At a Glance
- Antigone: the tragic hero who defies Creon in order to give her brother a proper burial.
- Creon: a tyrant who abuses his power and loses his family.
- Haemon: Creon's son, who commits suicide at the end of the play.
- Ismene: Antigone's sister, who refuses to help Antigone with the burial but shares in the blame for it afterward.
- Tiresias: the blind prophet who interprets the gods' will.
List of Characters
Antigone is the protagonist of Sophocles’s play Antigone. She is Oedipus’s daughter and Creon’s niece. She is pious, brave, and loyal to her family. Upon returning to Thebes and learning that Creon has forbidden anyone from giving her brother, Polyneices, a proper burial, Antigone decides to bury him herself. Rather than doing so in secret, Antigone is proud of her actions and readily claims responsibility. She accuses Creon of impiety and asserts the superiority of the so-called unwritten laws of the gods over the laws of men. Faced with execution, Antigone exclaims that she can die happily knowing that she preserved Polyneices’s dignity in death. (Read extended character analysis on Antigone.)
Creon is the King of Thebes and a recurring character throughout the Oedipus Trilogy. He rose to power after the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices, who inherited the throne from their father, Oedipus. Creon is a practiced statesman who has assisted the rulers of Thebes for many years. At the start of Antigone, he is well respected for his rational, level-headed approach to leadership. However, his cold rationality fails to account for the familial bonds that lead Antigone to bury her brother. He also disregards the gods’ demands that the dead be treated with dignity. (Read extended character analysis on Creon.)
Ismene is Antigone’s prudent and timid sister. Antigone asks her to help bury Polyneices, but Ismene refuses. Though she believes that Antigone is doing the right thing, she is not brave enough to risk the consequences of disobeying Creon. She tells Antigone that their family has suffered enough and that breaking the law will only bring misfortune. In Ismene’s eyes, women are not meant to contend with men, because men hold almost all of the power in Theban society. However, when Antigone is sentenced to death, Ismene asks to die alongside her sister. Antigone angrily rebuffs her, telling Ismene that she has no right to claim the punishment for a deed she refused to commit.
Ismene’s character can be read in different ways. By one interpretation, timid, meek Ismene acts as a foil for brave, headstrong Antigone. Though they both love their brother and believe that he deserves a proper burial, only Antigone has the courage to defy Creon. By this reading, Ismene is a coward who lacks the conviction to act on her principles; she worries more about the ramifications of defying Creon than about her brother Polyneices’s dignity in death. Her retroactive claim that she abetted Polyneices’s burial reveals her guilt and fear over having failed her family in the name of obedience.
However, Ismene can also be read as a rational and sensible character. Unlike bold, rash Antigone, Ismene worries about the consequences of her sister’s actions. She councils Antigone to be prudent and to avoid unnecessary suffering. As the daughters of Oedipus, Antigone and Ismene have already watched their father, mother, and brothers fall victim to fate and hubris. By this interpretation, Ismene is trying to protect her sister from the deadly consequences of defying Creon. Rather than being cowardly, Ismene simply wants to move past the wretched legacy of Oedipus and live in peace.
Haemon is Creon’s son and Antigone’s betrothed. At the start of the play, he is a dutiful son who loves and respects his father. However, after Antigone is sentenced to death, Haemon entreats his father to spare her. Haemon believes that Antigone’s actions were righteous and believes that Creon will see reason. In retaliation, Creon accuses Haemon of being...
(The entire section is 1,657 words.)