Analyse originated from sources like religion, like

Analyse the dramatic uses of the
chorus in Greek tragedy. Discuss two plays in detail.

Greece was made up of
independent states called Polis or City state in the Archaic Period. Greek
society would have been broken up between the free people and the slaves who
would have been owned by noble people. Slaves were used by the nobles as
servants, they would have had no legal rights of their own. Free men were
defined in two groups Citizens and Metics. Citizens were those who were born
with Athenian parents, they were the most powerful group of Greeks and could be
part of the government of Polis. A Metic was a foreigner that had migrated to
Athens to either trade or get a craftmanship. The Metics had to pay taxes and
could never have the full rights of a citizen. A lot of social classes only
applied to men as women all got their social status from their husband or
partner. Women in ancient Greece were not aloud to take part in public life. It
would be very rare for them to be even aloud the attend the theatre.     

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The actual origins of
Greek theatre are actually unknown, but a lot of people believe it originated
from sources like religion, like the religious festival of Dionysus, art and
form the Greeks love of expression and insightful story telling. The festival
of Dionysus was a large festival created in honour of the God Dionysus. The
festival of Dionysus actually consisted of two related festivals, one was the
rural Dionysus and the other was the city Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of the
grape harvest, winemaking and wine. Wine played an important role in Greek
Culture. The origins of the chorus are also unknown, but we believe it may have
been created out of ceremonies and rituals with elements of song and dance
combined in, and most importantly the gathering of people.1

theatres where very large so the actors and chorus would have had to expand their
voices, so everyone would could hear even at the back. Theatres would have been
made of curved tiers so that the people behind could see everything that would
be happening on stage. Priests and noble men would have sat at the front of the
theatre, so they had the best view and could hear the most. Noble women and
their entourage would have sat in the middle as they weren’t often not aloud go
to the theatre. Common people would have sat in the back. The orchestra would
have been located on the flat ground in the centre of the curved tiers. The
chorus would have been in front of them.

A Greek chorus is a
collective group of people or performers, who comment on the performance that
is happening with a collective voice. The chorus would have been made up of
masked performers who all looked the same and sounded the same. All masks wore
would have been identical, so the performers appeared more as a collective
group, this way they created a sense of unity like a single organism. The
chorus could have consisted of as few as 12 people up to as many as 500. The
chorus would have been accompanied by instruments and they would have sang and
danced and would have interacted with the actors on stage. The chorus gave the
audience a point of view of the ordinary people on stage. They would act as a
background for the play and give information that the actors wouldn’t, so that
the audience wouldn’t be confused. They could also act as a religious or
political point of view at any time, but the most important thing the chorus
would have done is create atmosphere for the play. they would have established
the plays mood and kept it on track whenever it changed.

The dramatic role of the
chorus in Greek theatre is immense. It is used to highlight important moments
in the plays past, it is not simply to give conditioned material but to
highlight these moments in the play in such a way that the audience can feel
their presence at the correct times. Because the chorus is meant for dramatic
purposes its choral lyric can have a very strong technique. Them saying a
certain word or phrase can suggest multiple meanings to something. The chorus
can make us aware of certain recurrent and inevitable patterns in human
destiny. The chorus could consist of anything from sea nymphs to 15 Theban
elders like in Oedipus the King, or any other sort of people who could
represent the unison of people.

The main role of the
chorus in Oedipus the King is to sing comments about the ongoing and important
situations in the drama. Their chorus consists of a group of mature old Theban
people. They make dramatic commentary which helps to guide the audience’s
attention from one end of the play to the other with out them losing track of
what is happening throughout. There main role is to be the middle men between
the real world of the audience and the imaginary world of the actual
performance. This is so the audience does not get confused and can easily
distinguish between real life and theatre. The serve as a mediator for the
play. The theatres would have been so large that the chorus was responsible for
projecting everything happening so that the audience could hear everything.

The chorus appear
multiple times throughout the play, but they have five main odes in the play.
These odes are what give the chorus their dramatic effect. The chorus’s first
appearance is after Oedipus is talking to Creon about avenging the murder of
Laius the old king. Oedipus makes his declare to Apollo that he will get vengeance
for his king and then all, but the chorus exit the stage. This is then that the
chorus make their first ode. This expresses their uncertainty of who might the
murderer be. The mood they set with this ode really intensifies the sorrow that
is felt on stage.

What is the sweet voice from the shrine of Apollo,
rich in gold,

that I have heard? I am wracked with doubt and fear,
and in trembling hold

my heart, and I worship full of fears

for what will pass throughout the years.

No spear have we to drive away the plague; no children
are begotten.

