Antigone by Sophocles

BACKGROUND

This play is a Greek tragedy written in the fifth century BC. Sophocles is one of three Greek playwrights whose works survive.The Antigone is the story of Antigone (shocking!), the daughter of Oedipus the guy who killed his father and married his momma). Creon is the leader of Thebes now that Oedipus is gone. The play starts just after Thebes has repelled an attack by seven other Greek city-states (hence, the seven against Thebes). Polyneices is one of Antigone’s brothers; Eteocles is Antigone’s other brother. Both died in the battle. Eteocles defended Thebes, and Creon wants to give him a ticker-tape parade and a hero’s funeral. Polyneices fought against Thebes, and Creon wants to leave his body in a field and let dogs eat the corpse. Creon declares that anyone who buries Polyneices will be put to death. Antigone, being the loyal sister she is, insists on burying Polyneices. And here, my friends, the conflict begins. The Antigone deals with issues of Gods’ law versus Man’s law, individual rights versus the rights of the state. The play finally decides that the law of the Gods supercedes the law of Man, and that the rights of the state don’t always take precedence over the rights of individuals.

A note: Greek plays aren’t divided into acts and scenes the same way our plays are. You might find the play broken down into episodes and stasima (choral songs, or odes). Generally, Greek plays have three to six episodes. You can think of the episodes as acts and you know when an episode is over because the chorus begins a stasima. Some translations will divide the play into scenes and acts; others will use Greek terms. What matters is that the Greeks didn’t write their plays in scenes and acts. Our translation (Fitts and Fitzgerald, in case you’re interested) uses these divisions: prologue (which provides information about what happened before the play starts), parados (the entrance of the chorus), scenes and odes.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Antigone: daughter (and sister) of Oedipus, girlfriend of Haemon, niece of Creon, sister of Ismene and both Eteocles and Polyneices. She buries Polyneices and is put to death.

Ismene: sister of Antigone, she doesn’t want to bury Polyneices because she’s afraid of Creon.

Creon: King of Thebes, uncle and brother-in-law of Oedipus. He wishes he were dead.

Haemon: Creon’s son, Antigone’s boyfriend. He dies.

Tiresias: blind prophet of Thebes, he knows what’s up, but Creon won’t listen to him.

Eurydice: Queen of Thebes. She dies.

Chorus: the old men of Thebes

Messenger, Guards, Servants, Soldiers

PLOT

The play starts the morning after the Seven Against Thebes were defeated. Polyneices and Eteocles both died in the battle. Creon has declared that no one is to bury Polyneices. Antigone has decided to bury Polyneices and tries to get Ismene to help her. Ismene refuses. Several people warn Antigone not to defy Creon, but she doesn’t listen and gets caught. Creon sentences her to die. Haemon pleads with Creon not to kill Antigone. Creon won’t listen. Haemon kills himself. Eurydice finds out that her son, Haemon, is dead. Eurydice kills herself. The play ends with Creon miserable, his wife and son dead, Antigone dead, the city of Thebes turned against him, and Tiresias laughing at him. All of it is his own fault, and he wishes he had listened to the Gods. In between, the chorus talks about the nature of man, some soldiers are bitched out, Antigone tells off everyone andwallows in self-pity. As fitting a Greek tragedy, most of the characters die or are destroyed by the end.

SCENE BY SCENE

Prologue

  • Antigone and Ismene talk about Creon’s declaration regarding their brothers.
  • Antigone says she’s going to bury Polyneices anyway.
  • Ismene tries to "talk some sense" into Antigone.
  • Antigone is hardheaded and won’t listen and tells Ismene to go to hell. (not literally)

Parados

The chorus and the choregoi (chorus leader, kind of like the head cheerleader) sing about how Polyneices led the Seven Against Thebes and how Thebes "like a mighty dragon" kicked the crap out of the attackers.

Scene One

  • Creon enters and officially declares what we already know: Polyneices is to remain unburied.
  • A Sentry comes in and beats around the bush before telling Creon that someone has buried Polyneices.
  • The Chorus suggests that the Gods have buried Polyneices.
  • Creon says they’re senile and tells the Sentry to bring in the person who buried Polyneices.
  • Creon storms out in a huff.

