The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Chorus: In Greek drama, a group of people who sang and danced, commenting on the action of the play. A chorus was also used to chant odes. The chorus has its origins in an ancient Greek religious event and was later used in Greek tragedies and Roman plays. The use of such choruses generally declined with the continuing development of drama. By Elizabethan times, the chorus, when used, often comprised a single character delivering a prologue and epilogue and occasionally making other explanatory remarks, such as introductions and notes on offstage happenings delivered at the beginning of an act. Modern critics have adopted the term choral character or chorus character to refer to a character in a work who comments on characters and events, thereby providing the audience with an additional perspective. Although choral characters are occasionally used today, few modern or contemporary plays use actual choruses.
EXAMPLES: Plays by the ancient Greek dramatists Sophocles and Aeschylus typically contain choruses with an active role. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon (1865), a late Victorian closet drama deeply influenced by Greek tragedy, has a chorus, as do two modernist works, T. S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and W. H. Auden’s Christmas oratorio For the Time Being (1944). Woody Allen’s film Mighty Aphrodite (1995) is one of the few more recent works to include a chorus. The Fool in William Shakespeare’s King Lear (1606) is often cited as an example of a choral character.