In the Action
One of the most important characters in Sophocles’ Antigone is actually a group of individuals. The chorus consists of a group of Theban elders, and they serve as the voice of the people. These men are considered the wisest in all of Thebes. “Their attitude to what is going on is always shaped by their responsibilities and special interest of their position” (Kirkwood 3). The chorus is not attached to any one character specifically; it reacts to its own thoughts and emotions (3). The chorus is often used to create breaks in the scenes of plays, but in Antigone, the chorus serves a greater purpose then that of a segue. It is seamlessly integrated into the play, which allows the chorus to become highly personal and dramatically active (1). It functions as peanut gallery of sorts, commenting on the action, making historical references and allusions, and even interacting with the characters. The chorus seems relatively insignificant at the opening of the play, but it later becomes an integral part of the action as the drama unfolds. The chorus often provides information vital to the understanding of the particular scene or dialogue. They often accomplish this through odes, or songs. At the play’s opening, Antigone and Ismene discuss the death of their brothers. The chorus comes on to end the scene, but also to explain the history behind their battle and subsequent death, “Against our land he marched, sent here by the warring claims of Polyneices” (Sophocles 110-112). The group of old men does not think favorably upon the brothers of Antigone and Ismene, and this is reflected in the end of their story when they refer to the brothers as, “that pair of wretched men, born of one father and one mother, too – who set their conquering spears against each other and then both shared a common death” (Sophocles 170-173). The chorus provides the background information necessary to understand the dilemma that the sisters now face in deciding whether to properly bury their “evil” brother. This opening song of celebration and victory also serves to contrast Antigone’s opening statement of her intention to defy the king and his laws. After the burial is discovered and made known to the king, the chorus sings on the theme of man’s rise to civilization, “if he treats his country’s laws with due respect and honours justice by swearing on the gods, he wins high honours in his city” (Sophocles 367-369). The purpose of this ode is to justify the stand they have taken in supporting the edict. The polis depends on obedience to laws for its continued existence (Adams 53). The chorus initially values human laws over the laws of the gods, but this position will soon be reevaluated. The chorus is primarily “a part of the structure of the plays, an instrument for carrying forward or even introducing thematic or emotional elements that are essential to the dramatic action” (Kirkwood 1). The chorus does carry the plot throughout the play, but it does so as more than simply a part of structure. “The chorus should be regarded as one of the actors . . . and should participate in the drama” (1). In Antigone, the chorus’ role as a character is as an adviser to Creon, the king. The men talk to Creon as a group of equals representing the lesser population of Thebes. “These are the men on which Creon can count most for support” (Adams 50). The chorus is not simply a group of old, rich Theban elders, but a group specifically chosen by Creon because of their loyalty to him and the crown. “The term ‘Theban Elders’ implies the two characteristics that are most commonly agreed to define the chorus’ persona: age and devotion to Thebes” (Gardiner 83). Their devotion to Thebes implies their devotion to Creon as its king. The men placate Creon upon hearing his controversial edict, telling him, “Son of Menoikeos, if that’s your will for this city’s friends and enemies, it seems to me you now control all laws concerning those who’ve died and us as well”...
Cited: Adams, S.M. “The ‘Antigone’ of Sophocles.” Phoenix 9.2 (1955): 47-62. JSTOR. Web. 12 Mar. 2011.
Burton, R.W.B. “The Chorus in Sophocles’ Tragedies.” New York: Oxford U.P., 1980. Print.
Gardiner, Cynthia P. The Sophoclean Chorus: A Study of Character and Function. Iowa City: Iowa U.P., 1987. Print.
Kirkwood, G.M. “The Dramatic Role of the Chorus in Sophocles.” Phoenix 8.1 (1954): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.
Kitzinger, Margaret Rachel. The Choruses of Sophokles’ Antigone and Philoktetes: A Dance of Words. Boston: Brill, 2008. Print.
Sophocles. “Antigone.” Trans. Don Taylor. Dover: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.
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