This Lavery in Frozen and Arthur Miller in A

This essay will discuss how
contemporary tragedy plays, whilst retaining some aspects or features of a
chorus, have changed and developed from the use of chorus used in such plays as
Sophocles’ Antigone in order to
appeal to a modern-day audience. It will use the work of playwrights, Bryony
Lavery in Frozen and Arthur Miller in
A View from the Bridge to show that,
whilst elements of a traditional chorus are incorporated within their plays,
they have adapted their use to ensure that the performances better suit a
modern-day audience.

A traditional Greek chorus was
known to inform and comment on the line of action within a play, using song,
choreography and recitation. This chorus had a regular structure and form which
was the ‘social reality’ for a Greek audience, however, it could be argued that
overtime the role of the chorus has evolved and progressed so that, whilst
today, we still incorporate choral aspects to narrate a modern play, as Helen H
Bacon points out using an identical formation of a chorus would give the impression
of being an “…artificial artistic convention” 1(Bacon
1994,2). This creates the idea that today the use of a chorus in its original form
could create alienation for an audience. 

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The original Greek tragedy Antigone has the structure of the
chorus’ presence throughout as the “chorus performance followed a pattern” 2(Smith
2003, 6). Antigone follows the traditional Greek tragedy formation of the plays
structure Prologos (an interchange between actors) followed by Parados (entry
song, where the Chorus enter and explain the background to the story), Episodes
followed by Stasimons until they reach the final stages of the play Epilogos
and Exodos. Within the prologos Antigone is conversing with her sister Ismene
informing her that, by royal decree, their brother Polyneices is to remain
unburied whilst she is determined to bury him. The chorus then proclaim “Eye of
golden day! O marching light are cross the eddy and rush of Dirce’s stream”
(Act 5, Pg. 1) and these positive words contrast with the bleak interchange
between Antigone and Ismene, foretelling the audience the “conflicts between
family and state…justice, and mercy.”3
(Smith 2003,3) This adherence to a pattern is not as apparent in modern plays
as neither Lavery and Miller appear to follow this clear pattern in their
plays. In A View from the Bridge for
example there is no Prologos as Alfieri directs the action from the outset
(i.e. the first scene would be equivalent to the Parados), setting the scene
when he states:

“You wouldn’t have known it, but
something amusing has just happened…” (Act 1, Pg. 1)

This differs again in Frozen because although the play starts
with the character of Agnetha, her initial monologue does not explain the
background for the play but rather is indicative of her mental state. The
aspect of the role of chorus becomes clearer later as she begins to interact
with the other characters, Ralph and Nancy. 

The Athenian theatre had a foremost
importance in society in reference to both the political and religious aspects
at the time. Theatrical performances would be performed, during the religious
festival, in honour of the god Dionysus. This commemorative theatre was used as
a form of expression of both the human condition and political issues. Involvement
in these performances was considered to be of high importance in fact on an
equal level with certain acclaimed professions. Helen H Bacon acknowledges, “participation
in some state sponsored choruses, like other forms of public service, exempted
the performers from military service”4
(Bacon 1994, Pg.11). This suggests that working in a chorus held significant
value within society and this may have been because the chorus not only had the
ability to comment on the dramatic action within a play, but more importantly
it reflected societies opinion, thus having the ability to direct the audience
beliefs. Focusing on the importance of theatre within society in the Greek
period there is evidentially a change in the role of theatre to today. 

 

Theatre in modern society consists of
two main factors: a prominent level of entertainment and an economical
contribution to a country’s economy. These main factors contribute to the idea
that there is a key difference in the use of theatre today, and are evidential
importance as to why the eternal elements of a play have too reformed. However,
it is also apparent that still in today’s society current social issues can be
explored with the audience being faced with plays, which portray a current
issue such as race, LGBT, feminism. The focus that the narrative of the plays
themselves provides however, contrasts with how a Greek chorus formerly would
be used as a fundamental element to “show the views of society” and represent
the “cultural standards”5
(Gill 2017). These evidences provide the idea of the requirement of a chorus to
enable a continuous political and social voice narrative. Whilst acknowledging
this contribution, it is apparent that for a modern theatre a chorus is not a necessity
as the main characters within the play often direct and enable the audience to
understand and focus on the issues being explored. Hence due to a character’s
development in contemporary plays they (the characters) provide an explanation
of their own thoughts and feelings to the circumstances. Miller demonstrates
this at points within A View from the Bridge, 

Catherine: I’m afraid of Eddie here (Act 2, Pg. 55)

 

This is an example of the character
(Catherine) explaining how she is feeling to another character and also in turn
relaying her own emotions to the audience. Catherine’s thoughts “I’m afraid of
Eddie here” (Act 2,Pg.55) could be perceived at this point, as a direct parallel
to the Greek chorus providing an insight into a view on society. Miller could also
perhaps be using Catherine’s opinion as a collective interpretation of the young
women in society becoming independent and the responding male’s (Eddie)
resentment. The character of Catherine in this moment is displaying two
elements of the chorus in a deconstructed form as not only is Catherine
explaining her emotions and feelings towards Eddie but also the collective view
that women should be able to be more autonomous in their choice of husband.

