How is Antigone a tragic hero?
Antigone can be considered a tragic heroine because she possesses the following defining traits as set by Aristotle's Poetics:
- The tragic hero possesses an error of judgment (hamartia).
- This reversal of fortune is brought about because of the hero's error in judgment (peripeteia).
- The tragic hero possesses excessive pride (hubris).
- The fate of the tragic hero is not entirely deserved.
Questions arise about Antigone's role as the tragic heroine because it is Creon, not Antigone, who experiences one of Aristotle's conditions: a reversal of fortune (peripeteia) in which justice plays a role. In the end, Creon regrets that he has been blinded by his pride and that the unjust edict he has issued has resulted from his bad judgment. Antigone experiences no such reversal of fortune because she is aware from the beginning of the path her actions will take.
However, all the other conditions set by Aristotle hold for Antigone:
1. She buries her brother in defiance of the law, insisting that she answers to divine law. Thus, she commits what Aristotle termed hamartia, "an act of injustice." She tells Creon:
ANTIGONE I dared.
It was not God's proclamation. That final justice
That rules the world below makes no such laws. (Sc. 2)
2. Her reversal of fortune results from her act of defying the edict of Creon. He then accuses her of "barefaced anarchy." He has Antigone locked "in a vault of stone" for this act of disobedience. There she hangs herself with a noose made from her fine linen veil. (Exodus)
3. Antigone demonstrates excessive pride, arrogantly refusing to obey the prohibitions against burying her brother Polyneices.
4. Antigone's fate is somewhat undeserved. Her noble act of love, though in defiance of Creon's edict, should not have resulted in her imprisonment in a vault and subsequent death because Creon himself erred in judgment in forming his edict.
A tragic hero is the character in a tragedy that experiences a downfall because of some kind of flaw. This flaw is called the tragic flaw. Antigone is considered the hero of the play, and she has many tragic flaws which lead to her downfall.
One of Antigone's tragic flaws is her loyalty to the gods and, conversely, her disloyalty to King Creon. At the beginning of the play, Creon puts out an order that Antigone's brother, Polynices, may not be buried because he was a traitor. This is unacceptable to Antigone, and she is determined to honor the gods and give her brother a rightful burial, even if it means being executed for disobeying Creon's orders. Antigone's determination to honor the gods and her brother is one of her tragic flaws.
Antigone's stubbornness is another of her tragic flaws. She fails to see more than one side of the situation. To her, burying her brother is the most important thing. She doesn't think about how it might affect her sister, Ismene, who tries to convince her to back down and follow Creon's orders. She doesn't think about how it will affect Haemon, her fiance and Creon's son. She is too stubborn to see that it might be for the good of everyone involved to give into Creon's orders and let her brother's body lie where it stays.
Ultimately, what makes Antigone a tragic hero in this play are the traits she possesses which lead to her downfall. It is not necessarily her actions, but her convictions and values which cause her to be such a tragic figure.
Actually, there is considerable scholarly debate as to whether Antigone or Creon is the tragic hero of Sophocles' play, Antigone. The concept of "tragic hero" is one defined in Aristotle's Poetics, in which Oedipus is often portrayed as prototypical.
The hero of a tragedy should be of noble lineage, which Antigone is, and possessed of a certain grandeur or greatness of character, which again is true of Antigone. The character must suffer a reversal of fortune over the course of the play, descending from good fortune to misfortune. Since Antigone is a member of the ruling family of Thebes and eventually commits suicide, this is also true. In some way, we must sympathize with or admire the hero of a tragedy as without that, the downfall of the hero would not evoke fear and pity, which are essential elements of a tragedy. Most readers do sympathize with Antigone and so she also satisfies this criterion.