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21 Oct

The Role of Chorus

The Role of Chorus

The Greek drama developed from chorus. It was originally a group of men who sang and danced at religious festivals. Its importance diminished as the drama progressed. In Aeschylus the chorus of ten takes part in the action; in Sophocles it is a commentator; in Euripides the chorus is primarily a lyric element. The Romans took the chorus from the Greeks and the Elizabethans imitated it from the Romans. The chorus has never been made an integral part of English drama. It was reduced by the Elizabethans to a single figure as Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra. Choruses are rare in modern plays. When they appear, they may either be multiple as in Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot) or single as in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.

The chorus and the unities are inter-dependent. The one required the other. After an introductory speech, it was customary for the chorus to enter and then to remain until the end on the stage. That established a location and also suggested a duration of time. The ancient view of the chorus is well-expressed in Horace’s Ars Poetica: “The chorus must support the good and give advice. It must control the passionate and warn the characters of evil. It must praise the thrifty, the just and peace-loving.

 

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