Our sorrows are without number; mighty Zeus, are we


second ode the chorus makes in the play happens after Oedipus himself is
accused of committing the murder of the last king. Teiresias is the one who has
accused Oedipus of the murder. The chorus appears and warns whoever the true
murderer is to flee the city at once. The then proclaim that the do not believe
Oedipus murdered the king and would not believe it till it is proven. That
Oedipus saved them from the Sphinx why would he want to murder his king. They
third time they appear they are commenting on some of the traits Oedipus has no
developed in the play. Oedipus has started to act extremely prideful, arrogant
and extremely ill-tempered. The chorus begin to comment on the possible fall of
Tyrants, the chorus seem to express they want peace and unity. The fourth time
they make an ode come about while Oedipus is having a crisis with his identity
and who he really is. They comment about how Oedipus could be some semi-divine
creature himself. They begin to mention the Gods and the nymphs having a
romantic affair on the mountain side. They want to try and create unity
throughout the play. This shows the effect of them acting as a middleman for
the play.

The chorus’s final ode is
the very last thing to be said in the play, the chorus combines the people in
the play with the audience. The message that the chorus delivers to the
audience at the end of the play is one of absolute despair. The message is
about the fall of Oedipus and how there is a short-lived happiness. Because it
is ended in such a way the audience may feel some what confused and as if the
play was given a false sense of closure. The reason for this is it may seem as
if this line suggests the death of Oedipus to the audience, but this is not the
case as Oedipus is alive he is just stranded outside of Thebes blinded and
miserable. All of the chorus’s odes really intensify the play and give it that
dramatic effect.

Behold Oedipus, he who knew the famous riddle and rose
to greatness. His

good fortune was the envy of all. See him now and see
how the waves of disaster

have swallowed him! Look upon the last day always.
Count no mortal happy till he

has passed the final limit of his life without calamity.


chorus in Medea does not have as much of a dramatic effect as the chorus in
Oedipus the King does. They have a lack of effect on making the actions of the
play stand out more at the right times. The chorus in Medea is made up of a
group of Corinthian women, there main role it seems is that they stand around
and moan about the terrible things happening throughout the play. the seem to
be in favour of Medea for the duration of the play apart from when she commits
the murder of her own children. They are very sympathetic with Medea
considering she is a foreigner being isolated by her own husband. At the
beginning of the play they attempt to lift Medea from the despair she is

o Zeus, and Earth, and Light,

Do you hear the chanted prayer Of a wife in her

What madness is this? The bed you long for­

Is it what others shrink from?

Is it death you demand?

Do not pray that prayer, Medea! If your husband is won
to a new love ­

The thing is common; why let it anger you?

Zeus will plead your cause.

Check this passionate grief over your husband Which
wastes you away.


the chorus discover her plans to murder her own children they are full of
dismay and sadness that she could commit such a sinful act and try to convince
her against it. They think they will be able to convince Medea otherwise but as
her plans begin to take more shape they become more and more outraged. They
begin to call her a child murderer. After she commits the act the chorus begin
to compare her to Ino. Ino was said to have been sent mad by the gods and had
jumped into the sea with her children, killing them just how Medea killed her
children. I think the chorus was so sympathetic of Medea that they began to try
and justify her actions. The chorus can be signing an ode to female revolution,
because Medea has them convinced of the imprisonment that men have on women in
their society. This shows them once again on Medea’s side. The chorus are very
sympathetic of Medea because of the struggles that Jason has caused for her.

Streams of the sacred rivers flow uphill; Tradition.
order. all things are reversed:

Deceit is men’s device now. Men’s oaths are gods’

Legend will now reverse our reputation;

A time comes when the female sex is honoured; …

In the wide Greek world, but is flown to the sky. Where
can you turn for shelter?

Your father’s door is closed against you;

Another is now mistress of your husband’s bed; A new
queen rules in your house.


used the chorus in Medea to expand upon the plot line of Medea rather than
using it for dramatic effect, like it is used in Oedipus. The most dramatic
effect the chorus in Medea has is when they are commenting on the crimes Medea
committed. This really shows how Euripides used to challenge the existing
dramatic effect of his society.5

role of the chorus as both an internal and external influence is still present
in theatre today. Members of musical theatre chorus use song and movement much
like the Greeks did, to highlight certain themes and moments. This is to
amplify the senses and emotion qualities to the audience. Like in Greek theatre
chorus, musical theatre chorus members adopted roles that helped to set the
scene or give context to the actions and interactions of other characters that
are preforming. This makes the chorus somewhat of a spectator to the action of
the story alongside the audience. Many modern playwrights still use the chorus
as a storytelling element for dramatic effect just as the Greeks did.

1 The
Wadsworth Anthology of Drama fourth edition. William B. Worthen. Published 2004



OEDIPUS THE KING: An Abridged and Adapted Version of Sophocles’ Play by Nick
Bartel, 1999

EURIPIDES MEDEA AND OTHER PLAYS Translated with an Introduction by PHILIP

Euripides’ Medea Translated by C. A. E. Luschnig