“Texts are therefore not structures of presence but traces and tracings of otherness. They are shaped by the repetition and transformation of other textual structures,” said John Frow in his ‘Intertextuality and Ontology’. These definitive sentences are one of the ten theses he proposed to begin the theoretical discussion upon the term intertextuality. What is vehemently interesting in intertextuality to be talked about when observing the works of art? It is its use of the voluminously spacious and diversified word: text or texts. On the condition that we accept the theory of intertextuality, we are then prepared to accept that things, from the atomic to the gargantuan ones, are texts; and thus the prefix inter- indicates the interlocking connection which becomes ‘the blessed tie that binds’. This theory is then igniting a way of thinking that a textual form of creation does not stand alone in vacancy. So long as humans can track down histories, interconnections are more likely of the discovery.
In the realm of literature, in which text and its structure are of the essence, intertextuality is (almost) absolute. Goethe’s Faust would never exist without the influence of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. Shakespeare was influenced by Seneca, and Seneca by Sophocles. Putu Wijaya created his Aduh due to the influence coming from Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot, brought by W.S. Rendra to Indonesia in the late 1960s. And the very same Waiting for Godot indeed influenced an American playwright Edward Albee through his The Zoo Story. No matter how much accentual or subtle, or how much deliberate or with-no-preconceived-purpose, they are, influences (read: intertextuality) do exist. Especially, and yet indeed not only, in the works of literature intertextuality is ubiquitous. It is (not) surprisingly everywhere. ‘Repetition and transformation’, to name them in Frow’s terminologies, are the consequential effects produced by the intertextuality experienced by the ‘new’ texts. Since texts do have structures, again no matter how accentual or subtle they are, and since, to make it specific to the scope of our discussion, indeed literary texts have structures, contiguities of textual structures among literary works contribute the re-creations of form and content.
As for this short article, it is for sure the notion of intertextuality that induced me to observe the transformation of one of structural formal elements of a genre in literature, namely: drama. Throughout this writing I am trying to provide a comprehensive description about how an interactive intercreative dialogue done by playwrights has enabled a transformation of a formal element in traditional drama: the chorus. Let the show begin!
The Curiosity of the Chorus
What is chorus? Why has it become one of the formal conventions of drama? These what-and-why questions need to be asked to begin the discussion of its transformation.
The earlier meaning of chorus, etymologically derived from Greek khoros, is “a group of people, wearing masks, who sang or chanted verse while performing dancelike maneuvers at religious festivals”. In the tradition of Greek tragedies – in this, we have to note that Greek classical drama is up to now considered as the earliest root of English dramas – choruses were largely utilized. Greek classical drama itself “arose from choric dances in religious celebrations”. At this point, we have to bear in mind that the Greek tragedy was derived from the dithyramb, a lyrical expression of poetry presented in honor of Dionysus, one of the gods in Greek myth. This sacred lyric poetry is accentuated through the use of the so-called ‘dithyrambic chorus’. Hence, since the tradition of Greek tragedies is meant to be produced in line with religious activities, the use of dithyrambic chorus is of consequence.
Formerly, in the earliest Greek tragedy, the traditional chorus employed one actor and fifty chorus members, making the performance chiefly a choral one. Dithyrambic chorus then becomes a dramatic one when eventually the actor comes prominently out of the group, doing actions individually, detached from the leader of the chorus. In its earliest use, chorus was functioning as an entity which commented on, as well as giving some elementary interpretations to, the actions. This means that chorus, though still included in the major structure of the tragedy, worked separately from the actions; it served as a distinct element, probably an objective one, who was granted a right to contribute motivated commentaries to the actions played at the stage.
Apparently, in the history of Greek tragedies, a gradual shift happened. The performance was no longer choral; the actor and the dramatic elements appeared to be more significant. This is to say that, as seen in the works of Sophocles, chorus then functioned as merely and primarily lyrical. It also became less integral to the dramatic actions. Yet, it does not mean that it has no dramatic role in the actions anymore. As we may see in Oedipus Rex, for instance, there were times when Choragos, the leader of the chorus, exchanged words/dialogues with King Oedipus; this fact is observable, for instance, in the beginning of Scene One.
