The Classical Greek Chorus

The classical Greek chorus.

The Greek chorus continued to play an important role in classical Greek drama, especially in tragedy. Ranging in number from 50 in the time of Thespis to 15 in later classical Greek drama, the chorus consisted of Athenian citizens and were not professional actors. They function, scholars have suggested variously, to offer a sense of rich spectacle to the drama; to provide time for scene changes and give the principle actors a break; to offer important background and summary information that facilitates an audience's ability to follow the live performance; to offer commentary about and underline main themes animating the action; and to model an ideal audiences response to the unfolding drama.  Nietzsche suggests that it was the rhythmic dance and chants of the chorus, positioned always to mediate the physical space separating audience and actor, that evoked the visionary experience that was the very essence of tragedy.

Enrichment Activities.

Journal Entry.  Notice the stage positioning of the chorus in the picture. Consider also the rhythmic dance and chants that characterized the delivery of the choric odes in classical Greek drama. What aspects of the 5th Century Greek sensibility do these features suggest? Explain.

Genre Analysis.  Nietzsche argues that the chorus is perhaps the fundamental mechanism of the tragic experience. Trace the role of the chorus across the Greek tragedies you've read. How does the role of the chorus change across those plays? What impact do those changes have on our experience of the plays as tragedies?

 Genre Analysis.  If the chorus is indeed so central to the tragic experience, one must wonder how tragedy has survived the loss of the chorus following classical times. Consider any tragedies you've read following the classical Greek period. Can you identify any dramatic elements that might have taken on one or more of the functions of the Greek chorus?