This essay will discuss howcontemporary tragedy plays, whilst retaining some aspects or features of achorus, have changed and developed from the use of chorus used in such plays asSophocles’ Antigone in order toappeal to a modern-day audience. It will use the work of playwrights, BryonyLavery in Frozen and Arthur Miller inA View from the Bridge to show that,whilst elements of a traditional chorus are incorporated within their plays,they have adapted their use to ensure that the performances better suit amodern-day audience.A traditional Greek chorus wasknown to inform and comment on the line of action within a play, using song,choreography and recitation. This chorus had a regular structure and form whichwas the ‘social reality’ for a Greek audience, however, it could be argued thatovertime the role of the chorus has evolved and progressed so that, whilsttoday, we still incorporate choral aspects to narrate a modern play, as Helen HBacon points out using an identical formation of a chorus would give the impressionof being an “…artificial artistic convention” 1(Bacon1994,2). This creates the idea that today the use of a chorus in its original formcould create alienation for an audience.
The original Greek tragedy Antigone has the structure of thechorus’ presence throughout as the “chorus performance followed a pattern” 2(Smith2003, 6). Antigone follows the traditional Greek tragedy formation of the playsstructure Prologos (an interchange between actors) followed by Parados (entrysong, where the Chorus enter and explain the background to the story), Episodesfollowed by Stasimons until they reach the final stages of the play Epilogosand Exodos. Within the prologos Antigone is conversing with her sister Ismeneinforming her that, by royal decree, their brother Polyneices is to remainunburied whilst she is determined to bury him. The chorus then proclaim “Eye ofgolden day! O marching light are cross the eddy and rush of Dirce’s stream”(Act 5, Pg. 1) and these positive words contrast with the bleak interchangebetween Antigone and Ismene, foretelling the audience the “conflicts betweenfamily and state…justice, and mercy.”3(Smith 2003,3) This adherence to a pattern is not as apparent in modern playsas neither Lavery and Miller appear to follow this clear pattern in theirplays.
In A View from the Bridge forexample there is no Prologos as Alfieri directs the action from the outset(i.e. the first scene would be equivalent to the Parados), setting the scenewhen he states: “You wouldn’t have known it, butsomething amusing has just happened…” (Act 1, Pg.
1)This differs again in Frozen because although the play startswith the character of Agnetha, her initial monologue does not explain thebackground for the play but rather is indicative of her mental state. Theaspect of the role of chorus becomes clearer later as she begins to interactwith the other characters, Ralph and Nancy. The Athenian theatre had a foremostimportance in society in reference to both the political and religious aspectsat the time. Theatrical performances would be performed, during the religiousfestival, in honour of the god Dionysus. This commemorative theatre was used asa form of expression of both the human condition and political issues. Involvementin these performances was considered to be of high importance in fact on anequal level with certain acclaimed professions.
Helen H Bacon acknowledges, “participationin some state sponsored choruses, like other forms of public service, exemptedthe performers from military service”4(Bacon 1994, Pg.11). This suggests that working in a chorus held significantvalue within society and this may have been because the chorus not only had theability to comment on the dramatic action within a play, but more importantlyit reflected societies opinion, thus having the ability to direct the audiencebeliefs. Focusing on the importance of theatre within society in the Greekperiod there is evidentially a change in the role of theatre to today. Theatre in modern society consists oftwo main factors: a prominent level of entertainment and an economicalcontribution to a country’s economy.
These main factors contribute to the ideathat there is a key difference in the use of theatre today, and are evidentialimportance as to why the eternal elements of a play have too reformed. However,it is also apparent that still in today’s society current social issues can beexplored with the audience being faced with plays, which portray a currentissue such as race, LGBT, feminism. The focus that the narrative of the playsthemselves provides however, contrasts with how a Greek chorus formerly wouldbe used as a fundamental element to “show the views of society” and representthe “cultural standards”5(Gill 2017). These evidences provide the idea of the requirement of a chorus toenable a continuous political and social voice narrative.
Whilst acknowledgingthis contribution, it is apparent that for a modern theatre a chorus is not a necessityas the main characters within the play often direct and enable the audience tounderstand and focus on the issues being explored. Hence due to a character’sdevelopment in contemporary plays they (the characters) provide an explanationof their own thoughts and feelings to the circumstances. Miller demonstratesthis at points within A View from the Bridge, Catherine: I’m afraid of Eddie here (Act 2, Pg. 55) This is an example of the character(Catherine) explaining how she is feeling to another character and also in turnrelaying her own emotions to the audience.
