A quick recap: In Thebes, Antigone learns that her two brothers Eteocles and Polyneices are dead, killed in battle by each other. Eteocles, loyal to the state and to the King, has been given a proper burial; however, King Kreon, Antigone’s uncle, has issued an edict banning the burial of Polyneices, who he believes was a traitor. Thinking this edict to be immoral and a break with the will of the gods, Antigone alone defies the law and buries her brother. She is caught, locked in prison (a cave where she is meant to starve to death as punishment for her action) and kills herself. As this unfolds, peripheral characters attempt to convince Kreon of his mistake in issuing the edict and imprisoning Antigone. The blind prophet Teiresias, Haimon (Kreon’s son and Antigone’s husband-to-be), and the Chorus all plead with Kreon to release her. Finally, he agrees, but the decision comes tragically late. Haimon finds Antigone hanged in her prison and, in turn, kills himself. On learning of her son’s death, Queen Eurydice too commits suicide. In the end, Kreon is left alone in sorrow, led away by his guards with full understanding that “there is no greater evil / than men’s failure to consult and consider” (1438-9).
Antigone is the third play in order of the Oedipus Rex series. It builds on the well-known action of the first (the story of King Oedipus, who kills his father and marries his mother – you know the story) and the second (the death of the corrupt King’s progeny) plays, while adding still more tragedy to the mix. In this story, the muddying of justice, familial duty, tradition, and personal agency challenges readers to consider the historical moment of the work, as well as the still-pressing questions that it asks. Namely: What is it to be a dutiful citizen? To be a dutiful human? How thick is the bond of blood? And how deeply does its vein run? In considering these questions (questions that connect with ease to other works to appear on our exam, like Hamlet), it is important to consider the context in which this work was created and would have been received. Produced in Ancient Greece sometime around 441 BC, the play is one that would have been performed to an audience of eligible citizens (that is, neither slaves nor women). Attending plays in Ancient Greece was a civic duty for men of voting age and the fact that this work (and others in similar fashion) were performed to this group suggests something of the value of the art to the society. Both in subject matter and in implicit content, the play asked the same questions of contemporary audiences as modern ones—that is, it forced them to reckon with the very questions that could split their own society. A concern related to the primacy of tradition over law (or vice-versa) is one that is prevalent in this work. It is this tension that remains centrally important in the analysis of Antigone and Kreon. Relatedly, the play addresses the danger of an absolute ruler, who yields not to the will of his people nor to the advice of his counsel. The democratic society to which the audience belonged would likely recognize the err of Kreon’s tyrannical (and ultimately thus, tragic) ways, taking heed of his sorrowful and despised shell at the play’s end.
Antigone is a Greek tragedy that contains many of the genre’s defining elements: each of the main characters are of noble birth, fate determines (in some central way) the events that transpired, and the main two characters, Antigone and Kreon, suffer from a hamartia — a fatal flaw. Rather than there being one tragic hero, who tragically falls, the play is unique in that both Antigone and Kreon are tragic heroes in their own way. Antigone, who stands for tradition and stands with the gods, sacrifices herself in order to help her brother’s soul pass through the underworld. Haimon and Teiresias, as well as the Chorus, find this action noble, and they advise the King to recognize the power she asserts, and the empathy she elicits from the people of Thebes, in acting traditionally. Kreon, by contrast, remains rooted in law and abides as such with a concerted focus on his own rule of law. His more modern approach to governing the society and its people, while perhaps lesser noted in the face of his tyrannical disposition and tragic end, is nevertheless an important trait that distinguishes him from his niece. While Antigone is traditionally considered the tragic hero of the work (after-all, it is named after her), an argument can be made that Kreon himself is also a tragic hero. Indeed, each character falls on the same sword: stubbornness and the force of their own pride. Lastly, a note must be made on the role of the chorus in this play. Shifting from full agreement with the King’s edict, to imploring him to be more moderate, to finally condemning his inability to listen to sage counsel, the Chorus in the play fulfills the typical role of a chorus (to provide context pre- and post- the events the audience sees, to insert the voice of the audience into the events). Beyond this, Sophocles uses the Chorus to address more nebulous issues at play in the text, like the dangers of pride and the relationship of man to nature and to art.
Some moments of note in the text that I would recommend returning to:
-The first scene between Antigone and Ismene — lines 55-108, in particular, as they provide both exposition on the history of/between the main characters, and show Antigone’s resilience of spirit in contrast to the weakness of Ismene.
-Kreon’s speech on learning that Polyneices has received a proper burial — lines 360-406. First true showing of Kreon’s tyrannical nature and his privileging himself and his edict over that of the gods.
-Antigone’s confession — line 541: “I did it. I deny nothing” versus Kreon’s reaction — lines 589-591: “I am no man – / she is a man, she is the king / if she gets away with this.”
-Fight between Antigone and Ismene — lines 658-691. Antigone refuses to allow Ismene to take responsibility for the burial, not for concern for her life, but rather because she is dishonest and does not deserve the honor of dying when she did not honor their brother.
-Kreon on his decision to kill Antigone — lines 796-802. He will not back down on the edict, “won’t be a leader who lies to his people” because “If [he] rear[s] a disorderly family / [He] feed[s] a general disorder.”
-Haimon: “No country belongs to one man” (887).
-Dialogue between Kreon and Teiresias — lines 1170-1221. The prophet says that state is sick, but Kreon refuses to concede.
-Description of Antigone’s dead body by the Messenger — lines 1432-1439.
-Final lines of the Chorus as Kreon is led away — lines 1530-5.
