Introduction of Antigone
Antigone was written by Sophocles, the great Grecian playwright, and is known as the most popular of the Theban plays trilogy. The play was probably written around 442BC. It is also stated that it was written after the other two plays yet the story of the play occurs before them. It links the storyline of Antigone with that of the play Seven Against Thebes written by Aeschylus, a contemporary of Sophocles. The storyline of the play deals with the issue of the burial of Polynices, the brother of Antigone, who has become the victim of Creon’s enacted law against the burial of a rebel of the state. Antigone buries him and faces the consequences of her act of disobedience to the state laws.
Summary of Antigone
The storyline of the play begins when the invasion by the forces of Argos has been routed out of the city of Thebes. However, it happens that Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of the famous Oedipus. Eteocles and Polynices were supposed to take turns in ruling the city but Eteocles refuses to step down. They have met their ends in this war from different warring parties. Following the route of the invading army, Creon takes reigns of the city in his hands, issuing a decree that Polynices, as a rebel of the city, does not deserve to be given a proper burial, leaving him to rot in the open, whereas Eteocles was given an honorable burial. He has stated that it will serve as a warning to the traitors of the city. He further adds that no one would try to perform his burial against the state laws and the offenders of this law will invite a death sentence.
On the other hand, both the daughters of Oedipus, Ismene, and Antigone, are aggrieved. They are witnessing the loss of both of their brothers in the war. However, Antigone goes against the laws enacted by the incumbent ruler, Creon. She states that it is an unwritten divine law that death should be given a proper burial. Therefore, a man-made law cannot overrule it. Therefore, she vows that she would violate this man-made law and perform the burial rites of the dead body of her brother, Polynices. However, the sanguine sister, Ismene is aware of Creon’s authority and implores her sister not to defy the city law, though, without any success.
When finally Antigone musters up the courage to fulfill her words about performing the burial rights of her brother’s dead body, she is caught in the middle of the act. The city ruler, Creon, who happens to be her uncle too, becomes infuriated at this insolence and orders to bring Antigone before him. However, she also becomes defiant and argues that she has obeyed the divine laws against the state law but Creon insists that she must face the legal injunctions enacted in this connection. Meanwhile, her sister, Ismene reaches there and pleas Creon to spare her. It is because she is going to be her daughter-in-law due to her being the fiancée of Haemon, Creon’s son. Ismene tells him that she was also involved in the violation of the law hoping she would be punished alongside her sister but Antigone rejects her and says she doesn’t deserve to die. Creon spares Isemene, yet, he stays adamant to punish Antigone and the fact that the city law must be enforced at every cost come what may.
When Haemon comes to know about his father’s obduracy, he also arrives to request him to reconsider the question of his would-be wife stating that “under cover of darkness the city mourns for the girl” On the other hand, the Thebans also consider it a ruler’s intervention instead of the will of God and express sympathy with Antigone for burying her brother. When Creon sees his own son requesting him, he becomes too much angry and reprimands him for interfering in the state matters, though, Haemon argues that it is injustice. Seeing Creon not moving at this, Haemon threatens another death but still, Creon stays adamant.
When Antigone faces the law, she refuses to submit to Creon’s demand. Tiresias, the soothsayer, warns Creon of grave consequences for working against the divine injunctions. Tiresias warns that Polynices require a proper burial and now to punish Antigone for doing the right thing by executing her, will only anger the Gods and bring wrath upon the City of Thebes. But exactly similar to Oedipus, Creon also berates Tiresias for false prophesy and bribery at which Tiresias predicts the death of his son for taking the life of Antigone. Antigone was immured as against the admonition of Tiresias by confining her under the Earth alive and leaving her to die. Antigone reflects on her wrongdoing and regrets her actions for going against the laws of the King and hangs herself. Meanwhile, a messenger reaches the palace to inform Creon about Haemon’s suicide. Haemon commits suicide by stabbing himself and lays in a pool of blood next to Antigone. When Creon’s wife, Eurydice, inquires, the messenger relates the whole story of how Haemon has found Antigone hanging at which he has also committed suicide. When Creon sees the dead body of his son, he becomes much aggrieved but feels more heartbroken when he hears the news of the suicide of his wife, Eurydice, too. Eurydice curses her husband for the loss of their children. In the end, Creon blames himself for how others’ lives were depended on the life of Antigone and how they’d have lived if he wasn’t rash and adamant in following the duties of rule.
