Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Welsh, Wil

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Theatre Arts


Sophocles; Drama--Chorus (Greek drama)


This study is an examination of the dramatic functions of the chorus and the choral odes in the extant tragedies of Sophocles. Its purpose is to determine what principles determine the form and content of the Sophoclean odes and the nature of the chorus’ role in the plays. This analysis of the chorus' functions is in terms of what Aristotle called the formative elements of tragedy which arise from the action: plot, character, and thought. Those elements of plot, character, and thought having the greatest similarity are grouped together for study to determine if there are any observable patterns in Sophocles' hand­ling of the chorus. The chorus' first contribution to plot is to the exposition of the story, both by providing information themselves and by eliciting it from others. Their contribution to the advancement of the action varies from extensive participation in the physical activity to remain­ing throughout largely as interested spectators. When they are most active, it is in the early part of the drama, and their role is then reduced to spectator at the end. When they have little part in the action, it is at the end that they finally intervene. The second aspect of plot is the part played by the choral odes in the formal structure of the plays. Sophocles' principal use of the odes in that structure is as an emotional control on the audience’s frame of mind from one scene to the next. Twice Sophocles uses parallel ode patterns to relate and unify disparate halves of the same play. In the others the odes are a counterpoint to the developing story, linking one scene to another in continuous dramatic build, although sometimes the odes set up sharp contrasts that heighten the dramatic effect of the catastrophe. All the characterizations of the chorus can be grouped into three groups of close parallels: (l) warrior-sailors with close allegiance to their leader; (2) sympathetic women who have an implicit alliance with the heroine; (3) city elders whose primary allegiance is to their city. The personality characteristics of the choruses are almost identical within each group. In the area of thought Sophocles frequently has the chorus comment on the powers affecting events, pointing up the central issues of the drama and the role of the gods in the action. His most distinctive technique has the chorus presenting mistaken thoughts or conclusions in order to create contrasts that heighten the audience's perception of the true meaning of the drama. In addition to the choral dialogues, Sophocles uses only six distinctly different types of choral ode: (l) dance-songs; (2) dirges of tragic revelation; (3) search-entrances; (4) reflective odes; (5) odes of transition; (6) narratives of legends and battles. Most types are used to achieve particular dramatic effects in conjunction with the scenes which precede and follow them, although the reflective odes have a more general purpose— to comment on the situation as a whole. Basic to Sophocles' handling of the chorus is the dual nature of the chorus' characterization: they are always characterized so that they are simultaneously characters in the drama and spectators o£ it. The chorus is a group of actors playing the role of relative spectators within the limits of the play. As interested observers they can comment on the action and reflect on the meaning of events without over-stepping their legitimate bounds as characters in the play. Their flexibility derives from the very nature of the dramatic convention of which they are a part. And in every case Sophocles adapts the use of the chorus to his specific artistic design.


Includes bibliographical references.


vi, 105 pages




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