What are some of the most significant scenes in Sophocles' Antigone?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The way to determine what scenes are significant is by considering what the scene reveals. Things to consider are whether or not they reveal/develop characterization, reveal a theme, or plot development. Since formatting on eNotes limits space, below are a couple of scenes and a discussion of why they are important to help get you started.

I would say that the very first scene of Antigone is one of the most important. It is particularly important because it helps develop both Antigone's and Ismene's characterization. We are able to very quickly see that Antigone is characterized as a very driven person. She is very quick to judge what is moral and immoral. She is also extremely strong willed, and we may even be able to characterize her as impulsive. These character traits are portrayed through her decision to fight against injustice, particularly unjust law, by burying her brother, as well as through things she says in this scene. In addition, her decision also relays several central themes in the play, including injustice and impetuousness. In contrast, Ismene is characterized as very frightened and very submissive. It is evident that the things she has gone through have shaped her character to the point where she fears death and more loss of family members. Hence, we see that the first scene is a very vital scene.

Scene IV in which we first meet Haemon can also be considered a very important scene. One reason is that this scene particularly reveals Creon's characterization. The scene reveals him to be an arrogant tyrant, one who believes in absolute rule over his citizens, as we see in his lines, "Should I rule this land for myself or for others? ... Isn't the city thought to be her rulers?" (747-749). In addition, Creon's nature in conjunction with Haemon's view that he is acting wrongly helps portray another central theme concerning the dangers of tyranny.

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The opening scene of the play is of great significance. In it, Antigone discusses the central conflict of the play—her piety and devotion to her brother Polynices against the edict of Creon, king of Thebes and her uncle. Antigone reveals that Creon has proclaimed that nobody, on pain of death, should bury the body of Polynices, who Creon denounces as a traitor. Antigone vows to bury the body in defiance of Creon, explaining to her sister Ismene that she will "do my part . . . to a brother. False to him will I never be found."

The third scene is important as well, because it is in this scene that Creon learns that Antigone has defied his order. She is brought before him by a guard who tells Creon that she was attempting to give burial rites to Polynices. Antigone remains defiant, telling the King that his orders do not supersede those of the gods:

[I]t was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.

The penultimate scene of the play is, of course, also very important. Here we learn that Creon has entered the tomb in which Antigone has been sealed alive as punishment for her crime. He planned to release her, having buried Polynices himself after Teiresias informed him that the unburied body had brought a plague on Thebes. But he found that Antigone is dead, having hanged herself. In the next scene, Eurydice, Creon's wife, kills herself. The king is stricken by grief as he realizes his arrogance and defiance of the gods has caused this tragedy. In these final two scenes the conflict has been fully resolved with very tragic consequences.

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In the play's prologue, the central conflict is introduced along with the characterizations of Ismene and Antigone. The audience learns that in Antigone's view, Creon's edict is offensive to the gods and disrespectful to her brother, and that Ismene does not share her sister's fiery nature and desire to set things right even if it means personal risk.

In the play's first episode, Creon's characterization is established as he proclaims emptily that he is a fine leader with some vaguely defined principles. His statements are self-aggrandizing, and the subtext is that he is actually insecure in his new position but is covering his insecurity with bluster.

The third episode offers the conflict between father and son as Haemon denounces his father's injustice. Creon's deafness to Haemon's reason seals his son's fate, since Creon does not understand Haemon's determination, just as he does not understand Antigone's.

When Creon learns of Eurydice's suicide in the epilogue it is the final denunciation of Creon's rash and unjust acts. Creon realizes too late that his arrogance has destroyed his entire family.

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