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Greek Theatre: The Chorus

2. The Chorus in Tragedy

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About this Lecture


Having looked at choruses in earlier and contemporary Greek society, Laura now turns to the chorus in fifth-century tragedy. In particular, she explores the conventions of the tragic chorus (including their ability to step in and out of character) as well as discussing the concept of the chorus as 'ideal spectator'.


For modern readers, the chorus is one of the most challenging aspects of Greek drama. Yet the chorus is an integral feature of both tragedy and comedy, and to engage fully with the plays, it’s essential to understand the role that it plays, and what it contributed to the experience of watching an ancient performance. Moreover, choral odes offer some of the most dazzling poetry in ancient literature. This course explores the origins of the chorus, and its role outside drama in ritual and religious occasions. It also examines the conventions that govern how the chorus behaves in drama, and investigates broader issues such as the chorus’ characterisation, its ability to influence the action, and the degree to which it offers an authoritative commentary on the action. The course finishes with a close examination of two of the most famous odes in Greek tragedy, and shows how analysing these passages gives us a richer understanding of the plays as a whole.


Laura Swift is Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University, having previously taught at UCL and at Oxford. Her research focuses on Greek tragedy and lyric, with a particular interest in the chorus, and she is the author of The Hidden Chorus: Echoes of Genre in Tragic Lyric (Oxford, 2010), which explores the relationship between the tragic chorus and other forms of choral performance in Greek society. She has also published a book on Euripides' Ion (Duckworth 2008), and is now working on early Greek lyric poetry. She enjoys working with practitioners on modern performances of Greek drama, and acted as academic consultant to the National Theatre's 2012 performance of Antigone.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Swift, L. (2018, August 15). Greek Theatre: The Chorus - The Chorus in Tragedy [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Swift, L. "Greek Theatre: The Chorus – The Chorus in Tragedy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,