What is the significance of the setting in the play Antigone?

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The actual physical setting for Sophocles's Antigone is the Theater of Dionysus, located on south side of the Acropolis in Athens. This is the same location that the plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, and other Greek playwrights of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE were first performed.

In the theater, there is a circular area, the orchestra, about sixty feet in diameter, in which most of the action of the play occurs. Since an ancient Greek play is essentially a religious lesson, there is an altar, the thymele, in the center of the orchestra, around which the chorus sings and dances.

The orchestra is in front of the skene building, originally a temple, which is where the main actors enter and exit.

On either side of the skene building is a passageway, the parados, where the chorus proceeds in and out.

The audience sits in the theatron, which was originally rows of wooden benches set into the hillside of the Acropolis and arranged about three-fourths of the way around the orchestra. The wooden benches were later replaced with stone seating.

The theatron was expanded over time until it seated an audience of upwards of 16,000 spectators.

The setting for Antigone itself is much the same as it is for other ancient Greek plays: "In front of... something." For Sophocles's Oedipus Rex and Antigone, the setting is "In front of the Palace at Thebes." The setting of Euripides's Medea is "In front of Medea's house in Corinth." The settings of the plays in Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy are "In front of the palace of Agamemnon in Argos" (Agamemnon), "In front of the Tomb of Agamemnon, In front of the Palace at Argos," (The Libation Bearers), and "In front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi," (Eumenides).

Greek plays of the sixth and fifth centuries rarely changed setting within the plays themselves. The Theater of Dionysus had no mechanism for changing scenes, and the skene building served nicely as the different palaces, temples, and tombs in front of which the plays were enacted.

The significance of the settings of these different plays is that the plays occur in a public place and in front of important buildings where rulers and subjects can gather and be seen. This imparts a seriousness of purpose and a heightened sense of importance to the action of the play, and it enhances the high-born status of the major characters in the play.

Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and the sister of Polyneices and Eteocles, all former kings of Thebes, and Antigone is the niece of Creon, the current king of Thebes. Antigone is perfectly at home in the courtyard in front of the Palace at Thebes.

The setting of Antigone also emphasizes the events which occurred in Oedipus Rex and which bring Antigone to the present action of the play.

The Palace at Thebes is where Antigone and her brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, and her sister, Ismene, were born to their father/brother, Oedipus, and their mother/grandmother, Jocasta. Jocasta committed suicide and Oedipus blinded himself within the walls of this palace. Polyneices and Eteocles shared a throne here, and they fought a civil war and killed each other over that same throne.

More than the setting for most ancient Greek plays, the setting of Antigone is particularly evocative of the history of the location itself and of the events which occurred here and which bring Antigone to this important crossroads in her life.

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