discussed at the present time among archaeologists and classical scholars. It interests not only the professional scholar, but also the lover of literature,- since it is impossible to appreciate or even to understand the Greek dramas without knowing how they were brought out; and their representation was dependent on the inner arrangements of the theatre. Until recently it has been universally believed that, in the action of the Greek play, actors and chorus occupied separate parts of the theatre:- the former a narrow stage ten or twelve feet high, the latter the lower orchestra. Professor Doerpfeld maintained that this is incorrect, that, in fact, the Greek theatre had no stage at all. His arguments, richly enforced by plans and photographs upon the screen, were based in large part upon an examination of the remains of the Greek Dionysiac Theatre at Athens, the cradle, as it were, of the drama, where Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first brought out. In the earliest period there was only a simple, circular area; the spectators sat upon rows of wooden benches. To Aeschylus, near the beginning of the fifth century, was due the introduction, upon the edge of this circular area of a wooden hut, or skene. This was the origin of the "stage" building. In the fourth century the theatre was rebuilt in stone, but a wooden proscenium was retained. At a later date this proscenium was rebuilt in stone. It is in the Roman epoch that we find the elevated stage for the first time.
Professor Doerpfeld then proceeded to discuss and refute various arguments adduced in support of the traditional view, namely, those based on the language of Vitruvius, on the theory that a stage was needed in order to enable the audience to see the action; and, finally, the supposed evidence of the theatre at Megalopolis and of certain pictures upon Greek vases from lower Italy. He showed that not only is the evidence of the plays themselves and also of other branches of literature in favor of the united action of actors and chorus on the same orchestral level, but that in none of the Greek theatres of the classical age, of which many have recently been laid open, has a genuine stage been discovered. What has hitherto been identified as a stage-the proskenion-is in fact only a decorative member. The hypothesis which the lecturer urged with Iuminous cogency alone satisfactorily explains the historical development of the Greek theatre and the subsequent evolution of the Roman theatre from that of the Greeks.
In conclusion, Professor Doerpfeld showed how a Greek play, under these conditions, would have been brought out, and selected the Suppliants of Aeschylus for detailed illustration. The lecture was profusely illustrated by many beautiful lantern slides.
This evening Professor Doerpfeld gives the last lecture in the series. His topic is "The Doric Temple,"- a subject upon which, both as architect and archaeologist, he speaks with great authority.