The Strength of Minor Characters: The Function of Chorus in the Play Agamemnon

The character of ‘the Chorus’ in the play Agamemnon play a very huge role.  The Chorus in the context of the play is a group of elder citizens of Argos who play significant multifaceted roles like advisors, commentators, narrators, etc.

The chorus give us the context and the necessary information as seen in the earlier parts of the play – the background story of the Trojan War, the abduction of Helen and the ten years of war between Greece and Troy (“Ten years the great contestants of Priam’s right / Menelaus and Agamemnon, my lord / … / put forth from this shore / the strength and the armies.”) It also give us either detailed or lengthy descriptions of the important events that didn’t happen within the context of the play, like how Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia in vivid details (“Her supplications and her cries of father / were nothing, nor child’s lamentation / to kings passioned for battle.”) how Menelaus and other Greeks were lost in the sea (“Ship against ship the Thracian storm shattered us / and gored and split, our vessels, swept in violence / of storm and whirlwind, beaten by the breaking rain…”) as well as the lengthy descriptions of the destructive and powerful presence of the beautiful Helen of Troy “so fatally in every way” or “the bride of spears and blood”.  The chorus act like omniscient characters who know everything that is significant for the audience to know and the job is to convey it to the spectators.  Definitely the chorus work like a narrator, but only differs in the fact that they don’t have limited appearances or they don’t serve as mere introductions to jumpstart the actions or the movements of the play.

Another significant role that the chorus play is the fact that they are capable of giving us commentaries about a certain event or a character.  The chorus can also ask the main characters what are their motivations for their actions.  They judge the behaviors of the characters geared in an objective point of view, but nevertheless supplying us with its own biased opinions sometimes.  The chorus tells us first of Clytemnestra (“But you lady / … / What is there to be done? What new thing have you heard? / what report do you order such sacrifice?”) as the chorus demand to know why the queen has ordered sacrifices to all the gods and celebrations throughout the city for the coming of his husband Agamemnon when in fact he sacrificed their own daughter.  Such inquiry to the main character gives the Chorus the respected dominant stance in the play.  Even the chorus have already biased the audience about the title character Agamemnon who only appeared briefly on the play by their own descriptions about him: his tragic flaw in the form of excessive pride ‘hubris’ (“the sinful Daring”) and the lengthy and gruesome information about Iphigenia’s sacrifice.  The chorus are capable of analyzing characters through words as seen in the eyes of others, and this is probably the earliest extant technique of limited or peripheral point of view that is common in some stories or other forms of narratives.

Other functions of the chorus – they give us the sense of foreboding especially when the chorus converse with another character Cassandra and the sense of premonition when the chorus say that Orestes will return from exile to avenge his father’s death.  The chorus are capable of debate, and the chorus can deliberate among themselves what is the best thing to do, as seen in the scene when Aegisthus and Clytemnestra finally triumph to kill Agamemnon.

I feel that in this play the chorus is seen initially as minor character but when I read the text it feels like they play an important role as much as Clytemnestra or Agamemnon did.  The chorus embodies a whole, a oneness in character of the elders of Argos, and stand as a very powerful character for they act like an all-knowing people.  They can debate, discuss, comment, advise, and converse among other characters and most of all, they are the carrier of the narrative string of the play.

5 thoughts on “The Strength of Minor Characters: The Function of Chorus in the Play Agamemnon

  1. Excellent writing! Thank you Khareen. you;ve written good. i think chorus is chorus. he acts his role. the function of chorus in Agamemnon was how much apprppriate thats the point as you’ve given the heading. anyway, your presentation is good

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