theater

Ancient Rome and the Early Christian Era

In Rome, for the first time, theaters were enclosed within a single wall, making them architectural units. The Roman skēne (in Latin the scaenae frons ) was frequently monumental in scale. Roman audiences never evinced an interest in serious drama but accepted romantic comedy as long as it included an element of farce. By the period of the Empire, Roman theater had degenerated into brutal and obscene spectacle, and it was finally banned by the Christian church.

While Greek actors were highly respected, their Roman counterparts were originally slaves. Although position of Roman actors had improved by the 1st cent. B.C. (as evidenced by the career of Quintus Roscius), later Christian antipathy to the stage led to the view of the actor as a social outcast. Until the 10th cent., theatrical performances were restricted to traveling acrobats, jugglers, mimes, and the like. Popular types of traveling theater, performed on plain wooden platforms, also existed throughout the Greek and Roman periods. Native farce and burlesque probably flourished before Aristophanes; it certainly did by the 3d cent. B.C. in the Greek phylakes and the Roman fabula Atellana.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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