In Acts 1 and 2, what are the pros and cons of leaving out the chorus and what difference would it make to a performance?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare does not provide many opportunities for the Chorus to exert a great role in Romeo and Juliet.  The Chorus only shows up twice, in the form of Prologues to open Act I and Act II.  Unlike Henry V, where Shakespeare uses the Chorus in a significant manner, the Chorus in Romeo and Juliet does not occupy an overwhelming format of commentary in the course of the drama. This helps to illuminate the discussion of whether to remove it in a staging of Romeo and Juliet.

Initially, purists of Shakespearean drama would suggest that the drama remain as the playwright intended.  One of the cons of removing the Chorus is that doing so  against the intent of the writer.  Shakespeare includes the Chorus in the form of Prologues to open both Act I and II.  Their purpose is to alert the audience as to what action is to happen.  The Shakespearean Sonnets that open both Acts are significant in their language and intended purpose to the drama. This would be one con in removing them.  Another con in removing the Chorus would be that a speaking part is eliminated.  When staging the drama, the Chorus can be articulated by an actor or group of actors on stage.  In eliminating the Chorus and the Prologues, a chunk of text is lost.  This text contains manner of speech that can help the audience in the start of both acts establish their own sense of feel towards the language that will be spoken by the actors, enabling them to gear their own mindset towards what they will be seeing and hearing.  This makes for a compelling reason to not remove the Chorus's function in terms of reciting the Prologue.

At the same time, some compelling issues arise when contemplating the removal of the Chorus.  The Chorus appears only twice, and after Act II, they no longer function in the drama.  Removing the Chorus thus does not impact the development of the narrative's action.  Additionally, the height of dramatic action takes place without a Chorus.  Once the Act II Prologue is recited, the audience is independent of the Chorus's' guidance.  In this regard, the argument for removing the Chorus altogether becomes clear.  If the audience is perceived as possessing the insight to determine how the narrative unfolds in its most significant parts, the case can be made to simply establish this from the start.  An interesting reconfiguration of this would be to carve up the lines from the Prologue and have them recited at different parts by other actors. Lines like "Two Households both alike in dignity" or "passion lends them power" could be absorbed by other actors in the course of the respective Acts.  This would enable the lines to be spoken, but not necessarily by the Chorus.

In the end, every director that stages a production of Romeo and Juliet must make their own decision.  The decisions made are reflective of the choices and values of the staff that assembles a production.  The Chorus is important, but there are ways to stage an effective production without them.  More importantly, directorial insight is going to determine the quality of a play's performance.  This will be evident in other decisions that are larger than the one to include the Chorus.  In the end, individuals will judge any interpretation and the beliefs and authentic passion of those who assemble a production will determine its success or failure.