The Chorus In Oedipus Rex Essay Research

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The Chorus In Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was perhaps the finest addition to the long dynasty of Greek tragedies. In it we see the continuation of the main theme of ancient Greek tragedy, most notably the way in which the tragic protagonists act out their defiance of the limits subscribed by the gods for man, while the chorus expresses the fears, hopes, and judgment of the polity, the average citizens. According to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, “the function of the chorus is to comment on the action and sometimes to narrate events”i. Their judgment is the subsequent verdict of history. However, what is so apparent in Oedipus as opposed to Antigone and his other plays is the way in which the Chorus plays a more commentarial role, rather

than involving itself integrally in the action. This leads to a more slick, fluent and arguably “better” play. However, this is not the only function of the chorus, which, in my opinion, multiplicity of roles aside from the basic commentarial one. In the title it is implied that the interpretation of the function (i.e. the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing existsii) and purpose (something set up as an object or end to be attainediii) of the chorus would be different for the audiences viewing it. However I do not believe that the nature of the role is subjective. The role of the chorus is ossified in the text and is thus objective as anything can be objective. It could be argued that as the text is a work of art, and is thus

interpreted then perhaps different people could interpret the function and purpose in different ways. The crucial factor here is whether or not the playwright or the viewer determines the role of the chorus. It is true that the diversity of the 20th century audiences is much greater than that of the Greek audiences, and thus they are liable to have different opinions on this matter. But the fact is that whether or not the interpretations will differ, whether or not we believe that the Chorus is necessary or not, the role is predefined, and thus only subjective to the extent of being determined by the level of knowledge on the play. For these reasons and for simplicity’s sake, I will attempt to take the central, moderate view that would hopefully be the generally accepted one.

The major role in Oedipus of the Chorus as previously outlined is that of commentary. The chorus clarifies the situation to the audience in a way that enables the audience to fully comprehend the nature and general ebb and flow of the plot. For example when at the end of the play, when Creon’s final words have been uttered, the chorus comments on the fate of Oedipus by saying “From hence the lesson learn ye, To reckon no man happy till ye witness The closing day”iv Here we can see the role of commenting on the action in giving the subsequent verdict of history. The Chorus comments on the plot lucidly, enabling us to reach a greater understanding of the play and the philosophical values it subscribes to. Thus it could be argued, that it increases our satifaction and feeling

that we have learnt something above and beyond the mere narrative plot. In addition to this the chorus also has a significant part to play in the expression of the fears and hopes of the populace. An example of this fear shown on the first entrance of the Chorus, before the horrific realities are yet known: “I faint for fear, Through all my soul I quiver in suspense, In brooding dread, what doom, of present growth, Or as the months roll on, thy hand will work;”v Before the audience would have come to see the play, in the past and the present, they would have known something of what is arguably the most infamous tales in history. The emphasis on the development of not only the conscious but also the subconscious irony in Oedipus adds to its effect on the audience. The chorus,