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Role of Chorus in Agamemnon

Farah Malik M Phil English Literature 2nd semester

a chorus would often incorporate song and dance into the events of the play. A chorus would often provide audience members with background information that applied to the events on stage. and made the audience actually a part of the action. connecting the actors and the action to the spectators. Greek drama was a form that evolved out of song and dance. and the "stasima. Such information would help audience members understand the performance. as such. One of the most important functions of a Greek chorus was to act as the ideal spectator. it asks questions about the characters' motives and offers comments on the events on stage. The chorus would have two important songs in a tragedy: a "parados. The chorus would do this through song and dance or by speaking their lines in unison." or entrance song. bringing a collective consciousness to the progress of the play often wearing masks 2 . to present the appropriate response to the progress of the play. Through their songs and dance the chorus would introduce the main characters and the background of the play. The chorus used to act a single entity. It created an emotional bridge. that is.Chorus Chorus used to play an important role in the Greek drama." or choral song used to propel the narrative In the beginning of the fifth century BC chorus used to be composed of 50 members.

These smaller choruses would bring greater unity and took more active part in the play. Role of Chorus in Agamemnon The chorus in Agamemnon by Aeschylus is composed of Argive elders who were left behind when the Greek armada sailed to avenge the insult caused by the abduction of Helen by Trojan Prince. During the ten year war they stood sentinel to the city state of Argos which was ruled by Clytemnestra in her husband. 3 . They were left behind because they were too old to take part in the war against Troy.i With the passage of time the chorus was reduced in size with only 12 members by Aeschylus. Agamemnon’s absence and received the ashes of the youth of Argos slain during the war. Paris.

bloodshed. loss of innocence and youth. “Now Greece and Troy both pay their equal debt”iii Thus the chorus not only is playing the role of providing the background of the Trojan war but also presenting its own viewpoint as part of the Argive population which was left behind to bear the brunt of the long drawn war. The chorus in its introductory song tells of the long waged war for a woman. They are also showing scepticism on the news of Greek victory because they are being given this news by a woman. This sows the patriarchal attitude of the male-dominated society where Clytemnestra is unable to gain any respect or even trust of the Elders of Argos even after ruling the city state for the past ten years. 4 . giving information about the background of the events leading to the play and how these events have troubled the balance of the world. They literally set the stage for the coming gloom and trepidation.257).ii The chorus presents the “parados’ the opening/entrance song of the play which is the longest of the extant Greek choral odes (Lines 40. It does not talk of the glory and victory of the Greek forces but highlights the sorrows. The burden of loss is shared equally by both Greece and Troy.

O daughter of Tyndareus. where Artemis had shown her displeasure by causing hurdles in the journey to Troy. “But thou. what need? What news? What tale or tiding hath stirred thy mood”iv For these male representatives of Argos it is difficult to accept a woman as a knowledgeable and foresighted ruler. Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia was identified as the suitable sacrifice for the goddess. because as the leader of the expedition to Troy he is responsible for all the transgression and loss suffered by the people. They are not ready to accept the news announced by the Queen without any proof. This led to the Agamemnon’s agonizing decision of choosing victory on Troy over his filial love for his beautiful daughter. On the other hand they are also giving the background of the war and hint at the sacrifice offered by the King before leaving for the war to appease the gods. 5 .The chorus doubts the news received through a system of lit beacons which inform the queen of their victory on Trojan forces. Calchas that they must offer a sacrifice to appease the angry goddess. because for them the word of the Queen is not as trustworthy as she is a female. Queen Clytemnestra. Through these lines sung by Chorus Aeschylus is taking an unorthodox approach to war. A portent of twin eagles devouring a hare is interpreted by the seer. The chorus also provides the reason behind the fate of Agamemnon. the chorus recounts the events at Aulis. war which was glorified and hyped is presented not as something heroic but a brutal aspect of statesmanship. The corrupt sacrifice becomes a focal point as we later find out to be the reason which sowed the seeds of hatred and revenge in Clytemnestra’s heart for her long absent husband.

and tells of the “fatal curse”. “Bless the sign we saw today! Cancel all its presaged ill”v They can feel that the all this bloodshed for a woman and the killing of a daughter by her father’s hand will lead to no good. along with thousands of soldiers slain on both sides but now he’s coming back but not to a hero’s welcome but to face divine retribution bore the sin of shedding a kin’s blood. And among other reasons it talks of the pride of Agamemnon which had caused the delay at Aulis and later this pride is bolstered and used by Clytemnestra against her husband when he’s made to walk the crimson tapestries laid down in his path . Chorus tell the King’s dilemma as he knows he’s doomed to face disaster whether a sacrifices his daughter or not. sorrow – yet let good prevail!” The chorus is used as an instrument to create the backdrop for the tragedy. He won a war at the cost of his child’s blood. “Cry Sorrow.Hymn to Zeus The chorus includes a hymn in the honour of Zeus as Aeschylus tries to represent the connection between actions of mortal men and the divine retribution. his sanctuary but to his death chamber. The Greeks knew their gods as the forces in their lives and in this play they are the puppet masters who are leading the mortal men to the designated fate. The chorus is feeling uneasy and expresses hope that Zeus will. which will lead not to his home. 6 .

