The Play

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This modern version of the ancient drama by Sophocles, about the daughter of Oedipus, takes place in the Theban palace, now ruled by Antigone’s uncle, Creon. In the opening scene, the Chorus, played by one person, introduces the characters, who are all on stage, and gives a brief synopsis of the situation in Thebes and the civil war which has resulted in the simultaneous deaths of Antigone’s two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles. The two sons of Oedipus were supposed to share the throne of Thebes, ruling in alternate years. Eteocles refused to give up the throne after one year, however, and his brother attacked Thebes with the aid of foreign princes. The assault was unsuccessful, and the two brothers killed each other in single combat. Now Creon, who has inherited the throne, has decreed that Eteocles be given a hero’s funeral, but the traitor-brother’s body shall rot in the field without religious burial. Anyone who seeks to bury the body shall be put to death.

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The Chorus introduces the players, giving a brief insight into their characters or role in the action. Antigone sits on the stairs that dominate the center of the stage. She is thin and pensive, staring at nothing, a tense, willful girl who is conspicuously unlike her beautiful sister Ismene, who chats amiably with Haemon, Creon’s son. The Chorus remarks that one would think that Haemon would prefer the enchanting Ismene to the withdrawn and serious sister, but, in fact, he has proposed to Antigone, who immediately agreed to marry him.

Creon the king sits with his page at his side. He looks tired and worn. The Chorus explains that he was a lover of music and a collector of rare manuscripts and art in his younger days, when he was simply brother-in-law to King Oedipus. Now he is impelled by a strong sense of duty, trying to restore order in a society ravaged by civil war. Creon’s wife Eurydice, who sits knitting through much of the action on stage, appears to one side with the Nurse who reared the girls. Members of the royal family wear modern evening clothes, one of the frequent anachronisms found throughout the play. Guards wear leather jackets and modern helmets.

The stage darkens and the tragedy begins. It is early morning and Antigone steals in from outside; she is discovered by the Nurse and roundly scolded for having been outside barefoot. Later, Ismene comes downstairs looking for Antigone. When the girls are alone, Ismene remonstrates with Antigone about her resolve to bury their brother Polynices and refuses to join in the enterprise. She gives all the good reasons for not doing so, knowing full well that Creon would feel compelled to put them to death for defying him. Actually, Antigone has already accomplished Polynice’s burial.

A guard enters the king’s office and nervously reports that someone has covered the body with earth the way the priests do in ritual burial. Creon, in well-controlled anger, orders him to expose the body again and tell no one.

Meanwhile, Haemon arrives, and Antigone rushes downstairs to meet him. Haemon is a gentle and loving person, but he is somewhat puzzled by Antigone’s behavior. They discuss the evening before, when Antigone appeared at Haemon’s rooms in unaccustomed, seductive finery, having borrowed Ismene’s clothes and makeup. Haemon was both surprised and somewhat put off by the change, and Antigone left in confusion. Antigone now explains her behavior as an attempt to be like other girls, assuming that men preferred women like Ismene. She had wanted to be desired as a woman. Haemon is both amused at her efforts at seduction and annoyed that she did not credit him with knowing his own mind. There is a tender reconciliation, during which Antigone assures him of what a gentle, caring mother she would have been for their son. The affectionate Haemon does not notice the odd subjunctive mode of her speech. Then she makes him...

(The entire section contains 3191 words.)

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