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The importance of Chorus in King Oedipus

In Greek plays, the Chorus invariably adds complexity and depth to the play and the message it is trying to portray. The Chorus is a group of personality consisting of a number of citizens. They perform a religious festival especially fertility rites. Chorus is an important feature of Greek plays. In Greek plays the Choruses were a group of men, who played roles of either male or female characters, such as the Elders, Old Women. The role of Chorus as shown in Sophocles's King Oedipus extends our understanding of the play in that the Chorus commentates on the action, analyzes the meaning behind the actions. Aristotle's brief sentence that the Chorus should be 'a sharer in the action' (The Poetics) has been interpreted by Horace to mean that the Chorus should help on the action by uttering words of encouragement and friendly counsel to the good, by rebuking the passionate, by loving the virtuous, by praising justice, peace and obedience to the law...and by praying to the Gods to comfort the miserable, and humble the proud' (De Art Poet). 

This has been summed up by Schlegel when he says that the Chorus is the spectator idealized': it is the universal voice of moral sympathy instruction and warning (Lecture V); and aptly figured by Schiller in. his comparison of the lyric element in a drama with the rich and flowing drapery which softens the rigid outline of action and character (introduction of the bride of messina).We should proceed to analyze the role of the Chorus in Sophocles's play Oedipus Rex according to the above mentioned statements. Sophocles attaches a notable importance to the Chorus and his use of the Chorus is very distinct from that of Aeschylus and Euripides. The main function of the Chorus is to dance and sing, to narrate the past events, to comment on the past and forthcoming events of the play and thus to take an effective part in the play. It is to be mentioned that in Sophoclean conception the background of King Oedipus is the tragic human relationships and the complicated web of circumstances- these are the matters for the Chorus to represent. Therefore, the Chorus, in this play, behaves much like a person and not merely as a machine to be exploited, but as a mouthpiece of the dramatist. Rather the Chorus is so far a personality as its character helps in making the cross-rhythms of the play. The Chorus is pious devoted to Oedipus and concerned as well of his well being. It always maintains a close sympathy for the protagonist. According to that, in the second choral ode, it is its loyalty and confidence in Oedipus which are expressed. The Chorus feels a strong civic duty to Oedipus as it says:

He faced the winged Enchantress, And stood to the test, winning golden opinions Never, therefore, will I consent, To think him other than good. 

To support Oedipus in a crucial moment it speaks in a language somewhat bold for the Chorus to utter: 

God is certain, but that his prophets Know more than another man, That is not proved. 
When next the Chorus speaks amidst the exchange of bitter words between Jocasta and Oedipus, it has more shocks and its tone is different. The instinctive piety in the Chorus asserts itself:Chorus also prays for Oedipus. It also warns Oedipus of the danger of being too much proud: 

"Be merciful and learn to yield"

There is real tension and movement on the part o chorus here. It is not merely singing or simply being a spectaior idealized. After the denuinciation of Oedipus by Teiresias in the second choral ode, the Chorus proceeds to picture the guilty mas as a homeless outeast, The shedder of blood' who is to be expelled forever from the city and to be cut off from any human contact. There is perhaps room for the difference of interpretations but what is clear is that the Chorus here is beaving as a person and not as a mere machine. Aristotle says that 'the Chorus must be regarded as one of the actors' but he is not forgetful of the fact that the acts of individuals should be much more striking than that of a group. The Chorus, in accordance to that, takes part in the action, but normally before the more vivid and well-portrayed characters have set to work. The more generalized action of the Chorus is that it itself could hardly follow the forthcoming events. The Chorus never attempts to compete with the actors, if it is used as an actor, it is used before others begin. When the function of the Chorus as an actor is terminated, it is still there and relevant to the action. It is freely used to receive messenger, to announce newcomers or, in general, to make transition from one scene to another smooth. It is notable that these services of the Chorus are not always mechanical. For instance, when Creon enters in rage, the Chorus is there to receive him and by maintaining neutrality, it helps to make the scene effective. As an actor, the Chorus has its continuous share in the drama and, in one way or another, it contributes to the main action of the play. Its most prominent function is however the lyrical one. In fact, it is the Chorus as persons, and in its more impersonal lyric interludes we mainly observe that religious approach to the dramatic theme which is an essential characteristic of Greek tragedy. For instance, the Prologue of the play is based on three main issues: the plague, the cryptic message of hope from the oracles of Delphi and the beginning of the discovery with the help of the clues advanced by Creon. When the Chorus first enters the stage it has no knowledge of the suspicions which Oedipus forms of a plot between Teiresias and Creon. Its first ode or the parodos is based on the first two themes: the plague and the obscure message. The Chorus enters on the role of hope in which the prologue ended and closes in the note of apprehension and prayer which correspond to the situation on the stage. This method of continuation and preparation is a chief function of the Chorus. The first stasimon or the second ode of the Chorus is significant and highly dramatic. In this ode the Chorus postpones as long as it can the expression of disturbance caused by Teiresias. The Chorus again is used effectively when the quarrel between Jocasta and Oedipus starts. Oedipus out of his indignation, does not hesitate to decide that he will his kinsman, Creon, But, Sophocles is reluctant to let Oedipus commit such a grave error. The dramatist uses the Chorus to quell the rage of Oedipus. The third ode or the second stasimon is quite difficult to understand.  In it the Chorus speaks of hubris. Sophocles' protagonist is a man of hubris as he is ambitious proud and wantonly sacrilegious. The Chorus directs its criticism against him

In the next ode, we detect an outburst of confidence in the tone of the Chorus. It takes up and enlarges the idea of Chance. Out of pride Oedipus declares himself as the child of Fortune. But then comes the shepherd to prove him the son of Jocasta and Laius. In the last ode, the Chorus, being exhausted by observing the terrible happenings which engulf Oedipus, utters something universally applicable: And none can be called happy until that day when he carries 

His happiness down to the grave in peace."
What however is clear and more important is that Sophocles in King Oedipus found in the Chorus a most useful and dramatic instrument. The way Sophocles made the Chonus contribute to the development of the play is remarkable.


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