The Role of the Chorus in Antigone and Oedipus the King
Sophocles wrote many works during his life, but none is more remembered than "Oedipus Rex." This play is fairly well known and respected as a work of art. Although some people don't realize that this play was the second in a series of three plays written by Sophocles. These plays are very old and represent a simpler time of royalty, honor, and prophecy. The plays have many similarities and differences within them; for example a “chorus” of men supports them all.
The three plays, which are very obviously linked together by the chronological order in which the myth is presented, are also very similar in the function of the chorus in each. Each play contains a chorus of "elders," these are, the "old wise men." These men have lived their entire lives in the city and are greatly respected by the citizens for their leadership roles in the community. The chorus also represents women, children, and soldiers, but they are in the background and basically being spoken for.
Probably the earliest of these works is "Antigone." In this work we recognize the concern with public morality, but Sophocles is careful to make sure that his chorus does not become outspoken against the basic ideas of the play. It seems Sophocles intended the act of burying Polyneices to start the disputes in the play. It is generally seen that Antigone's burial of Polyneices is the "right thing," and Creon's opposition to the burial was a sign of his tyranny, although it can sometimes be hard to determine which side the chorus supports throughout the play.
The chorus can be read into in a few different ways. One way is to interpret the chorus as fully devoted to Creon throughout the play, but tend to drift away at certian moments. The next logical interpretation would be to look at the chorus as supporters of Antigone, maybe even her secret supporters from the beginning. Possibly the safest way to read the chorus is to view them as the "middlemen." These are the people who really don't show support one way or another, but they are around to keep everything in order and to pass along ideas to better the situation.
The chorus in Antigone is described as "Theban Elders." This gives the appearance of old age and devotion to the city of Thebes. Besides the fact of being described as "aged," dialogue reveals an age. The chorus leader once says the he has known Teiresias for a true prophet "Well, I know, since the hair on my head went gray, he’s never lied to Thebes." (Sophocles: lines 1216-1218, p. 661). Later in the play, the chorus is referred to as "Lords of Thebes." This is an obvious sign of high ranking, at least in the townspeople's eyes.
The "Theban elders" are summoned by Creon who attempts enlist their active cooperation in helping to prevent the burial. The chorus misunderstands Creon's request and they use their age as an excuse from the task at hand. In turn Creon continues to force his position upon them and they finally agree only after expressing fear of punishment or even death. Again the chorus sings to no one. They are the only ones around, so we must assume that they are having a discussion amongst themselves. They seem to talk around the subject and yet again take no stand either way and leave us in suspense.
Over and over again, the chorus plays itself on a fine line. This may be one of the things that holds this play together and keeps interest sparked in the reader or viewer's mind. For example, during a confrontation between Antigone and Creon, both characters direct themselves to the chorus only to no true response.
In the final scene, we finally get an "in your face" response from the chorus. They make it known now that they believe Creon was wrong. This doesn't necessarily prove that they felt that way all along or not, but now we know for a least the present. The "Lords of Thebes" will now blame Creon, but are careful not to do it in his face. They also discuss the acceptance of fate; if you are destined for something, nothing can stop it from