Cocteau chose in 1922 to translate Sophocles’ famous tragedy Antigon (441 b.c.e.; Antigone, 1729) into French. Cocteau himself, in his diaries, declares that he was motivated by a feeling of sympathy with the heroine, who like Joan of Arc, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Jean Genet, shares the condition of being both persecuted and inspired. For Cocteau, the persecution of Antigone will be based on her purity, which distinguishes her from the rest of corrupt society. The first production of Antigone in 1922 was staged at the Atélier in Paris with settings by Pablo Picasso, music by Arthur Honegger, and costumes by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Charles Dullin and Antonin Artaud played the parts of Creon and Tiresias, Cocteau himself took the part of the Chorus, and Genica Atanasiou played Antigone. This collaboration of innovators in all fields of the arts is typical of Cocteau’s productions and films.
Cocteau’s text shortens Sophocles’ tragedy, adapting the Greek tragedy to a unified French dramatic form, and shifts many of the psychological and verbal emphases of the ancient play. Cocteau’s prose is itself shortened; it is often not only concise but abrupt, giving a feel of avant-garde modernity to the play’s language. Cocteau describes his effort as a reduction and “scouring” of language to the point at which the play “hurtles toward its conclusion like an express train.” At the same time that the play is accelerated by Cocteau’s...
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