The Burial at Thebes

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TMA06 Option 2 The Burial at Thebes

What is the main contribution made by the Chorus in The Burial at Thebes? Answer with specific references to the text of the play.

In this assignment I aim to show the main contribution made by the Chorus in The Burial at Thebes and in doing so I shall answer with specific references to the text of the play. Whilst working through the play I shall consider and explore several contributions, this will include; how the Chorus is used to link the narrative of the play, how the Chorus serves as a voice for the community of Thebes, how the Chorus acts as a critical friend of the two main character’s Antigone and Creon and finally how the Chorus offers opportunities for reflection for these two character’s. I shall argue and provide evidence that the main contribution made by the Chorus is how it is used to link the narrative of the play and show how they connect with the other contributions and themes within the play.

In the opening sequences of the play a degree of conflict quickly becomes apparent between Creon and Antigone, that of Creon’s duties to the law of the land and Antigone’s values with the laws of the Gods. The parodos is the first contribution made by the Chorus and here they serve as a voice for the community and are depicted as being a group of Theban elders. They are celebrating the aftermath of the civil war they have just won ‘A god of war stiffened our will and locked our arms, so the line held’ (Heaney. S, The Burial at Thebes, 2004, pg. 8) and chant several times the lines ‘Glory be to brightness, to the gleaming sun’ (pg. 8). These lines are strongly poetic and express not only the elder’s feelings but also the community’s feelings of victory and new beginnings.

This opening parados provides a link with the first episode of the play where the Chorus helps to promote and communicate the theme of politics and power, ‘He’s a new king but he’s right for this city at this moment’ (pg. 9). The Chorus are adding strength to the public speech given by Creon where, as the new ruler, he details his plans for the burials of Eteocles and Polyneices. In the course of this episode it comes to Creon’s attention that there has been an attempted burial of Polyneices. This enrages Creon and during the stichomythia between Creon and the Guard the Chorus contribute by expressing a fear that it was the will of the gods (pg. 15). The Chorus is linking the theme of politics and power with that of taking a risk and plant a seed of doubt in Creon’s mind.

The main contribution made by the Chorus in the first stasimon, based on the Choral Ode ‘Ode to Man’ (pg. 16-17), links the narrative of the Guard’s first encounter with Creon and his return with Antigone after catching her attempting burial rights on Polyneices. Here the Chorus express concern between the new laws, that of Creon’s rule and traditional values, that of the laws of the gods ‘Overstep what the city allows, [...] He’ll have put himself beyond the pale’ (pg. 17). The Chorus is perhaps used here to warn the audience of the consequences of one’s actions.

Moving forward into the second episode the Chorus interacts between Creon and Antigone’s fraught debate adding criticism that she gets her wild ways from her father Oedipus and warns Creon that she won’t back down (pg. 21). As the Chorus acts as a critical friend and finds fault in Antigone they are also linking another theme, that of family ties and here they add emphasis to the myth of Oedipus’s family curse surrounding the play.

The second of the Chorus’s stasimon focuses again on the myth and contributes by reciting the tragic history of Oedipus’s family and thus linking it to the narrative of the play. In the stasimon the Chorus expresses a high degree of grief and misery of a curse that never relents, ‘Break on the inmates and keep breaking on them’ (pg. 28). Here the main contribution of the chorus is to link the episodes that follow and they...
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