The functions of the chorus developed from its traditional conventions. It all started when a Roman playwright, Seneca, took over the Greek classical type of chorus. Moreover, in the mid-sixteenth century, English dramatists, some of which are Norton and Sackville, as in Gorbuduc, copied-and-pasted the type of chorus made use in Senecan dramas. This condition was then followed and developed at the time of Elizabethan theatre. Significant alternations occurred. One of the most considerable shifts is the drastic reduction of the number of people involving in a chorus. Only one person is employed in the Elizabethan theatrical chorus. Also at this time, the functions of the chorus, which in the Greek classical dramas were to comment and interpret actions happening on stage, had been made more numerous and diverse. For instance, the chorus actor gave speeches in the prologue and epilogue of a play. In several occasions, the actor was also meant to introduce each of the acts. Note that I now am using the term ‘actor’, rather than merely ‘chorus’. What does this mean? It means that ‘chorus’ was ascended, from its former status that was non-, or less, integral part to the actions, to “become more integral parts of the unified actions”. Moreover, as stated by Abrams, “[t]his character served as the author’s vehicle for commentary on the play,” and this traditional function is added, “as well as for exposition of its subject, time, and setting, and of events happening offstage.” These monumental shifts and additions are evident in Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Shakespeare’s Henry V, to mention a few.
The appearance of chorus (or, it is better to name it ‘choral actor’, since it is now more integral to the actions played), to an extent, may arise confusion. This is true remembering that a choral actor will present a theatrical trait which is different from the actors who are playing as dramatic personas of the drama. One of the most ‘distracting’ oddities of a choral actor is the direction to whom s/he mainly talks. A choral actor will tend to address the audience directly. This produces oddity since, as noted by Gill, in his Mastering English Literature, choral figure “openly advertises the artificiality of the stage by refusing to be a character like the others and talking directly to the audiences about what is going on.” Due to this condition, the existence of a chorus in drama is thus made as one of dramatic conventions; chorus is a dramatic condition the audience has to accept and agree with. And since it is now a convention, chorus is one more time ascended – its use is fully admitted integral to the whole structure of a drama; of course, this is true specifically for those plays which are utilizing chorus or choral characters in the stream of their dramatic structure.
The Development of Choral Techniques
In this part, I would like to present a discussion about the development of techniques of using chorus in drama. The texts that I am to compare are Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (representing Greek classical drama), William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (representing Elizabethan drama), and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (representing English 20th century drama). Here I will try to put forward how each text represents its technique of using chorus. By comparing the three, we will finally see that modifications, improvements, and alternations taking place starting from Elizabethan era are creative consequential efforts made up by the playwright to respond to the zeitgeist, the spirit of age, of their own time.
--Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex
As mentioned before, the organization of Greek theater is held as a part of a religious festival. It was at this time that the earliest standard technique of employing a chorus was established.
In Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, the use of chorus as the commenter and/or interpreter for the actions played on stage is significant. It is observable, for instance, in the Párados part. This expository part is divided into three ‘strophes’ and three ‘antistrophes’; and every strophe or antistrophe is a response/comment to the earliest part of the play: the Prologue. In the Prologue, which is opened by a scene where King Oedipus addresses his countrymen in a speech, it is told that Thebes, the setting of place for the play, is suffering from despair and plague. Here is the quote from line 25-34, uttered by the Priest.
Your own eyes
Must tell you: Thebes is tossed on a murdering sea
And can not lift her head from the death surge.
A rust consumes the buds and fruits of the earth;
The herds are sick; children die unborn,
And labor is vain. The god of plague and pyre
Raids like detestable lightning through the city,
And all the house of Kadmos is laid waste,
All emptied, and all darkened: Death alone
Battens upon the misery of Thebes.
This is then responded by the chorus in Strophe I, in a form of an emphasis to the dialogue spoken by the priest.
