What is the main contribution made by the chorus in The Burial at Thebes?

What is the main contribution made by the chorus in The Burial at Thebes?

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Heaney’s play The Burial at Thebes is a version of the Greek tragedy Antigone by the Athenian dramatist Sophocles (c496-406 BCE). According to Heaney it is not a translation but a version as he was “looking for meaning not language” (Heaney, 2009, CDA5937, The Burial at Thebes - Interviews). This is in keeping with the commissioning of the play to celebrate 100 years of the Abbey theatre in 2004 as the founders, W.B Yeats and Lady Gregory, were Irish “cultural nationalists” (Hardwick, 2008, p193) . The change in title from the traditional Antigone to The Burial at Thebes moves the emphasis away from the characters to the “controversial question of the burial of a prince, who was regarded as a turncoat” (Theocharis, 2009, CDA5937, The Burial at Thebes - Interviews) enabling Heaney to intertwine the tradition Greek ideology with Irish nationalism.

The chorus in Greek tragedy is defined as a group of people who often participate in and comment on the dramatic action, emphasising traditional moral and social attitudes and providing commentary (Moohan, 2008). In Greek theatre they also provided a more practical role, entertaining the audience during the play with songs and dance and allowing the performers to change. Most performers performed two or more roles known as doubling. In The Burial at Thebes the director, John Theocharis (2009), states that the chorus also adds dramatic tension and suspense whilst creating subjective and objective voices that underpin the context of the play.
In looking at the contribution that the chorus makes this essay will look at the various functions of the chorus - their role as a commentator, participating in and commenting on the dramatic action and how they present traditional moral and soci...


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...ture of the play, mainly based on the Greek, outlines these values in poetical format in the Choral Odes. The chorus’ commentary on the characters and drama and its subsequent participation pushes the plot towards traditional ideas with the encapsulation in their ending summation.



Works Cited

Hardwick, L. (2008), ‘Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes’, in Brown, R (ed.), Cultural Encounters (AA100 Book3), Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp.192-235
Heaney, S. (2004), The Burial at Thebes, London, Faber and Faber Ltd
Heaney, S. (2009), CDA5937 The Burial at Thebes – Interviews (AA100 Audio CD), Milton Keynes, The Open University
Moohan, E (2008), ‘Glossary’, in Moohan E (ed.), Reputations (AA100 Book1), The Open University, pp.231-238
Theocharis, J (2009), CDA5937 The Burial at Thebes – Interviews (AA100 Audio CD), Milton Keynes, The Open University

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