Structure of Greek Tragedyand the Role of the Chorus What you need to know when reading Oedipus Rex
The awesome amphitheater Plays were performed in HUGE outdoor amphitheatres that could seat 40,000 people (Yankee Stadium seats 52, 325) No microphones! But you can hear a penny drop from all the way at the top!
Cast And action All actors were men. They wore masks to depict which characters they were. There were no scene changes (no backstage!) The audience knew the story ahead of time. The emotion of the characters was what they came to see. Violent action took place offstage (I.e. audience had to imagine it). Messengers then told the audience what happened.
Unity of Time, Place, and Action Greek plays were much different from the films we are used to: The unity of action: Play follows one main storyline with no or few subplots. The unity of place: play occurs in a single place and does not change setting (the stage represents one place) The unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.
So what is the chorus? The chorus was a group of 12-15 men who sang and danced during the plays. They often represent the community’s thoughts but not necessarily the poet’s thoughts. In Oedipus Rex, the chorus is made of senators – wise old guys!
The Role of the Chorus To set the mood of the play and tell us the themes To interpret the action in relation to the law of the state and the law of the Olympian gods To divide the action and offer reflection on events To give background information (Think of it like you have all your grandparents, aunts, and uncles sitting around commenting on your life)
Structure of Tragedy A Greek Tragedy alternates between odes and episodes Odes are songs sung by the chorus to comment on the action Episodes are when characters talk together (Dialogue)
In more detail… Prologue: The first part of the play that give background information. Parodos: The first song the chorus sings. Choral Ode: At the end of each episode, the other characters leave the stage and the chorus sings!
The End Exodos: At the end of play, the chorus exits singing a processional song which usually offers words of wisdom related to the actions and outcome of the play. This is the “moral” of the story where the chorus tells us what we were have supposed to learn from the characters
Exit Slip What is an ode? What is an episode? How do they work in a Greek Tragedy? What does unity of time and place mean in Greek tragedy? Name 2 purposes of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. What would be the benefit of being in a chorus?