The chorus of Greek theatre originated, as did ancient Greek drama itself, as an element of religious festival. Greek theatre then became a separate type of cultural and entertainment activity, retaining the chorus, which provided a variety of important functions.
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The earliest Greek chorus manifestations occurred during festivals honouring the god Dionysius, as described at Watson.org. In the earliest festivals, the chorus incorporated all festival participants, who joined in chanting songs that each told a story.
From this free-for-all status, the chorus of Greek drama evolved first into a set-aside chorus of about 50 performers, with the chorus leader telling part of the story in recited form during intervals in the song. This later evolved into a chorus of 12 to 15 actors who participated in a staged drama.
In classic Greek drama, the chorus narrated the action of the play, providing the audience with background information that forestalled unnecessary confusion about the events the primary actors portrayed, as described at Richeast.org.
The chorus also represented the crowd in any crowd scene in the drama, much as modern-day extras do in films.
Finally, because those involved in ancient Greek drama considered comic relief an inappropriate element of dramatic portrayals, the chorus in Greek theatre served an important function of lessening tension after tragic scenes through the performance of poetic song.
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