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The Chorus In Oedipus Rex Essay Research

The Chorus In Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was perhaps the finest addition to the long dynasty of Greek tragedies. In it we see the continuation of the main theme of ancient Greek tragedy, most notably the way in which the tragic protagonists act out their defiance of the limits subscribed by the gods for man, while the chorus expresses the fears, hopes, and judgment of the polity, the average citizens. According to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, “the function of the chorus is to comment on the action and sometimes to narrate events”i. Their judgment is the subsequent verdict of history. However, what is so apparent in Oedipus as opposed to Antigone and his other plays is the way in which the Chorus plays a more commentarial role, rather than involving itself integrally in the action. This leads to a more slick, fluent and arguably “better” play. However, this is not the only function of the chorus, which, in my opinion, multiplicity of roles aside from the basic commentarial one. In the title it is implied that the interpretation of the function (i.e. the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing existsii) and purpose (something set up as an object or end to be attainediii) of the chorus would be different for the audiences viewing it. However I do not believe that the nature of the role is subjective. The role of the chorus is ossified in the text and is thus objective as anything can be objective. It could be argued that as the text is a work of art, and is thus interpreted then perhaps different people could interpret the function and purpose in different ways. The crucial factor here is whether or not the playwright or the viewer determines the role of the chorus. It is true that the diversity of the 20th century audiences is much greater than that of the Greek audiences, and thus they are liable to have different opinions on this matter. But the fact is that whether or not the interpretations will differ, whether or not we believe that the Chorus is necessary or not, the role is predefined, and thus only subjective to the extent of being determined by the level of knowledge on the play. For these reasons and for simplicity’s sake, I will attempt to take the central, moderate view that would hopefully be the generally accepted one. The major role in Oedipus of the Chorus as previously outlined is that of commentary. The chorus clarifies the situation to the audience in a way that enables the audience to fully comprehend the nature and general ebb and flow of the plot. For example when at the end of the play, when Creon’s final words have been uttered, the chorus comments on the fate of Oedipus by saying “From hence the lesson learn ye, To reckon no man happy till ye witness The closing day”iv Here we can see the role of commenting on the action in giving the subsequent verdict of history. The Chorus comments on the plot lucidly, enabling us to reach a greater understanding of the play and the philosophical values it subscribes to. Thus it could be argued, that it increases our satifaction and feeling that we have learnt something above and beyond the mere narrative plot. In addition to this the chorus also has a significant part to play in the expression of the fears and hopes of the populace. An example of this fear shown on the first entrance of the Chorus, before the horrific realities are yet known: “I faint for fear, Through all my soul I quiver in suspense, In brooding dread, what doom, of present growth, Or as the months roll on, thy hand will work;”v Before the audience would have come to see the play, in the past and the present, they would have known something of what is arguably the most infamous tales in history. The emphasis on the development of not only the conscious but also the subconscious irony in Oedipus adds to its effect on the audience. The chorus, through echoing the thoughts of the populace, as demonstrated here, is of paramount importance in its development. Another role that the Chorus was given by Sophocles was to heighten the tragic nature, the tension and the overall effect of the play. Throughout many areas in the play we can see the Chorus emphasising certain points that bear real significance in the play. The previous example contains many references to this. By emphasising the futility of the resistance to the omnipotent Gods the chorus heightens the tragic credentials of the play. By also concentrating the plot on a single interest, it also again conforms to the theoretical nature of the Greek tragedies. The chorus’ intrinsic role as the heightener and emphasiser of tragedy also extends into the other realms of tragic theory. Rather than arousing the emotions of pity and fear through spectacle, the strong commentarial and narrative functions help to convey the emotions through effect. This is similar to the Messenger’s role when he reports the destruction of the Oedipus and Jocasta. Merely by using potent and emotive language the effect on the audience is dramatic. The chorus also helps to add continuity to the plot. When in between individual scenes, an actor needed to change costumes, the brief interlude provided by the chorus would help to ensure the fluency of the action. By entering and commenting lucidly upon the action and offering new insights, the play becomes arguably less erratic and less disjointed. Another role that has been given to the audience is to question the characters. This helps to reveal more about them, and possibly pose the same questions that we would want to ask the characters. When the messenger bursts onto the stage with the news that “Our Sacred Queen Jocasta – … is dead!,” the immediate reaction of audience is to want to know more. The action of the chorus by posing the obvious question of “How and why?vi” increases the rate of movement, as facilitates the plausibility of the plot by allowing Oedipus to offstage, mutilating himself. 1,033 Words i Ms. Harrisons’s Guide to Greek Tragedy, 1999 ii Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1994 iii Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1994 iv Oedipus Rex, Player’s Press Edition Page 41 v Oedipus Rex, Player’s Press Edition Page 9 vi Oedipus Rex, Player’s Press Edition Page 48