Bruce Seaton
Essay #3 of 4
Final Exam
ENGL 202: Biblical & Classical Literature


The Greek tragedies Agamemnon and Oedipus Rex both make use of a group of characters called the “chorus” to forward the action of the plays, to garner sympathy for the heroes of the plays, and to draw the audience in, even if the audience is already aware of the outcomes of the stories. There are some differences between the specific uses of the chorus in these two plays, but the overall purpose of the groups in the two plays is the same.

In Oedipus, the chorus functions almost entirely as a normal character in the drama of the play, responding to others in the story, reacting to the action, and behaving in a fairly standard manner. The chorus also recounts what is happening in the plot by means of the “strophe/ antistrophe” verses, which could have been sung or spoken by the chorus. Further, the chorus is the “soul prophetic” of the play, foreshadowing the doom that is to befall Oedipus with doubts and desperately hoping that the prophecies are untrue. The chorus in Oedipus Rex has a more important role, however: to generate sympathy in the audience for Oedipus’s situation. When the truth is uncovered about Oedipus’s true identity, the chorus cries out in woe for him, and pities him greatly as he is banished by his own decree.

The chorus plays a similar but much larger role in Agamemnon than in Oedipus. The chorus has over half of the lines in the play, most of which deal with the voyage to, and the fall of Troy. The chorus recounts the fantastic and dangerous journey, telling the audience what has already come to pass. between lengthy narratives, the chorus also interacts with Clytemnestra, who they regard with a terrified loathing. As in Oedipus, the chorus garners sympathy for Agamemnon and for Cassandra, but the chorus in Agamemnon is responsible for almost the entire action of the play- the past.

In both plays, the chorus keeps the audience or reader intrigued with their ironic hope. In Oedipus, the chorus hopes that the terrible truth of Oedipus’s life is erroneous, and in Agamemnon, when the chorus waits outside the palace while Clytemnestra is killing Cassandra and Oedipus, they hope that the screams they hear from inside are not screams of death. They add an almost humorous element to this tragic moment by being totally unable to take any action on their own, doomed only to tell the tales of others.

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