Sunday, March 6, 2011

Roman theatre

The best preserved Roman theatre we have seen is at Orange (see picture on left). There was also one in Arles (picture below) but it was nowhere as well preserved as the one in Orange. All the major Roman towns had an arena, theatre and some even had a circus. A circus is a big race track where the chariot races took place. Before arenas were built, the gladiator competitions would take place in the circuses as well. The Romans used theatres like the arenas, to entertain the masses and to impart their culture to all of the new colonies. Also like the arena events, the theatre was free and you were seated by social class with the richest citizens sitting in closest, knights (or horsemen) next and the prominent business types after that. The theatre performances were also paid for by taxes applied to the rich. Unlike the arena events, however, theatre was older than Rome. The Romans took the theatre from the Greeks, along with many of the first shows.

Theatre was extremely popular and at the height of the Roman Empire, more than 100 days of the year were set aside for theatre. In early Roman theatre, they watched Greek plays. If a tragedy was showing, they would have a short comedic sketch at the end to bring the audience’s emotions back up. The comedy routines always involved the same four characters and usually used satire. The tragedies were not as popular as the comedies, however, and as Roman theatre progressed, the tragedies and Greek choruses were gradually phased out in exchange for comedies and pantomime. I thought it was interesting the Romans enjoyed mime. I’m not sure if this is where it began but given its close association with France, it is interesting the Romans of Provence also enjoyed it.

Women were allowed to attend performances and were also allowed to perform. The theatre became quite raunchy and immoral for a time and women actually performed nude (due to popular demand). This was towards the end of the Empire around the same time the gladiator fights were deteriorating into bloodbath executions of untrained prisoners. Sounds a bit like television and movies, doesn’t it? I wonder if our society is in decline?

When we visited the theatre in Orange the other day we experienced the chill of the Mistral. It was lovely and warm when we left Venasque but as we walked around the theatre we huddled in freezing little lumps trying to protect ourselves from the freezing cold wind. It must have been a good six to ten degrees colder and we weren’t really prepared for it. The theatre in Orange is one of only three in the world where the Roman theatre wall still stands. The other two are in Syria and Turkey. This one was standing but the hundreds of columns were gone and all of the statues except the emperor were missing. The one of the emperor had been pieced back together. The town had been sacked several times and the theatre was burned but the wall persevered. Apparently, when one of the French kings attacked the city, he left the theatre standing because he was so impressed by its beauty. Interestingly, just like the areanas, the theatre had also been used as a city-fort during the middle ages.

While the weather in Orange did not encourage us to linger, we had a lovely day in Arles looking at the theatre and arena. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at an outdoor café there. It was the first of probably many such lunches now that the weather is warming up.

2 comments: said...

Great picture of all of you. Is Tom growing a beard? The pictures of the theatres etc. were really interesting. At my college 50th reunion (UGH), we are going to have a Greek Chorus for our 5 minute performance! We'll probably use the sheets from our beds! Love Mom

Mynnette said...

Wow- from the picture one can see the trip is agreeing with you all. Nice to see you all together, smiling and happy.Good description Of Les Baux.
Thanks for sharing!!! Moe hugs-Mynnette