Most theatre histories attest the seemingly sudden appearance in ancient Greece of a theatrical form in full bloom. If, as critic Joseph Frank suggests, major changes in aesthetic forms “always involve major changes in the sensibility of a particular cultural period,” the emergence of a new aesthetic form leads us to examine the historical record for transitions of some magnitude. The 5th century BCE was a period of radical change, particularly with regard to ideas about time.
I propose that western theatre emerged in answer to psychic needs engendered by the new experience of time in the 5th century BCE. Through performance and the thematic concerns of the plays, the time and space of individual life was measured in relation to the demands of collective and cosmic concerns. I contend that theatrical praxis is, in Foucault’s phrase, a “technology of the self ” through which human beings learn the parameters of identity and personal agency.1