Major Themes in Antigone
- Blindness: Antigone demonstrates the thematic strand of blindness in the same way as it is presented in Oedipus Rex. Both, Oedipus and Creon, do not see their inner blindness because of their ego or pride. They do not accept or think that they could be wrong. Creon is furious at Antigone for defying the city law and preferring the divine law to perform burial rites of her slain brother. When things cross limits, Creon berates Tiresias and becomes the victim of his own pride, again believes that he cannot commit a mistake. He has to pay the price of his arrogant blindness resulting in the death of his son as well as his wife.
- Natural Law: Antigone shows the difference between man-made law and natural law through the character of Creon and Antigone. Antigone is well aware of the difference and knows that the state is behind Creon and Creon is after the man-made law, the reason for his insistence that it must be adhered to in performing burial rights of Polynices. However, Antigone does not care and goes for the natural laws in defiance to Creon, or better to say, the state. When Creon goes beyond the limits after he sees Antigone disrespects it, he suffers the consequences of violating the natural laws.
- Political Loyalty and Family Loyalty: The play demonstrates the theme of political loyalty and family fidelity through the characters of Creon, Antigone, and Polynices. Although Polynices knows well that he is fighting against his maternal uncle, yet he goes into the war. Creon is politically loyal to Thebes and so are Ismene and Antigone. However, when it comes to performing final rites, only Antigone comes forward and goes for it despite having political consequences. This is the family loyalty that she performs burial rites of her brother despite the staunch opposition of Creon and her own sister.
- Arrogance: Antigone shows the theme of arrogance as a hubris of the main character, Creon. Creon has enacted a law that the rebel does not deserve a burial. However, Antigone contends that it is a divine law and the divine law must be upheld over every other man-made law. When Creon insists and behaves too arrogantly to give reason a chance, the results are harrowing for him too that his own son kills himself, and then his wife follows suit. And this happens even though Tiresias also warns him of his blunder but his arrogance does not let him listen to any sane voice.
- Femininity: The thematic strand of femininity resides in the title of the play, and in the individual character of Antigone. Ismene shows true and passive femininity when she advises her sister that she should not violate the Creon-made state law of not performing proper burial of the rebel, be it their brother. However, femininity asserts through Antigone who defies the state laws on the logic of complying with the divine laws. She goes on to perform the burial rites of her brother, Polynices.
- Civil Disobedience: The play shows the theme of civil disobedience in two characters; the first is Antigone and the second is Haeman, the son of Creon. When Creon enacts this law that a rebel does not deserve a proper burial, he knows little that it would be violated by his family members. Antigone, despite a warning from Isemen, violates this law and starts civil disobedience, while Haemon, too, goes for civil disobedience knowing full well his headstrong father, the king. The king, later, laments this mass civil disobedience at his own home.
- Free Will and Fate: The play shows the theme of free will and fate through the characters of Antigone and Creon. Creon is bound to enact the city laws but is free to let the violater has his reason. Antigone, on the other hand, is also bound to comply with the divine law and does not care about the consequences of violating the state laws. It seems that though Creon has the choice to leave his niece, yet he goes against it and tries her for violating the laws and faces repercussions which is his fate, while the compliance obduracy is his free will.
- Tyranny: The theme of tyranny is obvious in the character of Creon, who has become a towering personality after banishing Oedipus from the city. However, when he insists on the city law to enact against Antigone for upholding the divine law of performing the burial rites of Polynices, the Thebans first become baffled at his obduracy and later withdraw their consent for making him a ruler, as he has shown a clear proclivity toward tyranny strongly resisted by the city.
- Power: The play shows the use of power through the characters of Creon as well as Tiresias and Creon’s son, Haemon. Creon uses his state power to curb the rebellious spirit of Antigone but she uses her femininity as well as sanguinity to rise against him. Tiresias uses his power of soothsaying to warn Creon, while Creon’s son uses his will to show his father that he can resist him by dying.
Major Characters in Antigone
- Antigone: The main character as well as the protagonist, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and his sister born to Jocasta. In the play, she has been shown a defiant girl who does not consider her sister, Ismene’s advice that her brother Polynices’s dead body should stay lying in the open to comply with the state laws enacted by her uncle and now king, Creon. She, therefore, openly defies and abides by the divine laws that his dead body should be given a proper burial. Her heroic and righteous confrontation against Creon’s hotheaded argumentative force wins her readers’ sympathies following the ignominy of the girls from their father’s side.
