At the end of Antigone, do you sympathize with Creon, or do you think that he is a misogynist dictator who gets what he deserves? How do you choose a side, Creon or Antigone?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Creon does in large measure get what he deserves at the end of the play, although this does not mean that we can’t feel sorry for him. He brings retribution down on his own head by his intemperate speech and actions, but the disaster that finally overwhelms him is of such magnitude that it is hard not to pity him.

Actually, to begin with Creon seems quite reasonable, with honourable principles, as he establishes himself as the defender of the city against the traitor Polynices, refusing to allow his body a decent burial. His opening speech is measured and eloquent as he extols loyalty to the city above all else ‘our country is our safety,’ he declares: and his exposure of the traitor’s corpse, although a dubious move, is presented at this stage as a justifiable act overall.

However, Creon’s reasonable façade quickly changes once Antigone sets herself up to defy him. He becomes more and more vitriolic and vindictive, showing himself to be extremely hot-tempered, too quick to react to insults, real or imagined. He is furious at being defied by a woman: ‘no woman is going to lord it over me,’ he thunders. But misogyny is not the only reason for his anger. He rails against anyone who challenges him, like the prophet Tiresias and his own son Haemon. In short, he shows himself to be a very poor ruler, with distinct lack of judgement and restraint. He betrays the principles that he initially claimed to honour, as in his pride and willfulness he sets himself up before the city: ‘the city is the king’s’, he declares. In other words, he shows himself to be a tyrant. He becomes more and more more stubborn even when it’s becoming clear that his edict to refuse Polynices burial is disapproved of by the gods; he insists on Antigone’s being buried alive for honouring the traitor who also happens to be her brother.

Only when it is too late does Creon start to repent of his actions. By then, Antigone has hanged herself and Haemon, her lover, also kills himself in his grief and fury against Creon as does Eurydice, Creon's wife. They both die cursing Creon who is finally crushed. He realizes that it is his own ‘mad, fanatic heart’ , his tyrannical ways, that have led to this. His horrified self-recognition, his utter despair at the end of the play does increase our sympathy for him, but the fact remains that the punishment he suffers is more or less of his own doing.

Although Creon reveals himself to be the villain of the piece, Antigone is really just as rigid in her own beliefs and actions. She extols family duties above all else, just as he champions loyalty to the state. She doesn’t listen to his claims any more than he listens to hers, and so the stage is ripe for an all-consuming clash between two hot-headed, self-righteous characters. Antigone, like Creon, is quite arrogant towards those who don’t share her ideas. It is certainly easier to side with her as a character, as she appears as a noble rebel, defiant to the death, and she becomes the victim of Creon’s tyranny. However, it should be borne in mind that she is really just as set in her ways as Creon.