Essays and Criticism
Family versus Community in Antigone
Literary criticism of a dramatic work can help readers in several ways. It can clarify difficult passages in the play itself. It can assist readers in identifying assumptions that they bring to their viewing or reading of a play. And it can point out important issues raised in the play that warrant more thought and/or discussion. When the play in question is Sophocles's Antigone, criticism can be especially helpful concerning the preconceived notions a reader may have concerning the work. The play is an ancient tragedy and, as such, contemporary readers often have difficulty relating to the story and characters. A first time reader of Antigone may have assumptions regarding ancient classics that conflict with their own values and beliefs, assumptions that can color their reading of the play.
This is true concerning a number of issues in the play. For example, is Antigone a noble, heroic victim or a fanatical, willfully stubborn character who causes the deaths of two other innocent people? Wallace Grey noted in Homer to Joyce that Antigone is "the first heroine of Western drama." At the same time, he also called Antigone's stubbornness a "wrong," which, when combined with the wrong of Creon, does not make a right. In Grey's words, Antigone is a "lone individual, isolated from the gods and from other people … the representative Sophoclean hero or heroine." Another issue, in addition to the character of Antigone, concerns the dramatic...
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The Antigone and its Moral
The Antigone has every quality of a fine tragedy, and fine tragedies can never become mere mummies for [critics] to dispute about: they must appeal to perennial human nature, and even the ingenious dulness of translators cannot exhaust them of their passion and their poetry.
E'en in their ashes live their wonted fires.
[Matthew Arnold] said that the dramatic motive of the Antigone was foreign to modern sympathies, but it is only superficially so. It is true we no longer believe that a brother, if left unburied, is condemned to wander a hundred years without repose on the banks of the Styx; we no longer believe that to neglect funeral rites is to violate the claims of the infernal deities. But these beliefs are the accidents and not the substance of the poet's conception. The turning point of the tragedy is not, as it is stated to be in the argument prefixed to [an 1855 school] edition, "reverence for the dead and the importance of the sacred rites of burial,'' but the conflict between these and obedience to the State. Here lies the dramatic collision: the impulse of sisterly piety which allies itself with reverence for the Gods, clashes with the duties of citizenship; two principles, both having their validity, are at war with each (pp. 262-63).
It is a very superficial criticism which interprets the character of Creon as that of a hypocritical tyrant, and regards Antigone as...
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Dramatic Effect in Sophocles
The stern violence of the actors in the drama is to be seen throughout: Antigone knows that if she gives-Polyneices burial, she will be stoned to death. When Creon warns the members of the Chorus not to aid those who disobey his commands, the leader intimates that death would be the punishment and Creon agrees. When Antigone is revealed as the culprit, Creon regards her action as direct defiance of his commands … charges her with that tragic fault.…
When Haemon comes to plead with his father, the Chorus announce his approach with a comment on his mood of bitterness and grief. Their final word contains a foreboding note on the tragic excess of this grief. In the scene which follows, Sophocles gives one of many striking examples of his irony in the speech in which Creon bids his son reject Antigone and send her off "to find a marriage in Hades." This foreshadows Haemon's own doom, later described by the messenger, in which he is said to have "found his marriage in the halls of Hades," i.e. with the dead Antigone. The dramatist, as usual, draws a moral from his doom—that the greatest evil which can befall mankind is … (want of judgment)—a Delphic utterance which as so often in Sophocles, can be applied in two ways, to Creon as well as to Haemon.
In the long dialogue with his father, Haemon gives a veiled warning that Antigone's death may involve someone else. But Creon's [want of judgement], another tragic flaw in his nature, makes him...
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