Fear unjoints me, the roots of my heart tremble.
Now I remember, O Healer, your power, and wonder:
Will you send doom like a sudden cloud, or weave it
Like nightfall of the past? (line 157-160)
The commentary from the chorus then comes in Antistrophe I. It commented on, in a form of a prayer, the despairing condition of Thebes.
Let me pray to Athenê, the immortal daughter of Zeus,
And to Artemis her sister
Who keeps her famous throne in the market ring,
And to Apollo, archer from distant heaven –
O gods, descend! Like three streams leap against
The fires of our grief, the fires of darkeness;
Be swift to bring us rest!
As in the old time from the brilliant house
Of air you stepped to save us, come again! (line 163-171)
Interestingly, the chorus does not only respond to a ‘general’ issue like the despair of Thebes; but it also reacts to a quite special one like what Kreon, the brother of Oedipus’ wife, Iokaste, has uttered previously in the Prologue part.
KRE. My lord: La?os once ruled this land, before you came to govern us.
OED. I know;
I learned of him from others; I never saw him.
KRE. He was murdered; and Apollo commands us now
To take revenge upon whoever killed him. (line 107-111)
The chorus commented this dialogue between Kreon and Oedipus, in which Kreon stated what he had learned from his journey to Delphi – he was sent by Oedipus to go to Delphi to find the remedies for the desperation Thebes was experiencing – that Apollo wanted people of Thebes to take revenge for the murder of La?os, their former king. The comment is given in the Párados part in Strophe 3.
Send the besieger plunging from our homes
Into the vast sea-room of the Atlantic
Or into the waves that foam eastward of Thrace –
For the day ravages what the night spares –
Destroy our enemy, lord of the thunder!
Let him be riven by lightning from heaven! (line 190-195)
In Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, the use of a chorus leader is significant. The utilization of a chorus leader, named Choragos in the play, is, in my opinion, maximal since he takes part in the actions of the play – he makes dialogues and also serves a role in the plot of the story. This is a little chunk of conversation between Oedipus and Choragos the Chorus Leader, in Scene I. They exchange dialogues right after Oedipus made a lengthy speech about the conditions he was about to do about the solving of La?os’ murder case.
CHORAG. Since I am under oath, my lord, I swear
I did not do the murder, I can not name
The murderer. Phoibos ordained the search;
Why did he not say who the culprit was?
OED. An honest question. But no man in the world
Can make the gods do more than the gods will.
Choragos also serves a role in the flow of the plot. He is the one who introduced Oedipus to the blind seer Teiersias, who later heightened the heat of the plot by addressing accusation to Oedipus.
The idea of opening and closing the drama is also done by the chorus in Oedipus Rex. Though the play is not technically opened by the chorus, since the Parados of the chorus appears after the Prologue, which is not done by the chorus, the play is indeed closed by the chorus leader Choragos.
CHORAG. Men of Thebes: look upon Oedipus.
This is the king who solved the famous riddle
And towered up, most powerful of men.
No mortal eyes but looked on him with envy,
Yet in the end ruin swept over him.
Let every man in mankind’s frailty
Consider his last day; and let none
Presume on his good fortune until he find
Life, at his death, a memory without pain. (line 1469-1477)
I found something interesting about the role of Choragos in the play. This finding will support that chorus, at least in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, is indeed an integral part to the dramatic actions. In Scene III, Oedipus and his wife, Iokaste, had an argument about Oedipus childhood history. Iokaste insisted that the questioning should not be continued since it would bring down doom to him; until finally Iokaste, frustrated with Oedipus’ stubbornness, left the place.
IOK. You are fatally wrong! May you never learn who you are!
OED. Go, one of you, and bring the shepherd here.
Let us leave this woman to brag of her royal name.
IOK. Ah, miserable!
That is the only word I have for you now.
That is the only word I can ever have.
