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The Role Of The Chorus In Sophocles English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1403 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Chorus plays a crucial role in the overall development of any Greek tragedy; they are responsible for providing the overall background and summary information of the play, alongside they interact with characters to develop the personalities of characters and drive the plot. However, both Sophocles and Aeschylus slightly adjust their attributes and overall significance in their plays. Through the explicit analysis of the function of the chorus, I hope to shed light on the similarities and differences in their duty within the respective plays.

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Right from the start in Antigone, it is clear that the chorus is composed mainly of male “elders [that] represents the point of view of an average section of society”, representing the extent of the patriarchal society in which the play is set and Antigone despised. However, it did automatically credit the chorus for the information and words of wisdom passed on because the elders themselves were once warriors and fought in battles in the past – however with age they are limited to demonstrating their skills in words. As such, from the start of the play they can be seen to take on the role of advisors to King Creon. Throughout the play, the chorus can be seen responding to Creon’s actions as seen in line 204 when the Chorus states that “No one is such a fool that he is in love with death”, explaining to the King that no human would be foolish enough to defy the words of Creon, thus the act of burying must have been the God’ will.

The Chorus is the first to suggest to Creon the religious implications of the dispute in regards to Polyneices and try to moderate between Haemon and Creon, however they are merely ignored and turned away from Creon; it is not only till Creon feels confused and distressed that the Chorus is able to uphold and be taken seriously. As such, the Chorus seems to prefer a cautious, discreet approach to matter, quite in contrast to the individualist, tragic heroism of the main character, Antigone – in other words, the chorus “has its continuous share in the drama, and has, in one way or another, its contribution to make, due regard being paid to its somewhat indefinite power”. Indeed, this approach taken by the Chorus is vital in driving the plot of the play, as

In addition, at first glance the chorus in Antigone may be misinterpreted as being fragile and feeble; indeed, it only seem to echo the commands and desires of King Creon, and does not stand up for themselves and take position with the ‘rebellious’ Antigone. This is not an accident on Sophocles’ behalf. As observed throughout the play, the purposeful yielding as demonstrated by the chorus further enhances the impression of imperative nature of Creon against Antigone and the rest of the Greek population.

From the above, it is clear that the Chorus plays a major role in the overall development of Antigone. Indeed, without the presence of the characteristic catalyst of the Chorus, Creon would never have changed is personality which would have led to the ultimate condemnation and death of Antigone – the inevitable tragedy of the heroine.

In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, the Chorus can be seen to be acting as the narrative pendulum with time, interchanging between the past and present. This is in particular seen in the Parados where the Chorus creates a delaying effect; the storyline heads backwards rather than forwards in time, unlike the Watchman’s speech which is substantially set in the present.

The chorus in Agamemnon is composed mainly of old men – fathers of sons who fought and died at the Battle Troy. The status of having fought in past battles and being able to recall the events bestows them with a form of credibility and ascendancy as “…old age leaves me fit for bravery only in song”, which contracts their physical state – physically unable to fight due to age. However, despite this physical disability they remain mentally strong and thus when it comes to advising Agamemnon the Chorus retains their confidence, unlike the Chorus in Antigone.

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However, quite in contrast, the Chorus in Agamemnon “were born to sorrow”. Indeed, such feeling of grief originates from the continuous agitation of their king, King Agamemnon. There are numerous reasons for the Chorus’ sorrow – they believe that he has demonstrated disrespect and audacity against the Greek gods, know of the King’s refusal of an offer of alliance from his enemies from Argos and guiltily acknowledge that they themselves suggested adverse thoughts against Agamemnon. From such descriptions one can easily attest and justify the corruption and feebleness of the king. However, the victory in the expedition to Troy acted as a major counterweight against such negative portrayal and can be instead be seen as “the agent of Zeus and the leader of a crusade to enforce Zeus’ justice”. With such contradictions, it was inevitable for the chorus to become disarray when allegorizing and illustrating Agamemnon. Indeed, he was, in present, a national hero; his success in Troy has resulted in the ever-increasing abundance and happiness for the Greek empire, almost as if Zeus himself showed respect to him. However, in his past, the wrongs which he has committed are too severe to be simply disregarded. Thus, the first difference between the role of the chorus appears: in ‘Agamemnon’, the chorus seems to, in addition to providing the basic historiography to set the scene, “examine the happenings of the past and then make a general statement of the will of the gods as seen in these events” – in other words, they ponder on throughout the entire play as to whether Agamemnon is a good king or not.

In addition, one may argue that “their [the Chorus’] wisdom seems apparent in their recognition of the justice inherent in the world”. Indeed, throughout the novel Aeschylus purposely sets out the scenario such that an act of justice just further adds and enhances the injustice already present, where the narration and interpretation of such events affects the audience, urging them to consider the ethical conflict, engaging them into emotional involvement of the play. Aeschylus uses the Chorus to repeat several key words to help emphasize certain points to “reveal the poet’s intent”. As seen through the repetition of “Zeus” and “telos” – two words which Clytamnestra continuously repeats in her prayers – the theme of justice is integrated in the play. This adds to the tension, as to whether the ruling and authority of King Creon overrules that of the Gods.

In comparison to Antigone, the Parados in Agamemnon is very long, but Aeschylus makes it vivid by using symbolism, similes and descriptive imagery. He divides the ode into chronological sections to help the audience focus on the narrative of the play, from the setting of the play, especially the abduction of Helen and the anger of the Gods to omens and sacrifice of Iphigenia. In varying the pace and rhythm of these sections Aeschylus highlights the chorus’s tone and their reaction to certain events; for example the metaphorical abduction of Helen and Zeus’s anger over the betrayal of Menelaus’ hospitality.

In conclusion, it is apprehensible that the role of the chorus in Antigone and Agamemnon share some similarities; they play crucial roles in enlightening the audience with the necessary background information thus setting the scene, and also developing the plot of the texts. Furthermore the Chorus in both texts reflects on many important aspects of Greek life – Gods, omens, prophecies, sacrifices and justice – this legal imagery is important in the play because it relates to Greek society. However, their roles differ in the two plays in such way that whilst in Antigone the chorus cowers from the King which in effect amplifies the tyrannical image of Creon and thus stirs up the audience’ sympathy with Antigone, whilst in Agamemnon the Chorus seem to analyze the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of Agamemnon and provoke the audience to determine as to whether he is an honourable king.


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