What Is The Role Of The Chorus

In The Play Oedipus Essay, Research Paper

In answering this question, I will look at the

question in two ways.? Firstly, I will

look at the role of the chorus objectively, examining the basic role of the

chorus in the play, and looking at the role of the Chorus as Sophocles would

have intended the role of the Chorus to be understood.? However, I will then look at how I think the

Greek audience would have perceived the role of the Chorus and then how the role

of the Chorus is perceived today by a 20th century and examine the

key differences in the two different sets of perceptions.? Finally, I will look at the importance of

the role of the Chorus to a 20th century audience and a Greek

audience respectively. ??????????? The Chorus in the play Oedipus has

three basic functions. Firstly, to act as bystanders throughout the play,

observing what goes on, reacting and offering opinions at regular intervals

throughout the play (e.g. when Oedipus accuses Croon irrationally of conspiring

against him, the Chorus says ?To one who fears fall, his words seem good; O

king, swift counsels are not always safe?) In this role they are important

to the play as they often offer the voice of reason during moments of heated

debate, the voice of fear and confusion during Oedipus? downfall, which seems

to mirror the audience?s reaction and emotion in many situations throughout the

play. The Chorus are also used as a sort of receptive audience for passages of

description over what has gone on behind closed doors (e.g. after Jocasta has

realised the truth the second messenger describes the scene inside the palace

to the Chorus: ?Within the porch, straight to the couch she rushed, her

bridal bed, and tore her hair?) ??????????? Secondly, the Chorus offers a sort

of running narrative for the audience.?

This function is equally vital to the success of the play.? The Chorus often speaks in this way at the

end of a scene to clarify what has just gone on. (e.g. at the end of the first

scene, the chorus clarifies the diseased state that the city of Thebes has

descended into: ?Still breeding plague, unpitied infants lie?and wives and

mothers, grey with hoary age?by every alter mourn.?)? ??????????? Finally, the Chorus is used to keep

the continuity during the play.? In

modern theatre, the plays are normally split up into scenes and acts.? However, the Greek kept the continuity

between these natural gaps, by having a narrative section.? This prevented the necessity of having

breaks in the action and also kept the audience up to date with what had just

gone on, and perhaps offering some insight or other. In this role, I think the

Chorus is very helpful to the audience, as it succeeds in keeping the audience

?on the edge of their seats?. ??????????? I think that in the play Oedipus,

Sophocles intended the Chorus to be a constant significant part of the play,

observing and reacting to situations, whilst never being the centre of

attention during the main story, and only coming to the fore during the

narrative passages of the play.? ??????????? However, in addressing the role of

the Chorus in this play, I think it is vital that one decides whether the role

of the Chorus is and objective role, inserted in to the play by Sophocles and

unaffected by the audiences perception, or whether the role is subjective, and

the significance of the role depends upon the viewer?s perception of the

Chorus? role in the play. ??????????? In my opinion, the role of the

Chorus is certainly subjective and depends almost entirely upon the

audience.? I think that although the

basic participation of the Chorus in the play can?t be changed, the

significance of their part can certainly alter quite considerably depending to

the type of audience or viewer and their own perception due to experience.

Consequently, the role of the Chorus would have a different significance for an

ancient Greek audience and a 20th century audience. ??????????? The Greek audience would, no doubt,

place a great deal more significance on the role of the Chorus than a 20th

century audience would.? The common use

of a Chorus in Greek plays meant that the audiences almost expected any play to

contain one, therefore, the concept of a Chorus was not one they were not used

to.? Therefore, the Greek audiences

would have understood the many voices speaking together much more easily than a

20th century viewer.? Also,

the narrative passages spoken by the Chorus would be better received by the

Greek audience, as they are used to this type of narration, once more this

would be alien to a 20th century audience. Furthermore, the

environment in which the play Oedipus was originally performed was the Greek

amphitheatre.? This held approximately

17000 people.? One can imagine that it

may have been quite difficult for people further away from the stage to here

the main characters as there was no amplification other than the natural

acoustics. ?It is therefore reasonable

to assume that the Chorus? narrative role was very important in situations such

as these, as many voices speaking in unison are certainly louder than a single

voice, and therefore more easily heard.?

In this environment, then, the Chorus would have played a large role in

the audience?s understanding of the play, as well as keeping the tension,

excitement, dread and mirroring the emotions felt by the audience throughout

the play. ??????????? However, to a 20th

century audience, the role is somewhat less significant.? In plays today, the breaks in between scenes

heightens the tensions by inducing the audience to wonder; ?What happens

next??? Hence the Chorus? role in

keeping the continuity is unnecessary.?

Moreover, due to the audience?s ignorance and unfamiliarity with the

role of the Chorus in Greek plays, the tension, instead of being heightened by

the Chorus, is diminished, as the audience no longer concentrate during the

narrative passages.? This is partially

due to their unfamiliarity in listening to several voices speaking at once, and

partially due to the lack of requirement of a narrative passage as in most

cases, the action has spoken for itself.?

The Chorus can therefore become a boring and unwelcome disruption to the

flow of the play. However, this does not alter the fact that the Chorus still

has a significant role to play, even for a 20th century

audience.? The way in which the Chorus

mirrors the reactions and emotions of the audience during the play, as well as

the other basic roles held by the Chorus are still vital to the success and

understanding of the play Oedipus, even to a 20th century audience. ??????????? To conclude, the chorus fulfil vital

functions if the play is being performed in an Amphitheatre or in a modern

theatre. They act as a narrative, summarising the most recent action (on-stage

or not). They take on the role of bystanders who watch and react to the action

as it happens. Also they maintain the continuity as their being present removes

any need for scene or act changes.?????????? ??????????? In the Greek theatre they take on a

significant role of emphasising the storyline by groups speaking in unison

rather than one single actor trying to reach the ears of around 17,000

listeners. They were after-all a very natural part of Greek theatre and their

absence would certainly reflect an unorthodox presentation. They also keep the

emotion running as any scene changing can be done during their narrative

sections. ??????????? In a 20th Century

production the chorus perform a seemingly less essential role. As there would

be ample amplification of sound the chorus could be projected to the role of

town folk who would fit into the structure of the play neatly.


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