Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Antigone eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

Considered by many the finest Greek tragedy ever produced, Antigone unquestionably won over ancient audiences, capturing first place in the Great Dionysia festival in Athens circa 442 BC. Sophocles set the play in Thebes in the Bronze Age, about eight hundred years before his time, and populated the play with heroic characters. In doing so, Sophocles was able to touch dramatically on some of the most significant themes and political issues of his own day, such as the primacy of the city-state in Athenian society, without calling attention to them directly; the setting of Antigone created for his audience a comfortable distance from the subject matter. A classic Greek tragedy in form, Antigone presents not just one but two heroes felled by their own tragic flaws. A young woman of unshakable integrity, Antigone suffers for defying a royal edict and flaunting the laws of man, while Creon, the king, shows disrespect to the gods and is brought down by his hubris in defending the power of the state. Also in traditional fashion, all of the considerable violence in the play occurs offstage; characters bring reports of it into the drama, allowing audiences to experience catharsis. 

Thought to have penned more than 120 plays during his career, the great Greek dramatist and poet Sophocles is survived by only seven. Antigone is one of three based on the saga of Thebes, the “city of the seven gates,” along with Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colunus. Though it is speculated that the plays were not written in chronological order—and each play certainly stands alone—it can be helpful to the modern reader to understand the context of Antigone in a mythology that is both complicated and tragic. 

Taken together, the plays tell Sophocles’s rendition of the Theban saga in which Laius and Jocasta, the king and queen of Thebes, are told by Apollo at Delphi that any son they produce will kill his father. Frightened by the pronouncement, they send their infant son out to die. However, a kind shepherd takes pity on the boy and delivers him to the childless king and queen of Corinth; the child is named Oedipus. Upon learning from Apollo that he is meant not only to kill his father but also marry his mother, Oedipus leaves Corinth for good. Unwittingly, he kills his real father, Laius, in a dispute and, again unknowingly, marries his widowed birth mother Jocasta after solving the riddle of the Sphinx and saving Thebes. 

Oedipus has four children with Jocasta, two sons and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. After discovering his true identity, Oedipus blinds himself and curses his sons, Eteocles and Polynices, pronouncing that each will kill the other. Antigone opens after the two brothers have clashed in battle, Eteocles defending Thebes against the invading army from Argos led by Polynices; each brother has killed the other in a fight to the death, with Thebes ultimately repelling the attack from Argos. Creon, Jocasta’s brother and now ruler of Thebes, refuses to allow Polynices’s burial, even though Polynices himself once helped rule the city. To bury the traitor to Thebes, Creon decrees, is a deed punishable by death. However, prompted by duty to her family and wishing to honor the will of the gods, Antigone defies Creon’s order. The play begins with her brazen declaration that she will bury her brother Polynices. 

While some critics see Creon as a veiled warning about the dangers of dictatorship, others posit that Creon is the ultimate symbol of democratic leadership in that he holds the needs of the city-state  above those of any individual, including himself. Most critics agree, however, that the initial decisions made by Creon and Antigone are moral choices, honorable and true, each doing service and duty to different masters. Additionally, both Creon and Antigone are undone in part because of their inability to compromise or to consider other points of view. Although Antigone is heralded for her commitment to honor and her unwillingness to compromise her principles, there is something lacking in any of us, Sophocles seems to say, when we exhibit passion without wisdom, a failing as evident in politics today as in Athenian society. Where man’s civility and ancient tradition meet, there are no absolutes, nor easy solutions to complex problems. A singleness of purpose and blind conviction might, in fact, be the best indicators not that we are right, but that more deliberation is needed to arrive at the best and most responsible course of action. 

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Trace the primary themes in Antigone, including duty, tradition, and the rights of the individual vs. the rights of collective society. 

2. Explain the political overtones in the play and how they relate to ancient and contemporary audiences. 

3. Identify examples of the motifs of fate and mythology and discuss their significance. 

4. Explain how the chorus functions in the play and discuss the significance and form of the choral odes. 

5. Discuss the noble motives and the fatal flaws of both Antigone and Creon. 

6. Examine the role of gender in the play.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

  • The Study Guide is organized for a study of the play in short sections. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section and to acquaint them generally with its content.
  • Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the play that vary in difficulty.

1. The vocabulary lists for each section are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.

2. Working from the Study Guide vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each section that are most appropriate for them.

Discussion Questions

The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.

1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.

2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.

Multiple-Choice/Essay Test

Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.

1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the play; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing, comparing and contrasting, and drawing inferences.

2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Creon and Antigone make their respective decisions regarding Polynices when Thebes has just repelled an enemy army from Argos. Using examples from the text, justify whether the motives of either seem affected by its being wartime.

2. Contrast the reaction of Ismene to that of Antigone regarding the decree forbidding their brother’s burial. What arguments are used by each to justify her course of action? Drawing examples from the text, demonstrate which sister argues more persuasively.

3. Describe how Antigone’s perception of fate and destiny affects her actions. How do you feel the play would be altered should Antigone not have descended from Oedipus and felt the curse of her family?

4. As she goes to be interred in the cave, Antigone declares, “If this is the pleasure of the gods, / once I suffer I will know that I was wrong.” Since Antigone takes her own life, are we to interpret that the gods believe Antigone was in the wrong? What might Sophocles intend by not having Creon arrive in time to save her or by having the gods intercede in another way?

