The role of Chorus in Electra and Hippolytus
Both Sophocles’ Electra and Euripides’ Hippolytus are two Greek classic plays in which
Chorus plays a vital role. Generally in play, Chorus is presented as a group of people who observe the incidents of the play and convey the messages to the readers. In Electra, Sophocles presents Chorus as a group of women of Mycenae and in Hippolytus, Euripides presents Chorus as a group of Trozen women.The role and function of Chorus in both plays are described below.
Electra is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles set in the city of Argos a few years after the
Trojan War, it is based around the character of Electra, and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father,Agamemnon.Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, rescued her young brother Orestes from her mother by sending him to Strophius of Phocis. The play begins years later when Orestes has returned as a grown man with a plot for revenge, as well as to claim the throne.
The Chorus plays a large part in establishing the tone of the play. In many ways, this
group of women guides the readers as to how to react to the action on stage. In this case, we see that the Chorus agrees that she has been treated terribly since her father died, and they lament her situation. Even they also try to console Electra when she feels alone in her own place. They say-
“You are not alone, dear child, in the sorrow which moves you more than the others who share your home.”
They share her grief when she thinks that Orestes is dead and her joy when he shows up alive. When Electra laments for her brother Orestes, the Chorus says-
“Is there no Sun to light, no thunder in heaven, none to smite such infamy?”
Again when Electra and Orestes go into the palace, the Chorus gives audiences an indication that something is going to be happened. They say-
“Now the defender of the dead creeps into his father’s house…leads him on the end;
the waiting is over.”
And just after a while, through the Chrous’ words the readers come to know that Clytemnestra,
the murderer of Electra and Orestes’ father, Agamemnon, is no more, as they say-
“The curse has its way; the dead speak from the earth; the tide is turned and the bloodies sucked from the slayer by the slain of long ago.”
But the Chorus also gives Electra a hard time, especially at the beginning of the play
whenshe debates with Chrysothemis about how to live their lives in light of their father’s
murder. The Chorus actually takes Chrysothem is’ side- they encourage Electra to move on like her sister, to start thinking pragmatically instead of idealistically. This tension is important – the Chorus does not just echo Electra’s ideas here. Thus the Chorus plays a very important role in the play Electra.
Again in Hippolytus, the Chorus is found playing a vital role. Hippolytus is a tragedy by
the ancient Greek playwright Euripides. It is based on the myth of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, and how a series of misunderstandings and the meddling of the God’s result in his death and that of his stepmother, Phaedra. In this play, the Chorus consists of women living in Trozen. Present for most of the play’s action, the Chorus becomes an unwitting confidante of Phaedra, and privy to this additional information, the Chorus attempts to discourage Theseus from enacting his wrath against Hippolytus.
However, the women must abide by an oath of silence that prevents them from fully
explaining Phaedra’s lust and suicide. The Chorus does promise to Phaedra and say-
“I swear by Zeus’s daughter, holy Artemis, to disclose nothing of what you
have suffered here.”
Even the news of Phaedra’s death is also known to the readers by the Chorus’ words when they say-
“It is done, then, and all over now. The queen is dead.”
Even knowing the truth, the Chorus cannot reveal it to Theseus when he accuses and punishes Hippolytus for Phaedra’s death without giving the king some indications. For example, the Chorus says-
“The wheel has turned; disaster follows on disaster. Fate is irresistible, and there is no escape.”
Thus with such kind of witty words the Chorus conveys important information and reveals
significant moment to the readers. In the end also the Chorus’ words shows a great sympathy to the tragic hero Hippolytus as they say-
“When great men die their remembered story stirs the greater grief.”
The Chorus fulfills its traditional role of providing context, continuity, and commentary
on the action of the play. The women frequently comment on the thematic elements of the play, lamenting the horrific power that love wields.
Thus in both plays the Chorus plays a vital role. They decorate the plays with the
witty words which help the readers to understand many hidden truths easily. And both Sophocles and Euripides portray the image of the Chorus as a significant role in the plays.