Costumes, Masks, and Scenery

Greek plays were performed by three actors, a chorus (12 or 15 men who spoke all at the same time), and sometimes non-speaking extras. Masks were always worn. Only men could act - even women's roles were taken by men. This was the same in the time of Shakespeare.


Actors wore brightly coloured and decorated costumes. The costumes would make it clear who the character was. Usually the actors wore leather boots too.

The picture on the left shows a vase painting of actors in their costumes.

The picture on the right shows male actors dressing as women - see the mask on the floor.



model of a Tragedy mask


Masks were made of gluey strips of linen, places over the actor's face. When they set they had the shape of the face and so fit very neatly. They were then painted. Some of these faces were quite grotesque, especially for comedies. We have a number of models of these masks made of terracotta (clay), and some pictures on vases show masks.

Because they wore, it was not possible to see the facial expressions of the actors, which meant they had to act 'big', with gestures and movements. It wasn't always easy to tell who was talking, either - especially if you were sitting right at the back of the theatre. But the masks helped those at the back to see the actors and their masks' expressions.


model of a comedy mask



According to Aristotle (a philosopher), Sophocles invented scene painting. Wooden boards were painted to look like the setting the action was taking place in. The picture shows a painting of such scenery.

Sometimes special moving scenery was used, such as an eccyclema, which could spin round to show someone on the other side, like a revolving door. Sometimes cranes were used to lift actors into the air (like Medea at the end of the play).



A vase painting of a female mask

- female masks were painted white