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The Greek chorus (choros) is a group of twelve or fifteen minor actors in tragic and twenty-four in comic plays of classical Athensmarker. They could be portraying any characters - for instance, in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the chorus comprises the elderly men of Argosmarker, whereas in Euripides' The Bacchae, they are a group of eastern bacchants, and in Sophocles' Electra, the chorus is made up of the women of Argos.

Dramatic function

Plays of the ancient Greek theatre always included a chorus that offered a variety of background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance. The Greek chorus comments on themes, and shows how an ideal audience might react to the drama. The chorus also represents, on stage, the general population of the particular story, in sharp contrast with many of the themes of the ancient Greek plays which tended to be about individual heroes, gods, and goddesses.

In many of these plays, the chorus expressed to the audience what the main characters could not say, such as their hidden fears or secrets. The chorus often provided other characters with the insight they need.

Stage management

The Greek chorus usually communicated in song form, but sometimes spoke their lines in unison. The chorus had to work in unison to help explain the play as there were only one to three actors on stage who were already playing several parts each. As the Greek theatres were so large, the chorus' actions had to be exaggerated and their voices clear so that everyone could see and hear them. To do this, they used techniques such as synchronization, echo, ripple, physical theatre and the use of masks to aid them. A Greek chorus was often led by a coryphaeus.

Modern plays, especially Broadwaymarker musicals and grand operas, sometimes incorporate a contemporary version of the chorus, although they serve a different purpose.

Decline in antiquity

Before the introduction of multiple, interacting actors by Aeschylus, the Greek chorus was the main performer in relation to a solitary actor. The importance of the chorus declined after the 5th century BCE, when the chorus began to be separated from the dramatic action. Later dramatists depended on the chorus less than their predecessors.

Modern usages

Woody Allen's movie Mighty Aphrodite uses a Greek chorus.

In the musical Legally Blonde, Elle's sorority sisters serve as a Greek chorus, a pun on the Greek system of fraternities and sororities.

In the popular musical Seussical, the bird girls serve as a Greek chorus, singing backup to principal characters. They have no official roles in the story.

In the musical Little Shop of Horrors, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon function as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action throughout the show.

In the documentary Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed, several scholars analyze the Star Wars mythos and observe that C-3PO and R2-D2 essentially function as a Greek chorus within the narrative; they react as the audience would react to events on-screen (or how the common man would react in such a situation).

References

  1. Haigh, 1898, p. 319
  2. Kitto, 2002, pp. 22, 27


  • Haigh, Arthur Elam, The Attic theatre: a description of the stage and theatre of the Athenians, and of the dramatic performances at Athens, Oxford : The Clarendon Press, 1898.
  • Kitto, H. D. F., The Greeks, 1952.


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