- noun a set of lines that are sung at least twice in the course of a song, usually being repeated after each verse
- noun a group of people who appear, sing, and sometimes dance together as a unit in a performance, usually providing backing for the principal performers
- noun a group of actors in ancient Greek drama who sing or speak in unison, generally commenting on the significance of the events that take place in the play
- A group of actors who support the principal performers andenhance the audience's understanding of the play by explaining theaction, expressing opinions, or asking questions.
The ancient Greek drama developed from choral lyrics performedin honour of Dionysus. These dithyrambs, performedby a chorus of 50 actors, are first mentioned in the 7th century BC.Thespis was supposedly the first actor to detach himselffrom the chorus. In the Athenian drama of the 5th and 4thcenturies BC the role of the chorus was gradually reducedand that of the principals enhanced. Aeschylus reduced thechorus from 50 to 12, while Sophocles limited its role tocommenting on the main action. The chorus contributed bawdy songsand lively dancing to the plays of the Old Comedy; for someworks, notably Aristophanes's The Birds and TheFrogs, it was elaborately costumed. In later Greek drama the choruswas sometimes replaced by interludes featuring singers and dancers.Roman plays usually had no chorus.
In Greece the expense of training and outfitting the choruswas met by the choregus, a wealthy Athenian citizen who waselected to this position of honour. Like the principal actors, membersof the chorus enjoyed various privileges including exemption frommilitary service.
The chorus survived into the later European theater in variousforms. In Elizabethan drama the role was frequently undertaken bya single actor. Shakespeare used such a chorus to great effect inHenry V (c. 1599) while in The Spanish Tragedy(1592), Thomas Kyd used the characters of Revenge and a Ghost as chorusesto comment on the action. In the 20th century, T. S. Eliot revivedthe Greek chorus for his Murder in the Cathedral (1935),in which the Women of Canterbury comment on the meaning of the action.The Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938) iseffectively a one-man chorus.
In musical shows the chorus appears in choreographed numbersand crowd scenes. The 'chorus line' of beautiful women dancing inunison was introduced in America in the late 19th century (seeburlesque). The US musical comedy gave the chorusa major role.
Many non-Western theatrical traditions have made use of choruses.In the Japanese Nō play the chorus of six to ten persons(who wear traditional samurai costume) serve virtuallythe same function as the Greek chorus.