Catherine’s thoughts “I’m afraid ofEddie here” (Act 2,Pg.55) could be perceived at this point, as a direct parallelto the Greek chorus providing an insight into a view on society. Miller could alsoperhaps be using Catherine’s opinion as a collective interpretation of the youngwomen in society becoming independent and the responding male’s (Eddie)resentment. The character of Catherine in this moment is displaying twoelements of the chorus in a deconstructed form as not only is Catherineexplaining her emotions and feelings towards Eddie but also the collective viewthat women should be able to be more autonomous in their choice of husband. Lavery’s Frozen follows the form of the relaying of emotions to the audiencethrough the three characters. The three characters all indicate their emotionsin relation to the events that have taken place, through the use of monologueswith each character demonstrating his or her perception of the story and it isfrom these monologues that the audience are able to understand how theirstories begin to intertwine as each character connects with one another.
Thisis similar to the way that the collective chorus would highlight thoughts andfeelings of the character for example in Antigone:’Chorus: That furious king’ (750) declaring the king is furious towards his ownactions whereas the characters within Frozenreiterate their feelings themselves for example Agnetha, who can be seen touphold the choral role when she says: “wwwwaaaaahhhhhh mmmaaaaahhh comeon…plane to catch….!”(Act 1 P.g 6).
The audience can observe, through thebreakdown of her speech and her inability to be fully coherent, a reflection onher unstable character and this also provides tension through raising thequestions such as ‘why is she nervous?’, ‘what has occurred to make her thisuncoordinated?’ This provides evidence ofthe ability for a single character to directly display their own feelings tothe audience enabling the audience to feel like a “privileged spectator” but atthe same time feels “connected” (Smith 2003,Pg.5CS1 )which provides an indication at how contemporary playwrights have transpired oneof the influences of a chorus into a singular character.Aristotle positions the role of thechorus within chapter 18 of his Poetics wherehe asserts, “The chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it shouldbe an integral part of the whole, and share in the action” presenting the ideathe chorus as one a ‘collective character’6(Weiner 1980, 1) would have be to the equivalent degree to which Antigone orCreon are also present characters in the play. Aristotle notes Sophocles hasthe correct manner in the approach to the chorus whereas Euripides’ chorusesare every so often ‘criticised’. For Sophocles enables the chorus as Aristotledecrees to ‘share in the action’ within Antigone.CHORUS: But she was born of heaven, and youare woman, woman-born.
If her deathis yours,A mortal woman’s, is this not foryou,Glory in our world and in the worldbeyond (680) The chorus in this moment isconversing with Antigone, questioning her reflection on her life in comparison tothat of the God Niobe. This is the chorus not only echoing Antigone’s internalthoughts and introducing moral comments through “raising questions” but in turnbeginning to envisage and build Antigone into the Hero of the tragedy for theaudience, supporting Aristotle’s principle through being able to share theaction, the chorus can form a continuous narrative guiding the audience’sopinion. Acknowledging Aristotle’s opinion of thechorus being completely involved within the action this opinion has transpiredinto A View from the Bridge and Frozen in which both playwrights use areplacement of the chorus into one singular character, Agnetha (Frozen) and Alfieri (A View from the Bridge) abiding toAristotle’s decree in Poetics “Thepoet should devote his choruses with the same care and attention that hedevotes to his actors” in which both playwrights should dedicate the importanceto the actors playing the main characters equally to the chorus, in this senseboth have turned the chorus into another actor refraining from them appearingto be “interludes” instead remaining “relevant to the plot”7 (Weiner 1980, Pg.2) CS2 Observingthe use of Alfieri in his contribution to the plot he appears not to be a centralcharacter, however he remains direct to the line of action, and without hispresence there would not be a progression of the play.
CS3 Thisis similar to the use of a chorus who do not appear to be a central characterbut assist in the directing the line of action within the plays to develop onthe central themes.Miller uses Alfieri, in a formwhich is parallel to Sophocles use of the chorus, using him as a narrator tothe events in which Alfieri both advises and questions Eddie without becoming adirect influencer or contributor to the events. The involvement of Alfieristrengthens the plot as he informs the audience and comments on the characterssituation from a second-hand point of view, through his display of informationfrom a non-involved point of view, he is in turn connecting the audience to theaction as they become on the level of involvement as him. Even within Alfieri’s advice toEddie he remains on the outskirts of the action offering him facts in response thuspreventing his opinion becoming an element in the plot – Alfieri clarifies “I’mwarning you – the law is nature” (Act 2 Pg.