- Ismene: Although Ismene is a secondary character after her sister, Antigone, she also seems reasonable in her suggestion which is not only rational but also pragmatic. She knows that Creon would not stop short of enacting the laws that mean the death of Antigone and she has already suffered much; her father was banished, her brother has been killed in the opposite camps and her mother committed suicide. Although she does not help her, she loves her family very much and stands by her sister’s decision.
- Creon: Creon is the third most important character in the play after both sisters. He assumes charge of the city-state of Thebes after banishing Oedipus. However, he has lately become reckless and makes his own law after the fierce battle that the rebels of the city will not be given proper burial rites. Yet, Antigone defies this law saying that it is a man-made law and that divine laws permit all human beings to be given proper burial without any discrimination. Therefore, Creon becomes rash, arrogant, and irrational after he comes to know about this non-compliance to his law from Antigone. Consequently, he suffers for it as his own son commits suicide for sentencing Antigone, his wife, while his mother and Creon’s wife, too, kills herself.
- The Chorus: The Chorus comprises the Theban elders who appear in unison and voice their opinion about what does not seem rational and sanguine in the existing circumstances. When Creon does not accept any rational argument, the Chorus cautions Creon that arrogance has already cost the city dearly. They comment on the mistakes of all parties involved and express sympathy and pity over the prevalent situation.
- Haemon: Haemon’s role in Antigone is very important on account of his being the fiancé of Antigone. He not only stands by her but also proves his words of dying for her, defying his father to prove him wrong. When he commits suicide after his failed attempt to kill his father, Creon still does not believe until his wife, too, goes on the same path.
- Tiresias: The blind soothsayer appears in all the Greek plays. His task comprises making predictions and stating the words of the Oracle in simple words to make his audience understand the wish of the gods. When he tries to make Creon understand, like Oedipus, Creon also alleges that he is scheming against him but Tiresias stays calm and cool and predicts that by staying arrogant and pig-headed, Creon will cause the death of his family members. And this happens when Haemon commits suicide followed by his mother.
- Watchman: The role of the watchman is significant in that he arrests Antigone during the act of the burial of her brother, Polynices. He speaks on the occasion which shows his concern about his own life instead of showing his concern about laws and their compliance.
- Eurydice: Her character in Antigone is critical in that she is Creon’s wife and mother of Haemon. When she sees that her son is no more, she also follows him and commits suicide, causing a severe blow to the hotheadedness of Creon.
- First Messenger: The messenger does his job of relaying the reports of the suicides to the people and the audiences and leaves after that.
- Second Messenger: The second messenger reports the death of Eurydice and leaves the stage.
Writing Style of Antigone
The writing style of Antigone is marked with dignity, grandeur, and sublimity. Although according to H. D. F. Kitto, the translator of the text used in this analysis, it is very difficult to use the same iambic pentameter in English as was used in ancient Greek, it is easy to preserve its rhythm as it is clear from its smooth and melodic reading. The play starts with the usual prologue and becomes highly tragic and serious in tone, while at times, it turns out sarcastic toward Creon and tragic toward Antigone. The end of the play is ultimately tragic and cathartic.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Antigone
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises Antigone’s defiance to the Theban laws enacted by her uncle, Creon. The rising action occurs when Creon threatens her for violating the law punishable to death. The falling action occurs when Creon decides to free Antigone but she has already hanged herself after Haemon kills himself.
- Antagonist: Antigone shows the character of Creon, as the main antagonist on account of his arrogance and miscalculation about the law and for his obstruction of Antigone in performing the rightful burial rites of her brother.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. A few examples are given below,
i. Driving him back, for hard it is to
Strive with the sons of a Dragon.
For the arrogant boast of an impious man
Zeus hateth exceedingly. (124-128)
ii. And then, when Oedipus maintained our state,
And when he perished, round his sons you rallied,
Still firm and steadfast in your loyalty. (167-169)
iii. ‘Is Man. Against Death alone He is left with no defence.
But painful sickness he can cure By his own skill. (361-364)
iv. Time Thou art strong and ageless,
In thy own Olympus
Ruling in radiant splendor. (607-610)
The first two allusions are related to the Grecian mythology, the third to Oedipus, the fifth to death, and the last again to mythology.
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the play, Antigone. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between man and the world order as Antigone shows through her defiance. Another conflict is in the mind of Antigone as a sister whether she should perform the burial of her brother or not.
