Antigone Analysis
by Sophocles

Antigone book cover
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Antigone Analysis

  • Creon and Antigone represent opposing sides in the thematic tension between loyalty and rebellion and between civic duty and familial loyalty. Each character loses either their family or their life.
  • Antigone is a classic example of Greek tragedy. Traditionally, a tragedy describes how a hero is ruined by their tragic flaw. Both Antigone and Creon are considered tragic heroes.
  • Sophocles uses the Greek chorus to interpret and comment on events in the play. In Antigone, the leader of the chorus is a character rather than a background figure.

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Analysis

Sophocles wrote Antigone, as well as the other two installments of his Oedipus trilogy, Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus, for an audience that he could justifiably assume was well-versed in the broader mythology surrounding his characters. As this is not necessarily the case for today’s audience, it is important to consider some background information. Fate is a major theme in all of Sophocles’s works, including Antigone, and each character should be understood as fulfilling divinely ordained trajectories that are often generations in the making.

As such, we should see the events of Antigone as the culmination of a fated and divine justice stemming all the way back to the acts of Theban King Laius, Antigone’s grandfather, who kidnapped and raped Chrysippus, the son of King Pelops of Pisa. This act resulted in King Laius being cursed to give birth to a son, Oedipus, who was fated to kill King Laius and marry Jocasta, his own mother.

This curse of King Oedipus, however, did not end after Oedipus famously tore out his own eyes and became banished from Thebes. Oedipus and Jocasta gave birth to two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. After Oedipus’s banishment, Polynices and Eteocles fought one another over the throne of Thebes and were cursed by Oedipus to die at one another’s hands. This event caused Creon, Oedipus’s brother-in-law (and uncle), to become king of Thebes. Creon subsequently issues an order to leave Polynices unburied, which is the inciting incident of Antigone.

The ultimate tragedy of Antigone, and the end of the Oedipal line of Theban kings itself, may be seen as the fated result of three factors: Laius’s crime, the unnatural (incestuous) births of Oedipus’s children, and Zeus’s divine justice for Thebes.

Analysis

(Drama for Students)

Ancient Greek playwrights in Athens wrote plays for the Great Dionysia festival that was held every Spring. It was a civic duty to attend these plays, as they dealt with moral and social issues important to the community. Sophocles based Antigone on the Theban myths of the legendary rulers of Thebes, using what was, even in his time, an old story to comment on such issues as the absolute rule of kings and the status of women in society.

Tragedy

Antigone is a traditional Greek tragedy. A tragedy is defined as a drama about a noble, courageous hero or heroine of excellent character who because of some tragic character flaw brings ruin upon himself or herself. Tragedy treats its subjects in a dignified and serious manner, using poetic language to help evoke pity and fear and bring about catharsis, a purging of these emotions. In the case of Antigone we have two characters at the center of the conflict—Antigone and Creon—who are both tragic figures. Antigone defies a royal edict to bury her brother and pays with her life, while Creon ignores the gods and loses his wife and son to suicide. Both characters evoke pity, and each meets a tragic end.

Catharsis

Catharsis is the release or purging of emotions of fear and/or pity, brought on by art, usually tragedy. It is an act that brings spiritual renewal. One of the conventions of Greek drama was to have all violence occur offstage and then conveyed verbally to the audience. This occurs in Antigone, as the messenger relates the story of the deaths of Antigone and Haemon to Eurydice. The words of the messenger in Antigone are designed to provoke catharsis in the audience without directly exposing them...

(The entire section is 3,281 words.)