My composition teacher in college wants us to find chorus figures in Hamlet, like those of classical Greek drama. I’d appreciate a little input on what characters serves as chorus figures and why, according to classical Greek drama criteria. Thanks a lot in advance.
The character of Felonious, Erroneous, and Ted are the chorus figures. Write that down and your teacher will be amazed.
I disagree, RC. In my considered opinion, “chorus figures” refers specifically to the bodily shape (hence, the line “Ah, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, resolve itself into a dew”) of the babes in the chorus line of HAMLET. In Shakespeare’s productions the females in the chorus were very curvaceous, while the women in classical Greek tragedy were kinda stringy. That’s clearly the problem his teacher wants him to address here.
I dunno. I always thought Ted was a major figure, because of the way his murder makes Hamlet declare war on Claudius, the mad king of France.
I guess a case could be made for Horatio as a chorus figure. He isn’t involved in the plot, although he doesn’t make much commentary on it. He’s more of a sounding board for Hamlet.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ? Stoppard famously sees their role in the original as little more than commentators on Hamlet’s behaviour.
I’m inclined to point to Mercutio, Banquo, Calpurnia, Benvolio and I suppose Portia in a limited way as examples of a Greek-type chorus in Hamlet. Granted, they take a more active part in Shakespeare’s plays than they would in one of the Greeks’ plays such as Antigone or Oedipus.
I mean, the suggested activity between Portia and Hamlet, and for that matter Benvolio and Ophelia, borders on the “R” rated and would never have been allowed for a chorus member in one of Sophocles’ or his peers’ plays. Still you have to remember that sexual activity on stage was much more accepted in Shakespeare’s theater than at the festivals at which the Greek drama’s were presented. Those were, it is generally agreed, pretty conservative activities.
I suppose that arguments could be made that the most effective members of the chorus in Hamletwere Hamlet’s father and Yorick. I think most observers find the latter to be a man of infinite jest.
Darn. Actual opinions. Just when I was starting to enjoy this thread, too.
Ah, well. Off to Cafe Society.
While I hate to encourage you in your efforts to avoid doing your homework, I can think of at least two reasons why this is a really stupid assignment:
Greek drama – unlike Latin drama – was not widely read or translated in Shakespeare’s England, and we have the testimony of at least one firsthand source (Ben Jonson) that Shakespeare knew little Greek. It’s unlikely that he ever read any Greek drama or literary criticism. Even if Shakespeare happened to know a Greek play or two, he doesn’t seem to have made any effort to imitate them. Therefore, trying to apply “classical Greek drama criteria” to Hamlet is probably an exercise in futility.
Shakespeare certainly did know what a chorus figure was, though; he uses them in several plays, including Henry V and Romeo and Juliet. You can tell they are chorus figures because their speeches are headed CHORUS. If he had wanted to put a chorus in Hamlet, he would have done so, rather than trying to disguise it.
However, if this won’t make your comp teacher happy, you might be able to make a compelling case for Hamlet himself as chorus figure. He spends a lot of time alone on stage commenting about the action – much more than any other character does – so why not?
<< I guess a case could be made for Horatio as a chorus figure. >>
I thought that horatio was one of the sexual practices that one doesn’t mention in public. Or am I thinking of the other fella.
Okay, all kidding aside, Horatio is a pretty good start, his dramatic function is primarily as a sort of Basil Exposition (Though the inconsistency of what he knows and doesn’t is a thesis in itself) but outside of him you might find the chorus is not in the major figures, but the incidental characters that barely exist beyond one scene, try Marcellus and Bernardo along with Horatio from I.i, the two clowns at the beginnging of V.i, the Norweigan captain in IV.iv etc. You could even make a case, tenuos as it may be, for the Players speech in II.ii or Hamlet’s play within a play commentary in III.iii which elicits Ophelia’s “You are as good as a chorus, my lord. (III.iii.224)”