The History of the Greek Chorus

Chorus Size

The Greek chorus was traditionally made up of about 50 actors at the beginning of the 5th century BC. Their contribution to the play, usually accompanying the storytelling through song and movement, was performed in the area now recognised as the Orchestra pit. The reduction in the size of the chorus came about due to the endeavours of Playwright Aeschylus. With a smaller more intense group of chorus members , they we’re able to partake a more active role within the narrative of the storytelling, either by embodying a role within the narrative (as seen in The Eumenides (Aeschylus) , the chorus takes on the role of the furies who plague Orestes for killing his mother) or by portraying a collective character, which in the Agamemnon can be seen as the chorus becoming a group of men who, either due to incapability or old age, were unable to go to war.

(Delcayre, 2014)

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Masks

If the chorus was, as previously mentioned, meant to represent a collective character it was often common for them to wear masks. The mask would give the chorus a unity and uniformity but would also encourage interdependency between the performers (Anonymous, 2010). The masks also offered many other functions within Greek Theatre. As the performances often took place in large open air theatres, masks would include over-exaggerated features to allow audiences further away to see what feeling was being expressed by the chorus (which would usually be the over-arching tone of the play). Masks also concealed the identity of the actor so they were able to appear numerous times within the play without being associated with one specific character. Masks could also be made for unique characters within the piece for example, ‘The Furies’ as seen in The Eumenides by Aeschylus.

(Anonymous, 2010)

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Function

The main function of the Greek chorus was to act almost as a relay service between the actors and the audience, to signpost important elements of the story or to provide a commentary to the audience about a certain characters actions and previous events. This function of the chorus would be told through Odes (songs) which are separate from the action taking place, these songs can be seen to draw the audience attention to the piece by varying spoken word with singing. The chorus however can play an active role within the narrative and it is this switching perspective from a commentator to a participator which makes the view the actions of the play as a passive member allowing them to reflect on the actions in relation to their own lives. This notion can be seen in Eumenides where a democratic judicial system is portrayed in a way to make the Greek Audience (made up of men of power) to accept a new system of justice.

(Delcayre, 2014)

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Anonymous. ‘Costumes & Masks’. Greek Theatre. 2010. Web. 21st March 2014.

Available at: http://greektheatre.wordpress.com/home/

 

Delcayre, Celine. The Greek Chorus Dynamic in Ancient and Contemporary Theatre. Web. 21st March 2014.

Available at:

http://www.sonoma.edu/theatreanddance/_docs/badpenny_chorus.pdf

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