[Exit into the palace] (line 1011-1019)
Responding to this situation, Choragus spoke
CHORAG. Why has she left us, Oedipus? Why has she gone? (line 1020)
Notice how Choragus brought the question to Oedipus. He used the first person plural (inclusive) pronoun ‘us’. The use of such pronoun explains that Choragus is an integral part of the story. He is one of the characters playing in the drama. He, as the chorus leader, is the entity representing that the function of chorus in Greek classical drama was not only lyrical, but also dramatic. Yet one has to admit that the dramatic function of chorus in Greek tragedy is less significant than its lyrical one; and this issue is what is extensively worked-out and developed in our modern drama.
--William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
As mentioned by Abrams, chorus is further used for its dramatic functioning rather than lyrical. Chorus is administered more roles in the play: it introduces the story (and frequently also closes it), puts forward commentaries upon the actions, brings the knowledge about the setting of place and time, and also telling events which are absent in the stage but are influential to the stream of the plot. Frankly speaking, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not the upmost instance of the development of chorus utilization technique in Elizabethan theatre. Shakespeare’s Henry V, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, or Twelfth Night by Shakespeare are considered more representative to signify the development of chorus utilization in Elizabethan dramas. Also, it is these plays mentioned just now which induced the more extended use of chorus – that modern drama critics have to attribute an additional specific terminology to cope with the metamorphosis of chorus; some name it ‘choral’ and some ‘chorus-like’. Yet, as for the interest of this writing, I decided to use Romeo and Juliet to be contrasted with another play we are about to discuss later, Wilder’s Our Town.
The chorus in Romeo and Juliet, one person dressed in black, appears twice during this five-act play: in the Prologue and in the opening of Act II. In the Prologue, the chorus is there to announce some general yet nucleic information regarding the story to be performed in the stage. He is there to give preconditions to the audiences, preparing them for the plot by providing some ‘clues’ which may lead to the exposition-conflict-resolution of the play. Here is the quotation showing how the chorus introduces the two general characters of Romeo and Juliet: the Montagues and the Capulets.
Chor. Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. (line 1-4)
In there, he altogether has also announced the setting of time where the play is (imagined) to take place. A little hint is also given, which, when observed, will bring understanding about the root of the conflict experienced by the Montagues and the Capulets (see line 3-4).
The chorus then continues his introductory speech by putting forward the preliminary information about the point at which the conflict in the play is to be arisen: the love between Romeo (son of Montague) and Juliet (daughter of Capulet).
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife. (line 5-8)
There is an interesting thing I found in the chorus’ introductory speech, i.e. the advertisement about the stage. In the Prologue, line 9 to 14, especially in line 12-14, the chorus clearly address to the probable duration of the stage playing the story.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parent’s rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Note the predicate is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage. Here the chorus plainly informs the duration of the play, which is to say that he is not a part of the actions (that he is not integral to the dramatic body of the story) and that things presented on stage is indeed a play – meaning to say that it is an entertainment. This is where the difference is located, when Elizabethan drama is compared with Greek tragedy. In Greek theater, the performance is held as a part of religious activity. Nonetheless, in Elizabethan era, plays are plays as entertainment is entertainment. Thus, it is understandable that Shakespeare came up with the idea of using the chorus to address technical information about the stage. We will see further that this technique is developed even more dramatically in Wilder’s Our Town.
Another different point that will be soon discovered, when comparing attentively Greek drama with Elizabethan drama, is the number of acts, which then brings consequences to the shifts in time-and-space setting. Oedipus Rex is drama in which the unity of time, place, and action is essential. This means that there is no time-and-place change in the play. The properties are just right there, on the stage, and need not to be (re)moved, added, reconfigured, or changed to produce different setting of time or place. However, the case is different when we come to Romeo and Juliet. There are five acts there and stage-scene changes do happen. Stage properties have to be changed or removed to come up with new settings. Again this is a matter of stage technicality. Yet, it indeed brings consequence to the use of chorus in, at least, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The appearance of the chorus in the opening of Act II is the example. In the copy of the play I was using as the data reference for this writing, the editor put a footnote regarding the appearance of the chorus in Act II. It is then understood that the chorus appears there not only because commentaries and preconditions need to be given to begin the new act; rather, it appears “affording time for scene change.” Apparently, the place setting of Act I (a square in Verona) is different from Act II, as we can see in the neben text: “Garden of Capulet’s House, with garden-wall, and street adjoining. Full stage with balcony.” This massive change of place setting needs time. Therefore, in front of the being-closed curtain, the chorus is employed to give time for the change.
