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The Importance of Theatre in Rome

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One form of entertainment that had a particular long-term impact upon the citizens of the city was the Roman theatre. “ According to the ancient historian Livy, the earliest theatrical activity at Rome took the form of dances with musical accompaniment, introduced to the city by the Etruscans in 364 BC” (Klar, 2006). History reveals that full-length plays were introduced into Rome as early as 240 BC. Performances included the comedies and tragedies of playwrights such as Livius Andronicus, Plautus and others. Some of this literature, like the modern literature we revere today, functioned as a means of informing the public about important cultural and societal values, reinforcing their beliefs or understanding of these concepts.

Plays had a way of exploring important or controversial issues of the times in a way that made them understandable to people who may or may not have been well-educated in the fine details of politics, religion or social management. In most cases, these performances and texts functioned as a means of reinforcing the status quo. Other forms of entertainment that were popular in ancient Rome included mime and pantomime.

However, “ the principal occasions for dramatic spectacles in the Roman world were yearly religious festivals, or Ludi, organized by elected magistrates and funded from the state treasury” (Klar, 2006). Despite this widespread fascination and enjoyment of theatrical entertainment, it wasn’ t until 55 BC when Rome constructed its first permanent theatre in Pompey. “ Before then, all theatres erected in Rome had been temporary affairs which were torn down at the end of the festival for which they had been erected” (Sear 23). These temporary theatres obviously did not provide the same sort of control or stratification that was deemed necessary in such a class-conscious society, so the designers for the new permanent theatres had plenty of logistics to anticipate and overcome.

Although there are indications that the mighty political leaders of the day were at best slightly against the idea, the creation of a permanent, well-structured theatre space was accomplished.  

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