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  • 8/11/2019 Greek Chorus

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    The Function of the Tragic Greek Chorus

    Author(s): Albert WeinerSource: Theatre Journal, Vol. 32, No. 2 (May, 1980), pp. 205-212Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3207113.

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  • 8/11/2019 Greek Chorus

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    ALBERT

    WEINER

    The

    Function

    f

    the

    Tragic

    GreekChorus

    What

    do we know for

    certainty

    bout

    the

    tragic

    Greek

    horus?

    We know that

    t

    numbered

    ifty

    t

    the

    beginning

    f

    the

    5th

    century

    .C.;

    we

    know

    that t

    was

    prob-

    ably Aeschylus

    who lowered that number to

    twelve,

    and it was

    probably

    Sophocles

    who

    raised thatnumber o

    fifteen,

    here t

    stayed

    forthe

    remainder f

    the

    entury.

    We know

    that he

    horus

    was

    confined,

    ither

    ompletely

    r

    mainly,

    o

    that

    part

    of

    the

    theatre nown s the

    orchestra,

    nd since

    the

    meaning

    f that

    word

    is

    dancing

    place,

    we can

    only

    conclude that

    dancing

    was a

    major

    part

    of

    what the

    chorus did. But

    of

    greater ignificance,

    e know

    that

    the

    poets

    consideredthe

    chorus

    xtremelymportant;

    e

    know

    that,

    fforno

    other

    eason,

    because all of the

    extant

    ragedies

    ontain

    horuses,

    nd

    because

    of

    the

    arge

    number

    f

    ines

    given

    to

    the

    choruses.

    f

    there s a direct

    orrelation etween he

    number f ines nd the m-

    portance

    ttachedto the

    chorus

    by

    authors,

    hen

    Aeschylus

    onsidered he

    chorus

    more

    mportant

    han either

    ophocles

    or

    Euripides,

    ut

    clearly

    hey

    ll

    considered

    the chorus

    mportant.

    We

    therefore

    now what the

    chorus

    did;

    it

    danced and

    sang.

    How it

    danced and

    sang

    s a

    question

    hat an never e

    answered.

    But to whatend

    did it

    dance and

    sing?

    What was its

    role,

    whatwas its

    function?

    What did it do

    that he ctors

    did not

    do?

    Aristotle's

    rincipal

    in

    truth

    is

    only)

    statement

    n the

    tragic

    horuscomes

    in

    Chapter

    18

    ofhis

    Poetics.Here

    s theButcher

    ranslation:

    Thechorus

    oo

    hould

    e

    regarded

    s oneof

    he

    ctors;

    t

    hould e an

    ntegral

    art

    f

    he

    whole,

    nd

    share n

    the

    ction,

    n

    themanner

    ot

    of

    Euripides

    ut

    of

    Sophocles.

    s for

    the

    ater

    oets,

    heir horal

    ongs ertain

    s little o

    the

    ubject

    f

    the

    iece

    s to that f

    any

    ther

    ragedy.

    hey

    re,

    herefore,

    ung

    s mere

    nterludes-a

    ractise

    irst

    egun y

    Agathon.

    et what

    difference

    s

    there etween

    ntroducing

    uch horal

    nterludes,

    nd

    transferring

    speech,

    r even whole

    ct,

    from ne

    play

    to

    another?1

    The

    paragraph egins

    with

    major ambiguity:

    The

    chorustoo should

    be

    regarded

    as

    one

    of

    the

    actors.

    Who is to

    regard

    t

    so?

    The

    audience?

    the

    poet?

    the other

    characters?

    he

    chorus

    tself?

    his

    aside,

    Aristotle eems to

    be

    saying

    hat omeone

    ought

    to

    regard

    he

    chorus

    s a

    character,

    collective

    haracter o be

    sure,

    but a

    character o the same

    degree

    as

    Oedipus

    or Heracles or

    Medea are

    characters.

    Albert Weiner s

    Professor f

    Theatre t the State

    University f

    New York at

    Albany.

    1

    (New York:Hill & Wang, 1961), 18. 7.

    205

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  • 8/11/2019 Greek Chorus

    3/9

    206

    /

    TJ,

    ay

    980

    assume hat rofessor

    eter rnott

    grees

    with

    his,

    or

    have

    een t east hree f

    his

    marionettereek

    ragedies

    nd t eems lear o

    me

    that

    e

    regards

    is

    horus

    s

    another haracter.rofessoritto ertainlygreeswith his nterpretation;nhis

    translationf this entence e

    even

    etains

    utcher's

    mbiguity:

    The

    horusmust

    be

    regarded

    s one

    of the

    ctors. 2

    Many

    theories ave taken n the

    qualities

    f

    known ruths

    nd

    thus re difficulto track own at their

    ources.One hears

    somewhere

    long

    he

    way

    that he

    horus

    xists o

    elevate

    ommonplace

    etails

    nto

    universal

    erities. ne

    hears

    hat

    he

    horus

    cts s a

    bufferetweenctor nd

    au-

    dience.

    his

    heory

    eems o

    mply

    hat here ill

    lways

    e some lack etweenhe

    two,

    nd t

    s

    the

    ole

    fthe

    horus

    o

    take

    p

    that lack.One hears hat he

    horus

    exists

    o transformhe

    passions

    f the

    haracters,

    hich re

    necessarily

    iffused,

    into

    harp

    ocus.

    One hears hat he

    horus

    s

    an

    Ideal

    Audience,

    hat he

    udience

    maymeasuretsresponseothat f the horus. utthis s surely rong, or re-

    quently

    horuses

    isunderstandhat s

    happening

    n

    the

    ragedy

    hile he udience

    understands,

    nd

    frequently

    horusesmake ommentsn the ctionwhich

    eem

    positively

    tupid

    r

    inappropriate.

    urthermore,

    he deal Audience

    heory

    must

    giveway

    to

    Artistotle,

    ho eems

    o

    have

    aid

    that

    he

    horusmust e

    regarded

    s

    an actor.

    east,

    ut

    erhaps

    ot

    ast,

    nehears hat he horus

    unctions

    s a decora-

    tion.

    But

    what,

    we

    may

    well

    sk,

    s it

    supposed

    o

    decorate?

    As

    diverses these heories

    ay

    e

    detect

    t east ne ommon

    hread:

    he

    more

    closely

    he

    horus

    s

    integrated

    nto

    hefabric f

    the

    play,

    hemore t resembles

    collective

    haracter,

    he etter. nd

    because

    uripides'

    horuseseem o

    be

    less

    collectiveharacter han hose fSophocles,heSophocleanhoruses re often

    praised

    while

    hose f

    Euripides

    re

    criticized. ichmond

    attimore,

    or

    xample,

    has

    said that

    uripides

    wrote

    ome

    ovely yrics

    in

    hischoral

    des]

    butoften

    ..

    they

    ave

    nothing

    odo

    withwhat

    s

    going

    n

    n

    the

    play.' 3

    rofessorrnott

    sks f

    Euripides'

    horuses,

    Do

    they

    ot .

    grow

    omewhat

    edious,

    articularly

    n

    ome

    of

    the

    plays

    f

    Euripides

    here he

    ontent

    s

    negligible ?4

    itto,

    who s

    unusually

    severewith

    uripides'

    horuses,

    hinkshat

    heMedea

    horus,

    ecause

    t

    s not ele-

    vant

    o

    the

    play,

    s

    a

    total