54) At this point Miller is usingAlfieri to influence Eddie but only to the extent that he is able to advise himby what he (Alfieri) knows, meaning that Eddie must draw his own conclusion forhis actions. Evidencing how Alfieri is a spectator looking in and commenting onthe story, observing to provide advice through facts. Miller’s technique to provideAlfieri with a limited involvement in the action of the plot enables thecharacter to deliver a reliable plausible narration for a modern audienceenabling the progression of the tragedy.
In contrast to Alfieri’s spectatorrole Lavery makes Agnetha into a pivotal character within the story. Agnethachallenges the characters Nancy and Ralph, differing from the traditionalobservant chorus who advise a character to eventually form their ownconclusion; Agnetha instead has a personal and fundamental contribution to theplot. Agnetha as a psychiatrist intends to bring Ralph (the perpetrator of thecrime) and Nancy (who due to his actions has become a victim) together providingthe peripeteia of the play. Through Agnetha challenging the characters she alsochallenges the appearance of the themes for the audience from appearing to be aplay based on podophylla and anger into using forgiveness as a way to move on.
It is evident that without Agnetha’s assistance the play would be unable to develop,and the characters would remain ‘frozen’ by the events that have occurred. Itis through her interactions that Ralph is able to reach anagnorisis, realisinghe has caused hurt not only to Rhona but to Nancy as well, and as a result he becomescontrite for his actions. In the momentwhen Ralph is writing a letter of apology he writes “I am beginning to think” (Act2 Pg. 72), this is a display of the physical impact that Agnetha has produced.Through Agnetha’s investigation into Ralph’s past she has in turn been able toaccess his deepest secrets and, as a chorus, has revealed to the audience hisemotions and feelings with regard to his past, which has led him to become theperson, he is.
Ralph begins to feel a pain within himself and Agnetha proposes”What you maybe feeling is remorse” (Act 2 Pg. 75). It is at this point that sheis identifying Ralph’s emotions both to himself and to the audience. It becomesevident Agnetha’s analysis of Ralph is “essential to the development of thedrama” in order for him to “reach the climax of recognition”8(Cammaerts 1922, Pg. 214) in this circumstance it is the recognition of hisremorse.
From a modern audience perspective, the gradual progress in which Agnethahas encouraged and influenced Ralph to successfully reach this conclusion isnoticeable. This way may not have been possible if Lavery were to registerAgnetha as an observer role to the action as Miller assigned to Alfieri. In conclusion, whilst it is evidentthat the use of an apparent physical chorus has diminished overtime, withmodern playwrights often using the characters themselves to display their ownemotions, it is clear that the elements and purpose of a chorus still remainand are vital within tragedies. Both Lavery and Miller are example playwrightsof this notion; by condensing the chorus into the individual characters of Agnethaand Alfieri, they underline Aristotle’s belief that the chorus should appear toact as one whole voice rather than the voice of many actors. These charactershave been used to represent and uphold the purpose of a chorus to “comment onthe dramatic action in a collective way”9(Kilby 2015, Pg.7CS4 )and to also raise questions and judgements for the audience.
It is apparentthat although today tragedies do appear to have an absence of the traditionalchorus, aspects and features do remain. The elements of a chorus arecharacteristics of a tragedy and are clearly necessary in order to progress thenarrative of the play and connect the themes and actors to the audience. 1 Bacon, Helen H.”The Chorus in Greek Life and Drama.” Arion: A Journal ofHumanities and the Classics 3, no.
1 (1994): 6-24. 2 Smith,Nola “Strategies of Greek Tragedy: The Chorus and the Structure of Antigone”,(2003): 1-63 Smith, Nola “Strategies of Greek Tragedy” (2003) 1-6 4Bacon, Helen H. . “The Chorus in Greek Life and Drama.” no. 1 (1994):6-24.
5 Gill, N.S Greek Theatre Study Guide 2017 6 Weiner, Albert. “The Function of the Tragic GreekChorus.” Theatre Journal 32, no.
2 (1980): 205-12. 7 Weiner,Albert. “The Function of the Tragic Greek Chorus.” Theatre Journal32, no.
2 (1980): 205-12. 8 Cammaerts,Emile. “Incidental Scenes and the Greek Chorus.
” The North AmericanReview 215, no. 795 (1922): 212-19. 9 KILBY, PATRICK. “A Greek Chorus.
” In NGOs and PoliticalChange: A History of the Australian Council for International Development,1-24. Australia: ANU Press, 2015 CS1Isthat supposed to be page 5? Earlier referencing has Pg. CS2Againhere with the page number? I am probs wrong though CS3Thisis one sentence CS4Pagenumber?