5. Though the gods and their wishes are a matter of much conjecture in the play, the only direct proof we have of their displeasure is conveyed through Tiresias. Using examples from the text, explain why Sophocles made this play more about human beings and their behavior, actions, and character than about the gods and their characteristics.

6. Antigone says, “Death longs for the same rites for all,” while Creon argues the rites should never be “the same for the patriot and the traitor.” If you were faced with the same dilemma as Antigone in modern times, would you choose to honor your family or honor your country? What criteria would affect your decision? If you were Creon, what would you do? Is there any way to honor both family and country in this circumstance?

7. In ancient Greece, it was the duty...

(The entire section is 648 words.)

Lines 1 - 116


decree: a pronouncement

gouge: to gash, to scrape

grim: forbidding

martial law: law established during wartime or by military leaders

Study Questions

1. Describe who is onstage and what is occurring as the play opens.

The sisters, Antigone and Ismene, are having a discussion about the decree that Creon, the king of Thebes, has just handed down; they also speak of the long history of suffering handed down in their family by their father, Oedipus. The sisters’ two brothers have killed each other in combat, one fighting for Thebes and one fighting for the opposing army from Argos which has been driven from the city.


(The entire section is 1018 words.)

Lines 117 - 416


adept: skilled

akin: related

atrocious: appalling, dreadful

awesome: tremendous

blithe: carefree

bravado: bluster, audacity

carrion: the flesh of a dead animal

culprit: a guilty party, a wrongdoer

Dirce’s banks: the banks of the sacred river outside Thebes named for Dirce who was killed and then transformed into a spring by Dionysus

furrows: rows

glut (his jaws): to feast to excess

hallowed: sacred

havoc: chaos, destruction

ingenious: clever, resourceful

merciless: ruthless, harsh

meritorious: commendable, noteworthy

perverted: corrupted

red-handed: in the act

scorch: to...

(The entire section is 1373 words.)

Lines 417 - 655


adversity: hardship, opposition

baiting: taunting, teasing

buffeting: battering, pummeling

edict: a decree, a pronouncement

folly: madness, idiocy

gall: nerve, audacity

impieties: sins, transgressions

insolence: rudeness, disrespect

interrogated: questioned harshly

jostling: shoving, pushing

last rites: prayers and ministrations given to the dead or dying

libations: offerings

mere: meager; sheer

perquisites: advantages, bonuses

repels: disgusts

tempered: hardened

wretched: worthless, shameful

Study Questions

1. With whom does the sentry return to...

(The entire section is 1318 words.)

Lines 656 - 878


anarchy: lawlessness

bandying: tossing words or ideas back and forth

brood: a group of offspring

cresting: rising

defilement: debasement, ruin

degenerate: a morally depraved person

gales: storms

infallible: invincible

kindred blood: relations, relatives

mortal enemy: a foe one fights to the death

Olympus: the mythical home of the gods

roiling: churning, tossing

rout: to defeat

salvage: to save

seers: prophets

trod: walked

unflinching: undaunted

wheeling: circling

Study Questions

1. What ancient theme does the chorus say is being reenacted as...

(The entire section is 1249 words.)

Lines 879 - 1237


Acheron: a river in Hades

augury: the practice of reading omens

brazen: bold

bullnecked: stubborn

coiling: twining

crude: unpolished, incomplete

dagger-shuttle: a weaving tool used as a weapon by King Phineus’s second wife

defile: debase

dirge: a funeral song

flee: to escape

gorged: full

plunderer: a robber, a looter

poised: balanced

raise a mound: to bury

raked: berated, punished

reviled: hated

rhetoric: speech-making

shackled: imprisoned

spurn: to reject

tumult: a clamor, a commotion

unintelligible: garbled

Study Questions


(The entire section is 1734 words.)

Lines 1238 - 1471


Bacchus: Dionysus, god of wine, the harvest, celebration, and a communicator between the living world and Hades

discreet: modest

Hecate: goddess of the earth, sea, sky, darkness, and of crossroads

house of Cadmus: house of Thebes, named for the first king and founder of Thebes, Cadmus

inscrutable: unreadable

nymphs: divine spirits in the form of young women that make up Dionysus’s retinue

pomp: ceremony

rash: impulsive

Study Questions

1. What does the chorus mean in saying “come, Dionysus! now your people lie / in the iron grip of plague, / come in your racing, healing stride” and in the rest of the speech that...

(The entire section is 758 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. Which character is a symbol for Thebes in the play?

A. Antigone

B. Dionysus

C. chorus

D. Haemon

E. Creon

2. Of whom is this statement said by the chorus: “Throughout the future, late and soon / as through the past, your law prevails”?

A. Creon

B. Zeus

C. Ismene

D. Eurydice

E. Oedipus

3. Which of the following is foretold as a prophecy or a curse?

A. Creon is not Haemon’s true father.

B. Eurydice kills herself.


(The entire section is 949 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Using examples from the text, describe how Antigone explores the theme of duty through the characters of Antigone and Creon. To whom does each feel a sense of duty and why?

Duty is perhaps the predominant theme of Antigone, with Antigone displaying a clear sense of duty to her family and to the gods, while Creon initially professes concern and a sense of duty toward the people of Thebes as their new ruler. Antigone acts out of familial duty, as well as a sense of obligation to fulfill her duty as a woman; as the daughter and then sister of her deceased family, it is her responsibility and privilege to perform funeral rites. Antigone does not heed her king’s wishes, and by extension, she ignores...

(The entire section is 3397 words.)