Lavery’s Frozen follows the form of the relaying of emotions to the audience
through the three characters. The three characters all indicate their emotions
in relation to the events that have taken place, through the use of monologues
with each character demonstrating his or her perception of the story and it is
from these monologues that the audience are able to understand how their
stories begin to intertwine as each character connects with one another. This
is similar to the way that the collective chorus would highlight thoughts and
feelings of the character for example in Antigone:
‘Chorus: That furious king’ (750) declaring the king is furious towards his own
actions whereas the characters within Frozen
reiterate their feelings themselves for example Agnetha, who can be seen to
uphold the choral role when she says: “wwwwaaaaahhhhhh mmmaaaaahhh come
on…plane to catch….!”(Act 1 P.g 6). The audience can observe, through the
breakdown of her speech and her inability to be fully coherent, a reflection on
her unstable character and this also provides tension through raising the
questions such as ‘why is she nervous?’, ‘what has occurred to make her this
uncoordinated?’  This provides evidence of
the ability for a single character to directly display their own feelings to
the audience enabling the audience to feel like a “privileged spectator” but at
the same time feels “connected” (Smith 2003,Pg.5CS1 )
which provides an indication at how contemporary playwrights have transpired one
of the influences of a chorus into a singular character.

Aristotle positions the role of the
chorus within chapter 18 of his Poetics where
he asserts, “The chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it should
be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action” presenting the idea
the chorus as one a ‘collective character’6
(Weiner 1980, 1) would have be to the equivalent degree to which Antigone or
Creon are also present characters in the play. Aristotle notes Sophocles has
the correct manner in the approach to the chorus whereas Euripides’ choruses
are every so often ‘criticised’. For Sophocles enables the chorus as Aristotle
decrees to ‘share in the action’ within Antigone.

CHORUS:

 But she was born of heaven, and you

are woman, woman-born. If her death
is yours,

A mortal woman’s, is this not for
you,

Glory in our world and in the world
beyond (680)

 

The chorus in this moment is
conversing with Antigone, questioning her reflection on her life in comparison to
that of the God Niobe. This is the chorus not only echoing Antigone’s internal
thoughts and introducing moral comments through “raising questions” but in turn
beginning to envisage and build Antigone into the Hero of the tragedy for the
audience, supporting Aristotle’s principle through being able to share the
action, the chorus can form a continuous narrative guiding the audience’s
opinion.

 Acknowledging Aristotle’s opinion of the
chorus being completely involved within the action this opinion has transpired
into A View from the Bridge and Frozen in which both playwrights use a
replacement of the chorus into one singular character, Agnetha (Frozen) and Alfieri (A View from the Bridge) abiding to
Aristotle’s decree in Poetics “The
poet should devote his choruses with the same care and attention that he
devotes to his actors” in which both playwrights should dedicate the importance
to the actors playing the main characters equally to the chorus, in this sense
both have turned the chorus into another actor refraining from them appearing
to be “interludes” instead remaining “relevant to the plot”7 (Weiner 1980, Pg.2) CS2 Observing
the use of Alfieri in his contribution to the plot he appears not to be a central
character, however he remains direct to the line of action, and without his
presence there would not be a progression of the play. CS3 This
is similar to the use of a chorus who do not appear to be a central character
but assist in the directing the line of action within the plays to develop on
the central themes.

Miller uses Alfieri, in a form
which is parallel to Sophocles use of the chorus, using him as a narrator to
the events in which Alfieri both advises and questions Eddie without becoming a
direct influencer or contributor to the events. The involvement of Alfieri
strengthens the plot as he informs the audience and comments on the characters
situation from a second-hand point of view, through his display of information
from a non-involved point of view, he is in turn connecting the audience to the
action as they become on the level of involvement as him.

