In Antigone, dramatic irony is used when the sentry comes to tell Creon that the body of Polyneices has been given a light burial. Creon has ordered that the body be watched by the guards so that no one would be able to bury the body. However, the audience knows that Antigone has planned to give her brother's body a burial based on the conversation that she has with her sister Ismene at the beginning of the play. When the sentry reports the burial, the audience knows that Antigone is responsible for the burial, but Creon does not know who has buried the body. He assumes that the sentries are behind the burial and he threatens them with punishment if they do not find out who is responsible. Because the audience is knowledgeable about something that the characters are not, this is an example of dramatic irony.
Dramatic irony is evident when the audience, or reader, is privy to information to which the characters in the play are not. In Antigone, much of the dramatic irony surrounds issues of gender and the expectations associated with each gender. It is especially interesting, and important for analysis, to think critically about how the gender expectations of an ancient Greek audience compare to the gender expectations of today's audience.
In Act I, upon learning about the burial of the body, which was a direct violation of his decree, Creon says to the guard, "What sayest thou? What living man hath dared this deed?" The audience knows that Antigone (a woman, not a man) has committed the act. The significance of this dramatic irony lies in the fact that Creon does not consider a woman capable of such independent and rebellious action. The action of burying her brother not only characterizes Antigone, but provides the dramatic irony to determine Creon's view on women as well.
Dramatic irony occurs when a character in the play speaks in a manner that indicates he or she is unaware of other circumstances of which the audience is aware. In Scene 3 of Sophocles's Antigone, King Creon speaks to his son Haemon, who is engaged to Antigone, telling him,
Therefore, rulers must be
supported, and we must not yield to women.
It would be better, if it had to be,
to fall at a man's hands and not to be called
worse than a woman. (687-691)
The audience knows that Antigone has buried her brother and that Creon will probably be defeated by her determination because she obeys the law of god.
Another example of dramatic irony occurs in one of the final scenes as the blind prophet Teiresias predicts the ruin of Thebes. But Creon retorts,
But, the cleverest
of mortals, old Tiresias, fall with shameful
crash, when they decorate shameful words
for the sake of profit. (1051-1054)
Unfortunately for Creon, he is unaware that he is describing himself; for, he suffers a tragic fall in the end as he realizes that his prideful actions against Antigone have precipitated the deaths of his son and wife.
Antigone is engaged to marry her first cousin, Haemon, and her uncle, Creon, who is Haemon's father, is sentencing Antigone to death. Antigone's future father in law is the one guilty of destroying their relationship.