Ode One

The Chorus sings a song about how great Man is.

Scene Two

  • The Sentry brings in Antigone after catching her re-burying Polyneices.
  • Creon comes out and wants to hear the whole story.
  • Creon asks Antigone if it’s true that she buried Polyneices.
  • Antigone confesses and gives a soapbox speech about following the law of the Gods.
  • Creon’s manhood is challenged, and he reacts by going macho. ("Who is the man here?")
  • Creon tells his servants to arrest Ismene.
  • Creon and Antigone argue about honor and loyalty.
  • Ismene comes in and Creon asks her if she’s guilty too.
  • Ismene tries to confess, but Antigone gives her the Heisman and shuts her off.
  • Creon pronounces, yet again, that Antigone must die.

Ode Two

The Chorus sings about how bad it is to be human and piss off the Gods.

Scene Three

  • Haemon and Creon argue over Antigone.
  • Creon rambles about the duties of a "good son."
  • Haemon tells Creon that he’s going to kill himself if Creon kills Antigone.
  • The Chorus convinces Creon that it would be a bad thing if he killed Antigone himself, so, in a pathetic attempt to keep his hands clean, he decides to lock her in a vault outside the city and let her die.

Ode Three

The Chorus sings a song about love.

  • Scene Four
  • Antigone marches through on her way to her little place in the country (that is, her death chamber).
  • The Chorus feels sorry for her.
  • She feels sorrier for herself and makes a noble, martyr’s speech.
  • Antigone accuses the Chorus of making fun of her.
  • The Chorus brings up Oedipus.
  • Antigone and the Chorus debate.
  • Creon cuts them off and sends off Antigone to die.

Ode Four

The Chorus sings a song about Destiny and some Greeks who were screwed by Destiny.

Scene Five

  • Tiresias warns Creon that the Gods are against Antigone’s death sentence and his refusal to bury Polyneices.
  • Creon accuses Tiresias of being bribed to speak against him.
  • The Chorus advises Creon to free Antigone and bury Polyneices.
  • Creon finally comes to his senses and agrees to follow the advice of the Chorus.

Paen (the last ode)

The Chorus sings a song about Dionysus.

Exodos (the last scene plus the exit of the Chorus)

  • Messenger tells the Chorus that Haemon committed suicide.
  • Eurydice comes out and asks the Messenger what’s going on.
  • In painful detail, the Messenger tells Eurydice what happened:
    • Creon had gone out to free Antigone, but she had hanged herself before he got there.
    • Haemon is there and he spits in Creon’s face, then draws his sword and attacks Creon.
    • Creon dodges, and Haemon stabs himself.
  • After hearing the story, Eurydice runs into the palace.
  • The Messenger goes into the palace to check on Eurydice.
  • Creon comes onstage with Haemon’s body and laments the death of his son.
  • The Messenger comes out of the palace and tells Creon that Eurydice has killed herself.
  • The doors of the palace open to reveal Eurydice’s body.
  • Messenger says that Eurydice stabbed herself.
  • Creon wails about being guilty for killing his wife and son, and how pride was his downfall.
  • The Chorus observes that "there is no wisdom but in submission to the Gods."

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • The main theme here is the Will of the Gods and the Law of Man: Don't mess with the Gods are you will be screwed.
  • The big issue your teacher will bring up is: Who was right, Creon or Antigone?
  • You can answer this either way really. You can say Creon made a decision and needed to stick with it or you can say blood is thicker than water and Antigone had to defy the law to bury her brother.
  • An interesting point is that Antigone wasn’t very subtle about burying her brother and her motives might be suspect. Maybe she wanted to get caught?
  • Greek tragedies were sung.
  • Only three actors were allowed and they had to play all the major parts. The members of the Chorus didn’t count as one of the three actors.
  • Greek actors performed in masks.
  • The Antigone was performed in 442 BC
  • Greek plays were performed at the City Dionysus, a civic/religious festival. Hence the choral ode to Dionysus.