Role of Chorus in Doctor Faustus
One of the fundamental features of the classical Greek tragedy is the presence of the chorus. The chorus, in such a play, is a singer, a band of singers or dancers.
The chorus, however, is found to perform a very sacred and important function in the classical tragedy. Aristotle characterizes it as ‘a sharer in the action’ of the play. The Aristotelian characterization implies that the chorus should help the action of the tragedy. This is to be done by recalling the past, interpreting the present and indicating the future. The chorus reviews what has already been passed, refers to what is going on and points out what is coming. It comforts and encourages, warns and inspires the characters. It is an observer, interpreter and guide. In fact, it is one of the characters, although it is an impersonal one. Its observations and opinions are not affected by the violent stir of passions and sentiments.
The chorus, thus, is certainly not a superfluous element in a Greek tragedy. It has an important function and a conspicuous bearing on the whole play. Aristotle’s contention that it is ‘a sharer in action’ implies that the chorus is one of the dramatic personae of the tragedy, and has a definite role to play in the action of the play.
In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus the chorus is also introduced. This appears four times in the beginning of the play, between Act II and Act III, between Act III and Act IV and at the end of the play). This is, however, given not the characteristic role of the Greek chorus. In Marlowe’s uses, it is more or less a prologue in the beginning) and an epilogue in the last one. In fact, this is merely introductory or at best informative. Only the last prologue, though a very short one, is instructive in effect.
Thus the first chorus (coming in the very beginning of the play) serves the purpose of the Prologue. It lays down the purpose of the dramatist to give no account of heroic battles and grand victories or of love or adventure. The poet’s aim is simply to tell the audience of the early life of the hero, Faustus, and then to represent his fortune, good or bad:
“….. we must perform
The form of Faustus fortunes good or bad.”
Finally, after telling of his base stock, early life and training and erudition, the chorus points out his specific leaning to “cursed necromancy”:
“He surfeits upon cursed necromancy
Nothing so sweet as magic to him.”
Thus the first Chorus gives a sort of introduction about the hero of the play, Doctor Faustus, and his life and learning.
The second chorus, appearing at the beginning of Act III is comparatively much shorter. It traces Faustus’s feats with the help of evil, of wonder, winning fame and honour. The chorus, of course, hints, at the end, at his appearance and activities in the court of the Pope of Rome to take some part of holy Peter’s feast’
This Chorus is here simply informative.
The third appearance of the chorus is in the beginning of Act IV. The purpose here is also informative. It mentions Faustus’s rare performances in different high places and return to his home to have the sweet company of his friends and fellow scholars. Finally, it gives a hint at his growing fame and invitation to the royal palace of the Emperor of Germany for displaying his miraculous magic power. The Chorus states what the audience will behold in the next scene
“What there he did, in trial of his art,
I leave untold; your eyes shall see it performed”
This final chorus appears at the end of the play, with an instructive message. This is almost in the manner of a conventional Epilogue. Faustus is damned and dragged down to hell by the devils. The chorus serves here to moralize on the lesson of the meteoric rise and the miserable fall of Faustus:
“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 practise more than heavenly power permits.”
The chorus in Dr. Faustus serves many dramatic functions. Such as-
- To explain the kind of play the audience is about to witness (Chorus 1)
- Tell ‘the story so far’ and fill in details of Faustus’ birth and early career (Chorus 1)
- To anticipate the first part of the action, as Faustus turns towards forbidden knowledge (Chorus 1)
- To fill in episodes not represented on the stage and to introduce a new location (Chorus 2).
- To inform the audience of Faustus’ increased reputation as a learned man, and his summons to the court of the Emperor (Chorus 3)
- To offer a more intimate view of the change in Faustus’ behaviour as the end of the play approaches.
- In the final lines of the play, as a moral guide for the audience. (Final Chorus)
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