Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Book Chapter

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Choral Mediations in Greek Tragedy

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In ancient Greek culture, the chorus was a social and religious institution, a musical form, and a medium for the telling of stories, but also a situation, an event, an experience, about which there were stories to be told. As the tragedians transformed traditional choral performance into the acting­ out of mythical narratives, they drew on those stories, both directly and indirectly, as sources and models for dramatic action. My concern here is with the chorus as a subject of tragedy as well as feature of tragic form, and with the place of choral experience in the inner world of the tragic plot. Most theories of the tragic chorus go outside that world to find the chorus' meaning: the chorus is identified with the playwright, whose views it supposedly voices; with an ideal audience (most influentially by Schlegel); or with the original fifth-century audience, whether as citizens of the polis (Vernant), ordinary observers of the rich and famous (Griffith), soldiers-in-training (Winkler), or regular participants in religious rituals (Henrichs). But the circumstances of being in a chorus, or of being an individual who interacts with a chorus, are also significant as elements within the fictional scenarios acted out on the tragic stage.

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© Cambridge University Press 2013. Reprinted with permission from Cambridge University Press.

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Date Posted: 04 January 2017