your words are like a man’s. 7 . both wise and kind”vi This shows another facet of Clytemnestra’s personality that she’s able to govern her state in her husband not like a dummy. Agamemnon’s Pride Chorus also points out the flaw in Agamemnon’s character that is “pride” even while praising Zeus for granting the victory over Trojan forces they mention the fact that .Clytemnestra and chorus When the queen announces the victory over Troy the chorus is not ready to believe her news. even the herald is baffled by these tall claims but the chorus is able to read between the lines and may have an idea why the Queen is so anxiously waiting for her husband’s return to Argos. But it also hints at one reason for the planned murder of her husband. and the Chorus praises her by saying . the triumphant king because she is now not ready to give up the throne back to Agamemnon. who is now more remembered as the killer of her daughter than a loving and faithful husband Their mistrust or lack of trust on Queen Clytemnestra again and again shows the patriarchal attitude of the chorus which waits to see if her news of victory is true or false. She gives a detailed account of the beacons lit from Troy to Argos to tell the news to her people and her rule is far sighted for a ruler of her times let alone for a woman to think of such an ingenious way. When Clytemnestra boasts of her loyalty and faithfulness. figurehead but as a forceful and competent ruler. “Madam. They finally accept and believe the news when a messenger or herald brings the news of conquest of Troy. When she repeats the fact that Troy was taken by Greek forces the chorus demands a proof for the claim.

a male who as a strong. Chorus and Cassandra Cassandra blessed with the gift of prophecy and cursed with never being believed. here again Aeschylus uses Chorus’ feeling of unease and remembering the blood and murder committed creates an atmosphere of the impending doom and disaster... They welcome the herald bringing the news of victory over Troy and hint that not everything was as it should be in Argos and they wait anxiously for the return of the king to set the affairs of the state right.. The chorus is loyal to Agamemnon as he is a king.. They try to give a hint to the retuning King to be aware of people’s tall claims and praises but he is not able to decipher the warning hidden in chorus’ words. Maybe again his pride is at fault which stops him from giving too much weightage to the words of these old men.. Who trample in the dust Beauty of holy things”vii This is an ironic statement made by the chorus which will see the triumphant king walk on a crimson carpet laid by his scheming wife to incur the displeasure of the gods. tries to share the coming doom with the chorus but they are unable to comprehend her 8 . victorious soldier commands their respect despite all his flaws and errors.“The hand of Zeus has cast The proud from their high place!.. When Agamemnon against his judgement walks on the crimson carpet of tapestries laid by his wife he does not know that it leads not to a haven but to his doom..

meaning. they waste time talking to decide the course they must take and in the meanwhile king is killed and Clytemnestra shows herself as the avenger of her daughter’s killing. The chorus is unable to decipher the meaning hidden in Cassandra’s mad babbling but their confusion leads to a heightened sense of disaster as the audience now fully understand what lays in wait for the triumphant victor at the end of his long journey home. but cannot guess?”viii The irony hidden in Cassandra’s dialogue . She hints at the curse laid on her new master’s home but the chorus is not able to connect the ancient curse with the upcoming murderous events. 9 . Their repeated proclamations of the inability to understand the mad ravings of Cassandra lead to the unavoidable doom to befall the king. Agamemnon’s Murder Chorus is present outside the palace when is king is murdered but is unable to offer any help to the king. They listen to her talk of “smell of murder” and think she’s talking about the sacrifice offered for the “safe” of the king and his army. It is the first time that the chorus which up till now was peaking in unison losses its cohesion and become a multitude of voices and opinions. “Arrows of prophecy whose course and goal I seek. They talk of taking swift action but are incapable of doing so. her reference to the feast laid down for Thyestes is understood by the chorus but as Apollo has cursed her with never being believed they are not able to comprehend its relationship with the scenario unfolding in front of their eyes.

Even still the chorus tell her that her action will not go unpunished and she will have to pay the debt that is owed by her murderous deed. mother takes vengeance on her child’s killer she is to be condemned. the chorus of Elders talks to the Queen Clytemnestra about the victory over Troy and refuses to believe her account of receiving the news of Trojan defeat and quarrels with the queen's lover after the king’s murder. Conclusion Aeschylus attempted to involve the chorus directly in the action of the play. 10 . On the other hand the chorus goes back to Zeus and asks how such a deed is possible without the consent of the Zeus. Their lines depict the moods and situation that are prevalent in Argos and also represent the mindset present in Argive society. In the play the chorus is present not as a commentator only but as an active member of the cast. In Agamemnon. They also find fault in Aegisthus’ character because he failed to fulfil the curse laid by his father and let a women do an unimaginable deed. They mourn the slaying of the king and are sure that justice will bring Clytemnestra to answer for deed.When the chorus tries to shame Clytemnestra for killing her husband she is not ready to shoulder the blame for she points the finger at them to forgive Agamemnon for the slaying of their daughter because he was a man but when a woman. It plays an active role in bringing to forefront the ironical prophecy made by Cassandra.

lines 145-146 vi Agamemnon line 349 vii Agamemnon lines 364 -372 viii Agamemnon line 1152-53 iii 11 .90 v Agamemnon.i A masked Greek Chorus ii Elders of Argos Agamemnon . lines 88.line 65 iv Agamemnon.