What is the function of the Chorus in Jean Anouilh's Antigone? How, for example, does it relate to the players? To the spectacle as a whole?

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noahvox2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jean Anouilh's handing of the chorus in his Antigone is much different than the way that Sophocles managed the chorus of his Antigone some 2000 years earlier.

Anouilh has his chorus open the play with a lengthy explanation of the the various characters in the play and the background to the events of the play. Unlike Sophocles' audience, who would have known the background of the story and the characters involved in the story, Anouilh doesn't seem to think his audience is familiar with the story. Indeed, Anouilh spends almost one tenth of the play with this expository prologue by the chorus.

After this lengthy choral prologue, the chorus does not appear very much. They do not appear again until about the middle of the play, where they provide about two pages worth of commentary. In some ways, their speech here functions like an intermission as they note that now the stage is set for what will happen next in the play. On another level, their speech here recalls a quasi-Aristophanic parabasis, in which Anouilh has the chorus explain the difference between tragedy and melodrama.

Only in the last sixth of the play, does Anouilh's chorus have any real interaction with the other characters on stage. Here, they function almost exclusively as advisors to Creon, telling him not to kill Antigone and warning him about Haemon's deeply troubled state of mind.

The chorus also have the final words of the play as they spending a paragraph reflecting on Creon's tyranny and Antigone's actions.

Thus, unlike the chorus of a Sophoclean play, in which the chorus is integrated more organically into the fabric of the play, the chorus of Anouilh's play serves to provide the audience with background information on the play's characters and background; they also provide commentary on the play's genre and major themes. Rarely, however, does interaction with the other characters onstage occur. Unlike Sophocles' chorus, who are clearly identified as elderly Theban males, the identity of Anouilh's chorus seems unclear. For much of the play, especially their definition of tragedy and melodrama, they almost function like the stage presence of Anouilh.