The appearance of choral or chorus-like character, in my opinion, is not absent in Romeo and Juliet, though we may say that it is more utterly in Henry V, for example. Escalus, the Prince of Verona, in the very last part of the play, performs himself as the one who ends the story, acting as the chorus-like character, who highly probably directly address and announce the audience, with a choral speech.
Prince: A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The Sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a Story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
[The scene closes] (Act V, Scene III, line 304-310)
There are two peculiarities which finally led me to the conclusion that the speech given by the Prince is chorus-like. The first one is the use of double-dots [:] after the name of the character, whereas throughout the script, the punctuation which distinguish the name of the character and the dialogue s/he is about to speak is a period [.]. The second peculiarity is the ambiguity of addressee to whom the speech is conveyed. We can see that the Prince used an imperative sentence “Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things,” This sentence, and the way the Prince close his speech, using a causal adverbial clause “For never was a Story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” after reminding that “Some shall be pardon’d and some punished” attract my attention since it made me imagine that the speech can also be directed to the audiences in addition to the characters appearing on stage. The Prince is sort of giving a final concluding and advising remark to all people watching the story of the death of Romeo and Juliet to “have more talk of these sad things”. Thus by spreading the moral messages in the story, the Prince (Shakespeare?) hoped to see effects produced as the follow-up after watching the aesthetic performance – the catharsis, to put it in Aristotelian term, is the spread of peace and love message; peace and love defeat grudge and hatred. His speech is not only the expressive of his character, it is like a public commentary made on the peak event. Thus the Prince is chorus-like.
--Thornton Wilder’s Our Town
Modern plays become the witness of the great diversified use of chorus or choral/chorus-like characters in drama. Richard Gill gave us one prominent example of this diversified and extended use of chorus: the play A Man for all Seasons by Robert Bolt. He said,
“Robert Bolt creates the Common Man, who opens and closes the play, as well as commenting on the action in between. But he is also a character, or, rather, a number of characters: steward, boatman, publican, jailer, foreman of the jury and, finally, executioner. He is both apart from and part of the action.”
From the quotation, we can see that the chorus of A Man for all Seasons, the Common Man, is not only opening, closing, and commenting on the action of the play, as the traditional function of a chorus is, but also playing multiple characters in it. This very characteristic is chiefly significant also in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. We shall soon see, after a brief analysis about the chorus-like character in Our Town, the Stage Manager, that this shift is not without aesthetical and zeitgeist reasons.
Our Town is Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece play written and performed in 1938. In this play, Wilder made use of a choral character he named the Stage Manager. For those who are not really familiar with the technical definition of this term, here I present its meaning, which I quote from Robert L. Benedetti’s The Director at Work.
Your Stage Manager…is many things to you: social director, police officer, general contractor, tactician, conscience and alter ego…The SM’s (stage manager’s) primary responsibility during the rehearsal process is to facilitate the work itself: this means making sure everything needed for an effective rehearsal is ready when work is to begin: a substitute set, furniture, props, whatever.
And it does not stop there. A stage manager “will also police the actors and deal with problems of lateness, incorrect line memorization, and rehearsal deportment.” Therefore, a stage manager certainly will bring much influence to the organization of the stage. Once the performance begins, the stage manager will act as the “surrogate director”, substituting the real director, who will be absent when the stage is opened.
Why did I give detailed explanation of the roles of a stage manager? It is because these very roles are what the character Stage Manager in Our Town is really playing. Let us see more about this.