Even within Alfieri’s advice to
Eddie he remains on the outskirts of the action offering him facts in response thus
preventing his opinion becoming an element in the plot – Alfieri clarifies “I’m
warning you – the law is nature” (Act 2 Pg.54) At this point Miller is using
Alfieri to influence Eddie but only to the extent that he is able to advise him
by what he (Alfieri) knows, meaning that Eddie must draw his own conclusion for
his actions. Evidencing how Alfieri is a spectator looking in and commenting on
the story, observing to provide advice through facts. Miller’s technique to provide
Alfieri with a limited involvement in the action of the plot enables the
character to deliver a reliable plausible narration for a modern audience
enabling the progression of the tragedy.

 

In contrast to Alfieri’s spectator
role Lavery makes Agnetha into a pivotal character within the story. Agnetha
challenges the characters Nancy and Ralph, differing from the traditional
observant chorus who advise a character to eventually form their own
conclusion; Agnetha instead has a personal and fundamental contribution to the
plot. Agnetha as a psychiatrist intends to bring Ralph (the perpetrator of the
crime) and Nancy (who due to his actions has become a victim) together providing
the peripeteia of the play. Through Agnetha challenging the characters she also
challenges the appearance of the themes for the audience from appearing to be a
play based on podophylla and anger into using forgiveness as a way to move on.
It is evident that without Agnetha’s assistance the play would be unable to develop,
and the characters would remain ‘frozen’ by the events that have occurred. It
is through her interactions that Ralph is able to reach anagnorisis, realising
he has caused hurt not only to Rhona but to Nancy as well, and as a result he becomes
contrite for his actions.  In the moment
when Ralph is writing a letter of apology he writes “I am beginning to think” (Act
2 Pg. 72), this is a display of the physical impact that Agnetha has produced.
Through Agnetha’s investigation into Ralph’s past she has in turn been able to
access his deepest secrets and, as a chorus, has revealed to the audience his
emotions and feelings with regard to his past, which has led him to become the
person, he is. Ralph begins to feel a pain within himself and Agnetha proposes
“What you maybe feeling is remorse” (Act 2 Pg. 75). It is at this point that she
is identifying Ralph’s emotions both to himself and to the audience. It becomes
evident Agnetha’s analysis of Ralph is “essential to the development of the
drama” in order for him to “reach the climax of recognition”8
(Cammaerts 1922, Pg. 214) in this circumstance it is the recognition of his
remorse. From a modern audience perspective, the gradual progress in which Agnetha
has encouraged and influenced Ralph to successfully reach this conclusion is
noticeable. This way may not have been possible if Lavery were to register
Agnetha as an observer role to the action as Miller assigned to Alfieri.

 

In conclusion, whilst it is evident
that the use of an apparent physical chorus has diminished overtime, with
modern playwrights often using the characters themselves to display their own
emotions, it is clear that the elements and purpose of a chorus still remain
and are vital within tragedies. Both Lavery and Miller are example playwrights
of this notion; by condensing the chorus into the individual characters of Agnetha
and Alfieri, they underline Aristotle’s belief that the chorus should appear to
act as one whole voice rather than the voice of many actors. These characters
have been used to represent and uphold the purpose of a chorus to “comment on
the dramatic action in a collective way”9(Kilby 2015, Pg.7CS4 )
and to also raise questions and judgements for the audience. It is apparent
that although today tragedies do appear to have an absence of the traditional
chorus, aspects and features do remain. The elements of a chorus are
characteristics of a tragedy and are clearly necessary in order to progress the
narrative of the play and connect the themes and actors to the audience.

1  Bacon, Helen H.
“The Chorus in Greek Life and Drama.” Arion: A Journal of
Humanities and the Classics 3, no. 1 (1994): 6-24.

 

2 Smith,
Nola “Strategies of Greek Tragedy: The Chorus and the Structure of Antigone”,
(2003): 1-6

3 Smith, Nola “Strategies of Greek Tragedy” (2003) 1-6

 

4
Bacon, Helen H. . “The Chorus in Greek Life and Drama.” no. 1 (1994):
6-24.

5 Gill, N.S Greek Theatre Study Guide 2017

 

6 Weiner, Albert. “The Function of the Tragic Greek
Chorus.” Theatre Journal 32, no. 2 (1980): 205-12.

 

7 Weiner,
Albert. “The Function of the Tragic Greek Chorus.” Theatre Journal
32, no. 2 (1980): 205-12.

 

8 Cammaerts,
Emile. “Incidental Scenes and the Greek Chorus.” The North American
Review 215, no. 795 (1922): 212-19.

9 KILBY, PATRICK. “A Greek Chorus.” In NGOs and Political
Change: A History of the Australian Council for International Development,
1-24. Australia: ANU Press, 2015

 CS1Is
that supposed to be page 5? Earlier referencing has Pg.

 CS2Again
here with the page number? I am probs wrong though

 CS3This
is one sentence

 CS4Page
number?