Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

Although Anouilh’s Antigone enjoyed initial success, it has not endured through the years as well as Sophocles’ version. First produced in Paris in 1944, the play ran for more than five hundred performances to popular and critical acclaim. The political climate of Paris during those years made for a receptive audience.

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That successful initial run of Antigone established Anouilh’s reputation in France. According to Leonard Pronko, it ‘‘served as a rallying point for the disheartened French, who could see their own struggle reflected in the conflict between the uncompromising attitude of Antigone and the expediency of Creon. They identified Antigone with the spirit of Freedom, and Creon with the Vichy government.’’

Two years later, the play ran on Broadway, but the performance was not well accepted; it closed after only forty-four performances. Critics considered it too intellectual and lacking in emotion.

Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune damned the play with the faint praise, calling it a ‘‘reasonably workable play.’’

Lewis Nichols of the Times complained of ‘‘unrationalized talk by characters who are not quite living beings,’’ while Howard Barnes of the Herald Tribune called it ‘‘remote and dramatically inarticulate,’’ although he could see how it succeeded in Vichy France.

Likewise, Louis Kronenberger of the newspaper PM maintained that ‘‘as an inspirational figure for an occupied Paris she [Antigone] had her value; as a human being she is quite unreal.’’ The pessimism and the wordiness of the play did not appeal to Americans at that time.

Subsequent productions of the play have proved no more successful. Critics agree that much of the play’s appeal is found in its allegorical significance to the French people. As such, although Anouilh is a respected playwright worldwide, his most enthusiastic audiences continue to be French. It is in his native country that the play endures and still is celebrated as a relevant work for the contemporary theater.

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