The Stage Manager in Our Town opens the play, setting up the simple stage properties to be used later. This is the complete earliest neben text (stage direction) in the script of Our Town, showing the role done by the Stage Manager.
The audience, arriving, sees an empty stage in half-light.
Presently the STAGE MANAGER, hat on and pipe in mouth, enters and begins placing a table and three chairs downstage left, and a table and three chairs downstage right. He also places a low bench at the corner of what will be the Webb house, left.
‘Left’ and ‘right’ are from the point of view of the actor facing the audience. ‘Up’ is towards the back wall.
As the house lights go down he has finished setting the stage and leaning against the right proscenium pillar watches the late arrivals in the audience.
When the auditorium is in complete darkness he speaks.
Notice how detail the neben text is. The Stage Manager, though a character in the play, does do his technical duty: ‘setting up the stage’, so to speak setting up the place where the play is about to take place; in a play usually a stage manager is the one who rather manages the setting up of the stage (the practical is done by the setting crews).
His introductory speech indeed reminds me to the speech of the chorus in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when the chorus inform the probable duration of the play. There, the Stage Manager tells,
This play is called Our Town. It was written by Thornton Wilder; produced and directed by A… (or: produced by A. …; directed by B. …). In it you will see Miss C. …; Miss D. …; Miss E. …; and Mr F. …; Mr G. …; Mr H. …; and many others.
To some audiences, this information is awkward, and seems superfluous. Why should it be told? Perhaps, the answer for this question can be seen in Thornton Wilder himself. In the Preface he wrote for a book containing three of his plays, he announced,
Toward the end of the twenties I began to lose pleasure in going to the theatre. I ceased to believe in the stories I saw presented there. When I did go it was to admire some secondary aspect of the play, the work of a great actor or director or designer.
Notice when he said “some secondary aspect of the play, the work of a great actor or director or designer.” This notion will never be understood if one does not acknowledge how Wilder perceived theatre of the nineteenth century. Wilder was fed up with most of the performances, he did no longer believe in every word presented there. If he wanted to go to the theatre, it was only to admire the ‘secondary aspect’. Another sentence from him will make this clear: “One way to shake off the nonsense of the nineteenth-century staging is to make fun of it.” The great work of the actor is a secondary aspect which could make Wilder, the author of Our Town, stepped his feet to the theatre auditorium. And since this aspect is only, for him, secondary, he made fun of it by making it ‘primary’. The result is as we can see in the first words uttered by the Stage Manager of Our Town. Names of actors, actresses, director, or producer are mentioned – as if showing that the strength of the play (merely) relies on the strength of those people, and not on every word it functions. And Wilder use the ‘chorus’, the Stage Manager, to convey this critical notion.
Some of the roles of the Stage Manager in Our Town are traditional. Notwithstanding, these traditional functions are by and large extended to a degree. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, the chorus is meant to introduce the setting of place for the play. In Our Town, this function is also done by the choral figure, the Stage Manager.
The name of the town is Grover’s Corners, New Hempshire – just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes. The First Act shows a day in our town. The day is 7 May 1901. The same is just before dawn.
Yet, interestingly, he does not do this information alone. He invites some other characters to accompany him telling additional information about the town. He invited Professor Willard of the State University, asking him about some details about the town’s history and its anthropological data. He also invites Mr Webb, one of the characters in the play to step aside for a while from his dramatic character, and join him (the Stage Manager) to present some social and political reports about the town. He even invites the ‘audiences’ to be involved in brief Question-and-Answer session with Mr Webb.
The Stage Manager, being quite similar to Robert Bolt’s Common Man in A Man for all Seasons, also acts as other characters to substitute the invisibility of those characters in the play. For instance, when he plays as Mrs Forrest, an old lady whom George Gibbs, son to Mr Gibbs (who is neighbor to Mr Webb), bumps into. Or, when he acts as Mr Morgan, the invisible owner the drugstore; here is the stage direction specifying it.
