Friday, 16 August 2013

Chorus in 'Doctor Faustus'


In Greek drama of the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. the chorus was an essential feature and the convention came from the drama of those ancient days. But then the chorus consisted of homogenous, non-individualized group of performers who commented with a collective voice on the dramatic action. It numbered twelve or fifteen members in tragedies and twenty-four members in comedies, and performed using several techniques, including singing, dancing, narrating, and acting.

The Elizabethan playwrights, instead of following the Greek convention, borrowed the prologue of the Chorus more from the old Miracles and Mysteries. So in the dramas of this age a chorus became just an actor who used to speak the prologue or announce the incidents that were going to happen in the beginning of an act or at the close of the play. Sometimes they also made moralizing comments.

In ‘Doctor Faustus’ we find the chorus appearing four times.

1. In the beginning of the play the chorus serves the purpose of the prologue. After some introductory remarks informing us that the poet has no intention of singing of great victorious deeds or losses in the battlefields, nor of love affairs in the royal courts, nor of daring deeds and great adventures. It tells us that the poet’s aim is first to tell the audience of the early life of Faustus which is not to be presented on the stage and then to represent the good and bad fortunes of Faustus. Thus through its first song, the chorus serves the purpose of a suitable introduction of the play.

2. Then we have the chorus in the beginning of the third act. In the second speech, the chorus bridges over the gap between act II and act III. Many years have elapsed between the two acts and the chorus tells us about the exploits of Faustus during this period. Faustus orders Mephistophilis to carry him to the skies, as he wants to know about the secret of planets and various other heavenly bodies.

3. The chorus appears again in the beginning of act IV. Again there has been some time gap and the chorus once again informs that after taking the view of the rarest things and royal courts of kings, Faustus is back to his home again and is warmly welcomed by his friends and scholars. The chorus also tells us that the fame of Faustus has spread for and wide so much so that Faustus has been invited to the palace of Charles V, the great emperor, to display his miraculous magic feats.

4. The chorus appears for the last time at the very end of the play. And then in keeping with the convention of Miracle and Morality plays, draws a moral from the meteoric rise and the most tragic and horrible end of Doctor Faustus, and points it out to the audience through the mournful monologue of the closing lines.

                   Faustus is gone, regard his hellish fall,
                        Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
                        Only to wonder at unlawful things,
                        Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits,                                                                           To practice more than heavenly power permits.

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