On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Sarah Berry, a PhD fellow in the English department, did what most would have previously thought of as impossible: She used the chorus in verse dramas to analyze identity in post-war Western society.
Berry, who received her Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University and her Master of Arts from Boston College, attempted to establish the chorus in verse dramas as a vehicle for examining political identity. She did this through detailed explanations and carefully selected readings.
Verse drama is essentially poetry performed out loud on a stage. The seemingly obscure genre includes the works of literary giants such as Shakespeare, Christopher Fry and T.S. Eliot. The chorus is a group of actors in a play.
With these swiftly established, Berry further examines choruses in 20th and 21st century verse dramas. In productions prior to World War II, the chorus was a mostly nameless group of people with one collective voice. After World War II, the chorus’ function as a unilateral voice of the masses disintegrated. Instead, the members were identified with names and were even fully formed characters that had lines outside of their role in the chorus. The chorus continued to dwindle still until it all but disappeared in verse dramas in the late 21st century.
But why does this trend matter? Berry argues that the decline of the chorus in verse dramas corresponds with the public’s growing suspicion in authoritarian rulers.
“The fact that Eliot moves away from the chorus altogether suggests to me that he ultimately found the chorus impracticable,” Berry said.
Berry suspected that Eliot found the chorus particularly problematic because of the unique leaders in power during World War II. These men declared themselves to be the voice of the people only to commit some of the gravest atrocities against innocent people that mankind had ever witnessed.
The way in which “the chorus presents a single voice that purports to speak for a collective whole,” Berry said, mirrored the way that men like Hitler ruled, thus, the chorus became a problematic aspect to include in dramas.
However, Berry also recognized the importance of the chorus as a means of unification. A self-aware chorus “allows a writer to salvage the positive political potential of the collective voice while acknowledging its possible dangers and contradictions,” Berry said. “The collective voice is attractive for rallying a democratic society.”
Think of how people rallied behind collective identities during Italian unification, the Civil Rights Movement and even the March on Washington this past January. These broad, agreed-upon identities are useful to mobilize people in order to eventually allow people to exercise a more individual identity with increased freedoms.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.