- Characters: Antigone presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Antigone, is a dynamic character as she goes through a transformation during her growth in the play from an obedient to a disobedient girl. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters such as Creon, Ismene, Haemon, and even Tiresias.
- Climax: The climax takes place when Creon decides to forgive Antigone for defying his law but he arrives too late and she has committed suicide, while Haemon attacks him, though, he fails.
- Dramatic Irony: The play shows dramatic irony through the character of Tiresias. Although he is physically blind, yet he can see through this mind’s eyes the future of the people of Thebes. He has advised Oedipus and now he is advising Creon but both think that he is a blind soothsayer.
- Foreshadowing: The play shows the following example of foreshadowing,
i. How many miseries our father caused!
And is there one of them that does not fall
On us while yet we live? (1-3)
These lines of the play show that something tragic is going to happen with the daughters of Oedipus.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the play in the first episode as given in the example below,
Antigone: If you keep silent and do not proclaim it.
Ismene. Your heart is hot upon a wintry work! (87-88)
Here Ismene exaggerates things saying that her heart is hot because of the work of winter which is an exaggeration.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
i. Welcome, light of the Sun, the fairest
Sun that ever has dawned upon
Thebes, the city of seven gates! At last thou art arisen, great
Orb of shining day, pouring
Light across the gleaming water of Dirke. (100-105)
ii. Close he hovered above our houses,
Circling around our seven gates, with
Spears that thirsted to drink our blood. (116-118)
iii. Angry accusations
Flew up between us; each man blamed another,
And in the end it would have come to blows,
For there was none to stop it. (258-262).
The above lines from the play show that Sophocles has used different images such as the images of light, sound, color, and again sound.
- Metaphor: Antigone shows good use of various metaphors as given the examples below,
i. Angry accusations
Flew up between us; each man blamed another. (259-260)
ii. For money opens wide the city-gates
To ravishers, it drives the citizens
To exile, it perverts the honest mind. (296-299)
iii. She raised a bitter cry, as will a bird
Returning to its nest and finding it
Despoiled, a cradle empty of its young. (422-425)
iv. But Death comes once again
With blood-stained axe, and hews
The sapling down; and Frenzy lends her aid, and vengeful Madness. (601-603)
The first metaphor shows the accusations compared to birds, the second shows money compared to something magical, and the third shows the cry compared to a bird. The last one shows death compared to an axe.
- Mood: The play, Antigone, shows a very serious and somber mood from the very beginning and turns to tragic and ironic by the end.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the play, Antigone, are the tomb, the bridal bed and death.
- Paradox: The play shows the examples of a paradox as given in the below examples,
i. Our brother’s burial.—Creon has ordained
Honour for one, dishonour for the other. (21-23)
ii. You cannot: you chose life, and I chose death. (555)
This example shows the use of paradox as honor and dishonor has been used in the same verse. The second example shows the life and death used in the same sentence.
- Protagonist: Antigone is the protagonist of the play. The play starts with the entry of Antigone and Ismene on the stage and ends with her.
- Rhetorical Questions: The play shows a good use of rhetorical questions at several places as given in the examples below,
i. I knew it; therefore I have brought you here,
Outside the doors, to tell you secretly.
Ismene. What is it? Some dark shadow is upon you. (17-20)
ii. What can I do, either to help or hinder? 40
Antigone. Will you join hands with me and share my task?
Ismene. What dangerous enterprise have you in mind?
Antigone. Will you join me in taking up the body?
Ismene. What? Would you bury him, against the law? (40-45)
iii. One time it said ‘You fool!
Why do you go to certain punishment?’
Another time ‘What? Standing still, you wretch? (225-227)
The above excerpts show the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters; the first by Antigone, the second by Ismene, and the third by Creon.
- Setting: The setting of the play, Antigone, is the front of the palace of Thebes.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
i. He brought them against our land;
And like some eagle screaming his rage
From the sky he descended upon us,
With his armour about him, shining like snow,
With spear upon spear. (111-115)
ii. Under your threats
That lashed me like a hailstorm, I’d have said
I would not quickly have come here again. (390-393)
iii. You, lurking like a serpent in my house,
Drinking my life-blood unawares; nor did
I know that I was cherishing two fiends. (531-533)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things. The first shows the rage compared to a screaming eagle and then armor’s shine compared to snow. The second shows the threats likened to a hailstorm and the third one shows the person compared to a snake.
- Symbols: The play shows symbols through characters such as Creon is the symbol of tyranny, Antigone a symbol of defiance, and Ismene a symbol of resignation.