Analyse the Dramatic Uses of the Chorus in Greek Tragedy; in What Ways Do Traces of the Choric Function Occur in Twentieth-Century Drama?

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  • Topic: Sophocles, Tragedy, Aeschylus
  • Pages : 10 (3335 words )
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  • Published : April 30, 2006
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The full influence of Greek tragedy upon our modern theatre is incomprehensible, with the mainstays of theatrical convention largely demonstrating roots within Greek tragedy. The choric function is just one of these conventions. This essay hopes to explore various uses of the Chorus within Greek tragedies by Aeschylus and Sophocles, and then to analyse how traits of a Greek Chorus, and the choric function can be found within 20th Century Theatre.

The Chorus in Greek tragedy was a large group (it is suggested between 12 and 30) of people who sang or chanted songs and poems that helped set the scene of the play, bring the audience up to date with the events preceding the play and inform the audience of any political or social consequences of events within the play. As Greek drama progressed, the writers of tragedies began to use the Chorus more as a character in its own right, with feelings and opinions. The Chorus were witnesses to the tragedy, but also often encouraged the tragedy to happen, incensing the characters and prompting them to act . The Chorus can serve a number of different roles to the dramatist. These roles vary from play to play, and from playwright to playwright. They perform in some cases a narrator role, often setting the scene and ethical and political atmosphere of the piece, yet they also often interact with the actors, at points questioning their actions and giving advice. They also, through the pace and style of their songs/dances/dialogue set the mood of the play, and demonstrate changes in mood throughout the play. The Chorus also served to add to the theatrical effect of the piece, adding movement and heightening the spectacle of the performance . The Chorus are often also considered as the ‘ideal audience' for a play, in that their reactions to the action on stage reflect the way the playwright hopes the audience might react.

Within The Oresteia Aeschylus' Chorus play a variety of roles. Aeschylus was the first Greek poet to diminish the role of the Chorus by introducing more than one principal actor. Before Aeschylus, the Chorus were the main focus of the play, and interacted predominantly just with one actor. However, Aeschylus found this was limiting, and wanted to explore increasing the number of actors, as this meant more focus could be placed on dialogue and relations between specific characters. Thanks to Aeschylus, the principal characters could interact with each other; this however meant the role of the Chorus was reduced. In Agamemnon the Chorus is made up of men ‘too old to join in the expedition' (page 5) to elderly to fight in the war at Troy. They were left behind in Argos, and have seen all that has happened since Agamemnon and Menelaus left for Troy. As soon as the Chorus enter, they begin to set the scene for the audience, explaining the bloodshed at Troy, getting excited about a possible victory and reflecting on past sacrifices. In the Harrison translation, the language used by the Chorus during is poetic and rhythmic; it is easy to imagine a Chorus of men shouting, singing and moving to these words, drumming up a sense of passion and atmosphere within a theatre. As the Chorus explain the events leading up to the war, including the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Agamemnon, we begin to see already the problems caused by killing one as revenge for the killing of another. This appears to be Aeschylus' intent – that we already see the pattern emerging of one life shed for another. This seemingly unending line of bloodshed and revenge is a key theme in the play, and we are constantly reminded of this by the Chorus. The Chorus take on an emotive role as well as a narrative role at various points during the play, as they express the feelings of the citizens of Argos, angry at times at a war being fought by their leader for his personal revenge, when their own loved ones are the ones suffering. The Chorus ask as they portray ‘women's grief strings',

‘Where's my father husband...
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