How does Jean Anouilh use anachronisms in  his 1944 play Antigone?

Jean Anouilh intentionally introduced anachronisms into his 1944 play Antigone in order to draw comparisons between the authoritarian government that Antigone faced in ancient Greece and the Nazi government that was ruling France at the time Anouilh's Antigone was written.

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Jean Anouilh's Antigone was first performed in Paris in February of 1944 during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. The plot of Anouilh's play is essentially the same as the ancient Greek tragedy of Antigone by Sophocles but without the character of Teiresias, the blind prophet-seer who convinced King Creon to rescind Antigone's death sentence and release her from the cave in which she's been walled up to die.

An anachronism is a person, thing, concept, or activity that is placed in a time period where it doesn't belong.

Antigone opens with all of the characters in the play onstage, and the Chorus speaks directly to the audience.

CHORUS. Well, here we are. These people that you see here are about to act out for you the story of Antigone.

The Chorus speaking directly to the audience in their own character is an anachronism in itself. This doesn't occur in Sophocles's Antigone.

The Chorus speaking directly to the audience is also an element of metatheatre—a performance of a play that draws attention to itself as a performance of a play—that continues throughout the play.

The Chorus returns to speak to the audience after Antigone is led away to her death and at the end of the play. In between those instances, the Chorus functions as the Chorus does in an ancient Greek play, talking to the characters, responding to or commenting on the action of the play, and often giving advice.

The many anachronisms that occur in Antigone are deliberately introduced to the play by Anouilh to disorient the audience and to remind them that although they're watching an ancient drama unfold, the play is being performed in the German-occupied France of the day.

For example, the Guards wear modern helmets and leather coats (or "les cirés noirs," oilcloth trench coats) that are reminiscent of the uniform worn by the Gestapo. The guards also smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco, play cards, go to casinos and bars when off-duty, and use handcuffs when they're on-duty.

Antigone is served coffee, toast, and jam for breakfast by her Nurse.

Creon makes reference to Antigone's brother, Polynices, driving a car.

CREON. Do you know what your brother really was?...A cheap, idiotic bounder, that is what he was....A little beast with just wit enough to drive a car faster and throw more money away than any of his pals.

The adults wear evening clothes and frequent nightclubs.

CREON. And later on, when they [Antigone's brothers, Polynices and Eteocles] came home wearing evening clothes, smoking cigarettes, strutting like men, they would take no notice of you and you thought they were wonderful...

CHORUS. There was a ball one night. Ismene [Antigone's sister] wore a new evening dress. She was radiant.

Creon enjoys visiting antique shops.

CHORUS. He would while away whole afternoons in the antique shops of this city of Thebes.

Creon's wife, Eurydice, knits.

CHORUS. Creon has a wife, a Queen. Her name is Eurydice. There she sits, the old lady with the knitting, next to the old Nurse who brought up the two girls. She will go on knitting all through the play, till the times comes for her to go to her room and die.

In all, these anachronisms are intended by Anouilh to cause the audience to reflect on their own experiences with a modern-day authoritarian government (the Nazi government at the time the play was written and first performed) in the way that Antigone experienced an authoritarian government in her own time.

Anouilh wants the audience to ask themselves the following: what would they have done if they were in Antigone's situation, and what will they do now in their own situation?

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 22, 2020
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