[The STAGE MANAGER, wearing spectacles and assuming the role of Mr Morgan, enters abruptly from the right and stands between the audience and the counter of his soda fountain]
Or, when he acts as the minister who pronounced George Gibbs and Emily Webb husband and wife, as in this: “In this wedding I play the minister. That gives me the right to say a few more things about it.”
Abrams has stated that one of the functions of the modern chorus is to inform the events which are not present on the stage. This function is indeed also done by the Stage Manager in Our Town. One example will be presented here, when the Stage Manager gives information about the future of the character Joe Crowell, who at that time is told as a boy.
Want to tell you something about that boy Joe Crowell there. Joe was awful bright – graduated from high school here, head of his class…It was all wrote up in the Boston paper at the time. Goin’ to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died in France – All that education for nothing.
Furthermore, as the one who holds the flow of the plot of the play, the Stage Manager indeed makes many interruptions and some of these interruptions are announced to the characters and responded by them. Here is one of the examples.
[The STAGE MANAGER enters briskly from the right. He tips his hat to the ladies, who nod their heads.]
STAGE MANAGER: Thank you, ladies. Thank you very much.
[MRS GIBBS and MRS WEBB gather up their things, return into their homes and disappear.]
The Stage Manager also clearly announces the change of time when it will be changed, as in “Now we’re going to skip a few hours.” Here, it is then prominent that the role of the Stage Manager seems to be like a dalang in Javanese wayang, or a master of ceremony in a formal occasion.
Though making many interruptions, apparently, the Stage Manager also has the role of removing interruptions made by some minor characters. This is the scene of George and Emily’s wedding. There are three baseball players there (George’s friends), shouting cheerfully at him.
THE BASEBALL PLAYERS: Eh, George, George! Hast – yaow! Look at him, fellas – he looks scared to death. Yaow! George, don’t look so innocent, you old geezer. We know what you’re thinking. Don’t disgrace the team, big boy. Whoo-oo-oo.
STAGE MANAGER: All right! All right! That’ll do. That’s enough of that.
[Smiling, he pushes them off the stage. They lean back to show a few more catcalls.]
Lastly, since he opens the stage, he also closes it.
[The STAGE MANAGER appears at the right, one hand on dark curtain which he slowly draws across the scene.]
STAGE MANAGER: Most everybody’s asleep in Grover’s Corner… Hm.. Eleven o’clock in Grover’s Corners – You get a good rest, too. Good night.
And so complete the roles of the Stage Manager are: he gives comments; he acts as invisible characters in the play; he puts forward information about the setting of time and place in details; he manages the plot of the story; he provides the audiences with events being absent on stage, he sets up the properties of the stage, he opens and thus closes the play. Now, the question: why do all these happen in modern play?
The Ascendency of the Chorus – the Ascendancy of the Clown
In this part, I am going to try to answer why the phenomenon of chorus ‘ascendency’ happened, chiefly in modern drama. To my opinion, we cannot ignore this chorus phenomenon, the shift, because it also brings effect to the development of play writing.
First of all, we have to notice that in Greek tragedies, though tending to be lyrical, we cannot resist to admit that the role of the leader of the chorus, as we can see in Choragos in Oedipus Rex, is indeed significant and dramatic, rather than lyrical. Notice that formerly there were 50 persons employed in a chorus, and one of them is the actor. This number was reduced massively into just 12 persons. Sophocles added some more, making it 15. Yet, what is interesting is the role of the chorus leader; a chorus leader is free to interact with the other dramatic characters in the play – this makes him integral part of the dramatic body of the play. We then understand that the chorus leader is just one person. This quantity is what adopted in Elizabethan theatre. Elizabethan drama made use of just one person to deliver the prologue and epilogue of the drama; a function it derived from Senecan dramas. And yet, Elizabethan dramas came up with its discovery of the so called choral character or characters. These characters are not the chorus, yet they are the chorus-like ones. And this has produced ambiguity about the meaning of chorus: is chorus chorus-like or is chorus-like chorus?
