The Chorus in Antigone

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master's in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University and a BS in Psychology. She is also a contracted freelance writer and certified AP Test Reader.

No one likes hearing 'I told you so,' but sometimes it needs to be said. In this lesson, we will learn about the role of the chorus in the play 'Antigone,' how it connects to Greek Theater, and why 'I told you so' needs to be said at the end of the play.

Lost in Translation

Have you ever watched a movie and felt lost in the middle of it, having thoughts like 'who is that guy' or 'why did that woman just slap that guy in the face?' Wouldn't it be great if you could have someone with you to guide your reactions and fill in the plot gaps? Well, in Ancient Greek plays, the chorus did just that.

In the play Antigone, the chorus summarizes the action on stage, explains background information, and offers insight regarding conflicts and choices. Let's take a look at the role of the chorus and analyze how their interaction with the characters affects the outcome of the play.

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  • 0:00 Lost in Translation
  • 0:37 Role of the Chorus
  • 1:20 Function of the Chorus
  • 4:35 Role in Antigone
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Role of the Chorus

In Ancient Greek drama, the chorus was a group of actors that commented on the action happening in the play, offering their opinions and wisdom to aid the characters on stage and the members of the audience. The chorus has been known to dance, sing, and speak their minds to guide the audience's emotional reactions to the events occurring on stage. In Greek tragedies, the chorus represented the average citizen's fears, hopes, and judgments.

In the play Antigone by Sophocles, the chorus and chorus leader represent the people of Thebes who attempt to talk rationality into the main character, Antigone, and the king, Creon. Unfortunately, wisdom is found too late, and the 'I told you so' comes from this group at the end of the performance.

Function of the Chorus

Now, let's examine the different functions of the chorus. The first is foreshadowing. The chorus tells the audience hints and clues as to what will occur later in the play. In Antigone, the chorus foreshadows Antigone and Creon's downfall by singing about the 'mastery of man' and his limits. The chorus says man has conquered 'all but death,' which foreshadows what is in store for Antigone. They also sing of 'unsavory ambition,' or excessive pride, which foreshadows Creon's hamartia, or tragic flaw.

The second is background Information. The chorus provides the audience with background information that is not actualized in the play. After the Prologue, the chorus sings about Antigone's brothers who were killed during a battle for the throne and the joys of victory. This information gives the audience the background they need to understand Antigone and Creon's conflict and also shows how the people of Thebes are now relieved from pain, as this war caused terror in their homeland.

Next, the chorus provides odes and prayers. The chorus begins to chant to Dionysus and dance after Antigone is locked away in the vault preparing to hang herself. These prayers remind the audience to recognize Dionysus's presence, as the god himself is connected to the concept of transgression, which Antigone and Creon have committed at the outset of the play. After Scene 5, the chorus chants to the god, begging him to right the wrong of the city of Thebes and lift the curse caused by Antigone's family name and Creon's pride.

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