Question: Discuss the Role and Function of the Chorus in Agamemnon.
In most Greek tragedies, the author uses the chorus as a tool to comment on the action of the play. Chorus does not play an active role in the story, which means if the chorus is removed, the plot will not be affected. Aeschylus (525/524 – 456/455 BC) uses a different form of the chorus to emphasize specific themes and to develop the plot more effectively to practicality than artistic or philosophical. The chorus basically sings to create background descriptions and environments.
Advisor and commentator
The chorus is the group of senior citizens of Argos, who were too old to fight in the Trojan War. They act as advisors to Queen Clytemnestra in Agamemnon’s absence and provide commentary on the play’s action.
Mood driver and critic
The chorus always manages the mood of the play and sometimes relates to the social customs of the time. In this case, how Agamemnon’s death has turned Argos into turmoil is related to how women are expressed in The Oresteia. Clytemnestra is their new leader but they are dissatisfied because they live in a patriarchal society where women should be suspected while ruling a city. When Clytemnestra tells the chorus that King Priam of Troy has been captured, they answer:
Chorus: what? I cannot believe you; I cannot understand.
Clytemnestra: Troy is a Greek city now. Are my words clear?
Chorus: Joy steals over me, and calls out tears, too.
Clytemnestra: Your eyes proclaim you a subject true and loyal.
Chorus: What makes you trust the news? Have you proof of it?’’
Thus, the chorus questions whether Clytemnestra is telling the truth or not. It shows the audience that women should not be trusted and not replace male leadership at all.
Indicator of future events
The speeches of chorus provide a background of the action, as they narrate the events of the Trojan War, discuss the dangers of human pride and they foretell the death of the king. They express the same mixed feelings like the watchman who is appointed to forecast Agamemnon’s homecoming.
The use of chorus depends entirely on the needs of the playwright and the play. Coral music helps create the environment. They also create a backdrop of horrific violence that will soon follow as the root of the tragedy. For example; it is not only Clytemnestra who makes Chorus worried about Agamemnon but they are also worried that the king himself is burdened with guilt. They inform the audience in detail how Agamemnon himself inherited a family curse from Atreus and faced the consequences of guilt. Second, Agamemnon is guilty of sacrificing his innocent daughter, Iphigenia. When the chorus expresses their concern, suspense gets risen within the audience about what is going to happen after Agamemnon’s homecoming. Thus, the chorus plays the role of suspense creator in the famous tragedy Agamemnon.
Skeptical and grief-stricken rebellious
The chorus gives the audience a complete indication of the drama. Hearing the news that the Trojan War is over, they are skeptical because they understand that something bad will happen and they are right. Here they express their feelings in the following way;
‘’I am all bewildered about what road to take as the house falls; my wits are deserted by their skillful carefulness. I fear the crash of the bloody torrent of rain that will shake the house to its foundation.’’
The conversation between Chorus and Cassandra is also extremely dramatic. They get surprised at her prediction that Agamemnon and she will be killed as soon as possible. Shortly after the conversation, Clytemnestra comes and announces that she has killed both Agamemnon and Cassandra. Hearing this, the chorus becomes grief-stricken. When Aegisthus begins to show his rage against Agamemnon, the chorus protests vehemently and promises that Orestes will come and cleanse the House of Atreus.
Various critics have objected to the chorus’s inaction. When Agamemnon cries for help, and when Agamemnon’s voice is heard from the house, the chorus argues somewhat foolishly instead of doing something and then decides to do nothing. It makes the chorus seems to be the coward band of ridiculous old men.
We can conclude that the chorus in the tragedy Agamemnon is very distinctive though still typical. The chorus actually acts as a foil to soothe the character of the leading personality. Although it is not basic in the plot of the drama, it can be considered the life of the plot of the tragedy.