I see this bias happening due to the trait of Elizabethan dramas which only put chief attention to the main characters; and the main characters are usually important people, such as noblemen, kings, etc. Minor characters are only used to ‘interrupt’ the serious tense atmosphere of the play by making ‘jokes’. This phenomenon is observable in many Shakespeare’s plays. These minor characters are then named the ‘clown’. The stories of Shakespeare’s plays are never about the clowns, they are mainly about the important people. This tendency, in my knowledge, produced hesitation in Elizabethan dramatists to ascend the role of the chorus into one of the primary figures in the play; since it would tend to break the convention.
But what do we have now? We have the chorus, or say the choral character, in its modern appearance and type, modified into a character that plays actions and even holds the management of the plot of the story. Indeed, the main structure of the story is not about the chorus him/herself: the story we see in Our Town is not the story of the Stage Manager (or, can it be?). However, the roles and functions of the chorus are truly intensified. What does this signify?
To my understanding, we can answer this question by seeing the ascendency of the chorus to the ascendency of the clown in modern dramas. In today’s drama, most of the stories are about ordinary people; they are not kings nor noblemen nor knights, or something like that. They are salesmen, barber, simple mothers, doctors, farmers, etc. The stories of modern drama are mainly about these people. It can be understood that this difference is a consequence of the change in the society. The community in Elizabethan era was still feudal where today is liberal.
The ascendency of the ‘clown’, or ordinary people, as the center of stories in today’s play, to an extent, gives way for the extensiveness of today’s chorus. Chorus is therefore not functioned as merely an announcer; a chorus can be everything in the play: it can be the telescope from which the audience can see closer to the essential details of the story played on the stage; it can be the one who substitutes invisible actors on the stage; it can be the one who announces what happens next and what happened before, and so on and so forth. Chorus is no longer reduced into its separated/isolated place apart from the actions. Chorus becomes more flexible; it can swim to and fro, apart from but also a part of the actions. This is why chorus becomes so important and thus ascended.
I have started this piece of writing with a very short discussion about intertextuality. I hope I have made intertextuality effective in the discussion of the transformation of chorus from Greek to Modern plays. The metamorphosis is indeed a cause-and-effect product of interactions among playwrights from different generations. A writer is used to be a reader. S/he cannot write in a vacant situation. Influences should not be perceived as only stimulation for a mere imitation. We have seen the proof. Creativity has made the development of the technique of using chorus contribute to the development of the whole structure of English plays. Intertextuality indeed plays its role in the changes and creative modifications shaping what is now recognized as English Drama.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. (6th ed.), Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1993.
Benedetti, Robert L. The Director at Work. New Jersey: Pretice-Hall Inc., 1985.
Gill, Richard. Mastering English Literature. (2nd ed.), London: Macmillan, 1995.
Encyclopedia International, Stanley Shindler (editor in chief), vol. IV, New York: Grolier Inc., 1971.
Texts of the Plays
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. The British Council.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex.
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. Penguin, 1982.
 Published in Intertextuality: Theories and Practices. Michael Worton and Judith Still (eds.), 1990, p. 45.
 This term was coined by Julia Kristeva, a French feminist. See ibid. p. 1.
 M.H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 1993, p. 26.
 Encyclopedia International, Stanley Shindler (editor in chief), vol. IV, 1971, p. 402.
 What I meant by ‘motivated’ is the fact that the comments and interpretations a chorus launched would precondition the flow of the plot of the drama.
 1993, ibid.
 1995, p. 216.
 1993, ibid. and 1995, ibid.
 Act II, p. 49.
 1995, p. 217.
 1985, p. 150.
 1982, p. 21.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid., Act One, p. 21.
 Ibid., Act One, p. 32.
Ibid., Act One, p. 34.
 Ibid., Act One, p. 35-6.
Ibid., Act One, p. 37.
 Ibid., Act Two, p. 63.
 Ibid., Act Two, p. 68.
 Ibid., Act One, p. 25.
 Ibid., Act One, p. 32.
 Ibid., Act Two, p. 69.
 Ibid., Act Three, p. 90.
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