“To make a scene” is an idiom that describes one who makes an uproar being loud and rude to other people. If we stick, though, to the prime, literal meaning of the word “scene”, we could end up with funny interpretations like “to assemble a tent.” How come? The noun "scene" entered the English language from Latin (scaena, scena) through Middle French (scène), but the original term was born in ancient Greece. “Skene” (σκηνή) was etymologically related to “skia” (σκιά) - “shadow, shade” and its first denotation was a “shelter, tent.” When the first Greek theatrical performances appeared, they took place in the open air on wooden constructions. Right behind the main acting area there was a tent – a “skene” - used by the actors for changing and entering on the stage. It was often decorated as a palace, a temple, or other building according to the needs of the play. With the time, the tent was replaced by wooden structure (approximately 7.6 m /25 feet wide and 3m /10 feet deep). There was an access to the roof of the “skene” from behind, so that actors playing gods could appear on the roof, or be suspended on the stage through a special mechanismknown as “Deus ex machina.”
That theatrical image of actors and different types of machinery gave the expression “behind the scene” denoting affairs that are not apparent to the public. The notion of a scene as “a place of acting” (literary and non-literary) was first recorded in the 16th century. Three centuries later the Latin adjective “scenarius” – “pertaining to the scene” will be used for forming the noun “scenario” – “sketch of the plot of a play, screenplay.” Nowadays that word often expresses a sequence of possible events, an imagined course of actions.
Ancient Greek theater in Ephesus, Turkey
The term theater as a specific building for showing plays also comes from the 16th century. Today, it is not restricted only to the plays anymore but could denote various shows or performances on a stage (even movie projections). The roots of that word lay in the ancient Greek verb "theasthai" (θέασθαι) - “to behold, to contemplate”. It is related to the noun “thea” (θέα) – “that which is seen, sight”. The latter has given the Greek “theatron” (θέατρον) – a place for seeing dramatic presentations.
Being akin to the Greek word for a miracle ("thauma"– θαύμα), “thea” implied not a mere looking at something, but more like gazing, with a sense of wonder. According to Aristotle’s theory of drama, the ancient Greek theater functioned as an emotional purge of the society; creating intense scenes that impacted the audience psychologically through the visualization of the actions on the stage. The spectators were expected to contemplate the plot carefully, although they perfectly knew the presented mythological themes. They needed to associate themselves with the characters and to suffer altogether with them to achieve inner purification.
There is one name that is closely connected to the theatrical performances – that is Thespian. As a noun, “Thespian” denotes “an actor”, as adjective (also often capitalized) means “related to the drama, dramatic.” It comes from Thespis – a semi-legendary poet from Icaria in Attica who supposedly lived in 6th century BC. Ancient sources differ as to what was his role in the ancient Greek theater. He was represented by some as the first tragic poet (even called “the father of the Greek tragedy”). Others put him in not less than the 16th place in the row of the dramatic artists. According to separated accounts, Thespis was the first tragic poet who acted as an actor in a dramatic performance out of the group of the traditional chorus. That allegation, obviously, gave birth to the adjective “Thespian.” His name - meaning “inspired by the gods” - was an additional argument for sanctifying his activities. (For more on the link between gods and art in ancient Greece, see Muses in that post.)
The origins of the tragedy are deeply bounded with the origins of the theater itself. It is thought to be one of the first genres invented by Greeks around 6th century BC in the region of Attica. The earliest performances were part of an annual celebration in the name of the god Dionysus known as “City Dionysia” or “Great Dionysia.” During this several days event, ancient Greek hymns, called “satyr dithyrambs,” were sung along with some dance presentations.
The etymology of the word tragedy is usually derived from the Greek nouns “tragos” (τράγος) – “he-goat” and “oide”(ᾠδή) – “song.” Scientists provide different explanations of how exactly a goat was identified with this celebration. According to Aristotle, the term “tragodia” (τραγῳδια) - literary “goat song” – referred to the chorus of satyrs (mythological personages with goat-like ears and tails that accompanied Dionysus). The participants in the chorus wore goatskins in order to represent satyrs. Other sources say that the name came from the legendary Thespis, who was engaged in the first tragic competition for the prize of a goat. Alexandrian scientists believed that the name was taken from the fact that a goat has been usually sacrificed to Dionysus at the beginning of his celebrations.
In the present time, tragedy has lost all zoological connotations it had before. Apart of theatrical genre representing serious and sorrowful events, the word started to denote generally disastrous episodes, a misfortune.
Comedy is another popular theatrical genre. It has its roots (pretty much like the tragedy) in the ancient Greek performing art. The term is compound word consisting of “komos” (κῶμος) – “lively and noisy enjoyment, revel, merry-making” and “oide”(ᾠδή) – “song”. Comedies, too, were part of the “City Dionysia” where after tragedy presentations the first three days, comic plays were shown for the next two days.
There are almost no indications of the origins of the comedy. The earliest work on dramatic theory Aristotle's “Poetics” had survived only partly – mainly the sections describing the tragedy. The comedy’s part is lost, but some secondary text hints give us the idea that comedy was also thought as a way of purification of certain affections of our nature. Not by terror and pity - like in tragedy - but by laughter and ridicule. (Now you know why the blind monk from “The name of the Rose” was killing all those who dealt with the then-present Aristotle’s manuscript on Comedy. It was considered as a serious genre with certain psychological capacity.)
In fact, in the Middle Age, the term comedy was used to denote poems in a general sense (although all with a happy end). “A narrative” is the real meaning of the Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and it has no intention to make the reader laughing.
Comedy as literary work written in a comic style or treating a comic theme acquires that notion not early than the 19th century.