Interpretive questions/how the text could be used:
As I mentioned, it may make sense to discuss this text beside the other play on our reading list that deals with royalty, revenge, justice, and the (in)action that determines an ultimately fatal end. In addition to considering this text next to Hamlet, it can connect also to Boyer’s “The Revolt of the Peasant Girls,” as each describe the spirit of feminine resistance in the face of male insensibility and tyranny. More than either, I think that the relationship of the genre to the question of the importance of art is one that should be thought of in preparation for the exam. Here, I have two main questions: First, How does the form of the work contribute to the estimation of its value? I’m thinking here of the position of the work in relation to its historical context and reception. Second: How does the work itself represent (in content) the value of the form? (For example, in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet uses the medium of the play to advance the action that he himself is unable to do — his ability to cite, from memory, lines of verse, and to weaponize the form is, I think, a commentary on the value of art, as much as a device of plot in the play).
My report on Antigone:
– Written by Sophocles around 442 BC
– One of the most famous Greek tragedies
– Is part of a trilogy known as the Theban plays
– In the previous plays, Antigone’s father, Oedipus, unknowingly fulfils his tragic prophecy of marrying his mother and killing his father. Antigone and her three siblings are products of incest between Oedipus and his mother.
– After Oedipus leaves in disgrace, his sons, Eteoles and Polyneices, go to war over Thebes.
– After Eteoles and Polyneices, die in battle, only Eteoles is given a proper burial. Polynieces, who fought against the state, was left on the battlefield to rot.
– Antigone vents to her sister, Ismene, about how unfair Creon is and decides she is going to bury Polynieces regardless of the law.
– She does so twice and is caught the second time by Creon’s guards.
– When brought before Creon, Antigone does not deny defying him and shows no remorse for her actions.
– Creon sentences Antigone to be locked in a cave where she will starve to death.
– The blind prophet Teiresias, Haimon (Kreon’s son and Antigone’s husband-to-be), and the Chorus all plead with Kreon to release her. *give Kaitlin credit for this line.
– After taking far too long to change his mind, Creon orders Antigone’s release, but she has already killed herself to avoid the agonizing process of starving to death.
– Haimon kills himself over Antigone’s death and then his mother kills herself over his death. Creon’s son and wife kill themselves as a direct result of several unjust decisions he made.
– Themes and ideas that are useful for the exam:
o To what extent leaders should have power over people’s lives
o The role of the common people in government
o Fate vs. free will
o The role of family
o Female agency
♣ Antigone’s vs. Ismene’s
♣ The fact that a woman is the central character
♣ Antigone towards Creon for Polynieces
♣ Possibly even Creon towards Antigone for Jocasta?
– Being the oldest text on our exam, Antigone will probably be the easiest text to make intertextual connections with because of how foundational it is to literature as a subject area. We might even consider the ways the previously mentioned themes reappear in other texts we are reading
Antigone by Sophocles was written around 442 BC. It is a part of the Theban plays, which was originally written first, however, it is the last in the series of the three plays by Sophocles.
In the beginning of Sophocles Antigone, Antigone wants her sister, Ismene to help her carry out a plan in order to give their brother a proper funeral. Both Eteokles and Polyneices have died during battle, one in honor and one who has not died in honor. Eteokles’ body has been buried, since he was the one to die in honor. But since Polyneices did not die in honor, his body was not given the same respect and instead was left to the vultures. Ismene is unwilling to bury Polyneices, as she seems more focused on Kreon and what he will think. We then see Antigone leave, and Kreon enters. Moments later, Kreon is then informed that Polyneices body has been buried and has had the proper burial rights carried out for his body, even though he has died in dishonor. After Kreon accuses the guards of doing it for money, they leave and then come back with Antigone, after they unburied Polyneices body. Once Antigone admits to this, he sentences Antigone to be starved to death. At this point, other characters, like Haimon, are trying to have Kreon reconsider his decision, and release her, even Teiresias who is blind, pleads with Kreon. Once Kreon finally agrees to release Antigone, he discovers that she has killed herself, and Haimon then kills himself as well, since he was her husband to be. As a result, Eurydice also kills herself.
Protest is an idea we see in multiple characters throughout this text. When Ismene decides to go against Antigone, and not help her bury the body this can be viewed as a protest. Ismene would protest against Antigone, in order to not go against the societal norms of that period. In Antigone by Sophocles, the text states, “Ismene: I won’t dishonor anything; but I cannot help, not when the whole country refuses to help” (24). So you could argue that Antigone is not the only figure of this play that is protesting. We obviously see this with Antigone, when she goes against Kreon to bury her brother. A quote that supports this from Sophocles’ Antigone, is when the text states, “Antigone: I will bury him myself. If I die for doing that, good: I will stay with him, my brother; and my crime will be devotion” (23). Other characters you see the idea of protest presented with is the Sentry who breaks the news to Kreon that Polyneices body has been buried, as he gives us a sense of protest before presenting him with the news, and you also see Kreon protesting against Antigone since he does not want to bury the body.
The idea of sight and blindness is another idea that is presented in the text. This idea is interesting, because when you see that Antigone is sentenced to the cave to starve to death, you see that Teiresias, who is literally blind, pleads on her behalf. Teiresias, who is blind, is able to see through a prophecy that Kreon is in the wrong, he can even see that there is an injustice being made not just towards Polyneices, but also towards Antigone as well. On the other hand, Kreon, who has the sense of sight, clearly sees what is going on right in front of his eyes. He sees that Polyneices has died in dishonor and that this family has faced a lot of grief, dealing with these two characters deaths (as well as the deaths of Oedeipus and his wife which are briefly mentioned, but are primarily in another play) but Kreon chooses to turn a blind eye to all of that. Instead, Kreon can be viewed as blind because he chooses to turn a blind eye to the injustice that Polyneices body is going through. Kreon also is blind to the fact that the people are protesting him against his actions towards Antigone, as they begin to plead on her behalf.
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