Origin of the Chorus
In one way the question of the origin of the Chorus in Greek tragedy is redundant۔ For Greek tragedy itself is believed to have been developed from the Chorus. Is said that Thesis provided a distinct part of the Chorus leader and added an actor with whom the Chorus could engage in dialogue. In this way gave the rudiments of Greek tragedy. Aeschylus provided the second actor and Sophocles introduced the third actor. So, far as is known Greek tragedy did not develop beyond this. The word Chorus was used in the extended sense of the dancer musicians. Members of the Chorus participated in religious festivals, like that in honor of Dionysus. (Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex)
The History of the Chorus
In the plays of the first great Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, whose tragedies have survived, the role of the Chorus was a dominant one. In Sophocles, the intrinsic importance of the Chorus is less, though it still plays an important role so far as the evocation of mood and atmosphere is concerned. Euripides was much less careful towards the Chorus than his two illustrious predecessors. From the plays progressively declined in later tragedy, this has not been passed on to posterity.
Aristotle’s Views of the Chorus
The earliest critical percept about the function of the Chorus in Greek tragedy is the comment that Aristotle makes in the Poetics elucidating his point regarding two great tragic dramatists. According to Aristotle:
“The chorus should be regarded as one of the actors it should be an integral part of the whole, and take a share in the action – that which has in Sophocles rather than in Euripides”
The Decline of the Chorus
The decline of the Chorus can be observed further in the Roman tragedy, where ultimately the songs of the Chorus are understood to be sung, not during the play but between the acts. A sidelight on the classical conception of the Chorus is provided by the comment of Horace in his Arts Poetical, the English translation of his remarks reading:
“And actor’s part the Chorus should sustain,
And do their best to get the plot in train……
Still let them give sage counsel, back to good,
Attempter wrath and cool impetuous blood
Conceal all secrets, and the gods implore
To crush the proud and elevate the poor”
Although the question of singing between the acts does not arise here, as Oedipus Rex is a continuous play, without a break into acts or scenes, in other respects most of the functions stated by Horace will be seen to be fulfilled by the Chorus in Sophocles play. Romantic tragedy dispensed with the Chorus, though some of the characters in certain tragedies can be seen to be performing a role that is very much like that of the Chorus. (Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex)
Function of the Chorus
The functions of the Chorus differ from dramatist to dramatist, and even in the plays of Sophocles, there are variations in the nature and function of the Chorus and its role. On the whole, it may be said that out of his three best-known plays the function of the Chorus is the most important in Oedipus Rex. In a play the Chorus consists of the elders of Thebes – that is of persons who are not only senior in age but also occupy positions of prominence in life. A critic has rightly competed them with a medieval parliament or an absolute monarch’s council of advisors. It may be noted that the characters of the Chorus are not individualized. The speeches of the Chorus are attributed to a single character, which represents the whole group. Obviously, there is no question of the members of the Chorus having individual differences of opinion.
Choral Songs and Dances
Information about Greek music and choreography is almost nonexistent. One is therefore unable to realize what the actual impact of the Chorus might have been in a particular play. Still, it is possible to have a general idea. It seems that the dancing of the Chorus had their district phase. It is in fact possible to recognize and demarcate these stages in some of the long choral songs. In the first phase, the Chorus moved from right to leave, as it danced and sang. In the second stage, its movement was from left to right.
The first was known as the strophe or the turn, and the second was the antistrophe or computer turn. In the third phase, the Chorus danced and sang, without changing its place. This was known as the epode or stand. It is possible during some part of a particular phase-only some members of the Chorus sang and not all. (Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex)