Theatre / Antigone

Creon: And thou didst indeed dare to transgress that law?
Antigone: Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict [...] nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.

The lastnote  of the Theban trilogy of plays by Sophocles (preceded by Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus), Antigone follows the fate of one of Oedipus' daughters, born of his incestuous relationship with his mother.

The play starts with Antigone bringing her sister, Ismene, terrible news. Between the end of Oedipus at Colonus and the start of Antigone, their brother Polynices led an army against Eteocles for the right to inherit their father's throne. The brothers took each other's lives. This was chronicled in the play The Progeny; sadly, only a single exchange from that play survives. It can be read here. Antigone's uncle, Creon, now undisputed master of Thebes once more, has ordered that Polynices' body be left unburied, as a traitor. Antigone asks her sister to help her bury their brother properly, but Ismene refuses, and Antigone does it by herself.

Unfortunately, she is caught, and Creon orders her walled up in a cave to die. Despite warnings from both the Chorus and the seer Tiresias that leaving the dead unburied will have terrible consequences, it is not until Tiresias predicts that Creon's family will suffer and armies will march against Thebes that he relents. Unfortunately, he's too late, as the time spent burying the body prevented Creon reaching Antigone before she hanged herself. Seeing he was too late, Haemon, her fiancé and Creon's son, stabbed himself, and when THAT news reached his mother, Eurydice, she stabbed herself too. The play ends with Creon leaving the stage a broken man.

Also the name of a 1944 existential play by French playwright Jean Anouilh which covers the same events as the play by Sophocles, with a much more modern bent.

The original play contains examples of:

  • The Aesop: Creon stands by poor reasoning and ends up wanting nothing but death, teaching Thebes and the audience that "of all curses which cleave to man, ill counsel is the sovereign curse."
  • Anachronic Order: This was actually written before Oedipus the King, but chronologically follows that play and its sequel.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end, Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice were dead.
  • Acquitted Too Late: By the time Creon realizes he was being an asshole and Antigone should go free, she's already killed herself.
  • Badass Pacifist: Antigone: she causes a lot of disruption with no physical force.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Polynices has been left unburied by the king Creon so that his soul cannot go on to the underworld, in punishment for his rebellion. His sister Antigone takes it upon herself to do so.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: A possible reason for Antigone's hanging herself rather than waiting to die in her "tomb".
  • Blind Seer: Tiresias requires an assistant to describe the flames and smoke that emerge after making a sacrifice, but from that description, he can determine the will of the gods with great wisdom. Still, he can't make Creon see the truth of his erroneous actions, which leads to the reason why Antigone is called a tragedy.
  • Break the Haughty: As was the Greek standard, Creon's arrogance leads to tragedy. He ends up lording his own judgement over that of his son, a seer, and the gods until that judgement leaves him without a son or wife. His despair is so great that he's little more than a "breathing corpse."
  • Buried Alive: As punishment for giving burial to her scoundrel of a brother, Antigone is sentenced to be buried alive in a crypt with enough food and water to keep death from saving her from years of isolation.
  • Cain and Abel: Just before the events of the play, the two sons of Oedipus killed one another over the throne of Thebes. One of the brothers is deemed to have been lawful and given burial, but the other is deemed the Cain of the situation and the king unjustly outlaws that he should have any Earthly help entering the realm of Hades. The Progeny has more detail on the brothers themselves but well...
  • Character Title: The title character is Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, who at first seems to be our Tragic Hero, but the ultimate tragedy ends up befalling her enemy, Creon.
  • Death Seeker:
    • Antigone. She views an eternal afterlife serving the gods as more desirable than a temporary life serving man. Hence why, after being imprisoned, she hangs herself.
    • Ismene is an unsuccessful one. While she refused to help Antigone bury Polyneices, when Antigone is sentenced to death, Ismene tries to share in her guilt and punishment, but Antigone refuses, because she didn't earn it.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Discussed. The plot is driven by a debate regarding whether or not Antigone's brother, Polynices, who died trying to seize a power vacuum, deserves a proper burial or further desecration. The king has made it illegal to bury him, but Antigone holds that the law of the gods demands that one helps their family proceed through the afterlife. She holds this even as Creon orders her to be locked alive in a tomb, and he holds his conviction until Antigone's fate drives his entire family to suicide, at which point he admits his foolishness.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The ending is basically Suicide Dominoes. Poor Creon.
  • Dishonored Dead: King Creon orders that the body of Polyneices (who had attacked the city to claim kingship) should be left unburied.
  • Downer Ending: Antigone kills herself in her prison, which causes her lover to kill himself by accident while trying to stab the king, which then causes Antigone's lover's mother self-stab in the heart, which leaves Antigone's lover's mother's husband (the king who condemned Antigone) is left to pray for his own death to escape from his despair.
  • Driven to Suicide: Antigone, and later on, Haemon and Eurydice.
  • Due to the Dead: The importance of this is a major plot point.
  • Evil Counterpart: Creon's arc here very closely mirrors that of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, but where Oedipus was motivated by the pursuit of justice and the well-being of his people, Creon is primarily concerned with protecting his own power.
  • Evil Uncle: Creon. However, unlike many other examples this is due to his treating Antigone like he would any other who broke the law.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Creon appears to have undergone one of these since his appearance in Oedipus Rex, where he's quite sensible and sympathetic.
  • God Is Good: Antigone respects the law of the gods above all other laws, leading her to prefer death to submitting unjustly to the king. The king at first argues with Antigone, but the aftermath of her death convinces him that he was in the wrong, leaving it unambiguous that the gods determine what is just and not the kings of men.
  • Greek Chorus: Literally of course. They represent the people and elders of Thebes.
  • The Hero Dies: Antigone herself commits suicide near the end of the play.
  • Honor Before Reason: Antigone gives her brother a proper burial, even though she knows it will mean her death.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Many of Creon's mistakes come from the time he wastes completely misinterpreting the motives of everyone around him. He doesn't understand that Antigone is appealing to a different law than the one he's upholding, he unjustly accuses the Sentry and then Tiresias of being corrupt, and when Haemon tries to persuade him to think again, he lets himself get into a huge snot about the fact that his own son is daring to question his judgement.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • All of the tragedy is a result of first Antigone and then Creon deciding that burying Polynices is more important than keeping Antigone alive.
    • Creon for not knowing that, generally, flipping off the gods by not burying the dead is a bad idea.
  • Ironic Echo: "Afflicting men the worst of ills is lack of judgment." First said by Creon when accusing Tiresias the seer of corruption, later said by the Messenger when Creon realizes that his hubris led to his son committing suicide, fulfilling Tiresias's prophesy.
  • Kissing Cousins: Antigone and Haemon are engaged, but worryingly, they are first cousins on both sides of the family, as Antigone is related to Creon through both her parents.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Creon at the end.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Creon stubbornly insists on carrying out his threats towards Antigone even when it's clear that this will do more harm than good, but relents from punishing Ismene when he realizes she hasn't done anything illegal.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Antigone is not only Haemon's cousin, but also his foster sister, since Creon raised Antigone, Ismene, Polynices, and Eteocles as his children after Oedipus left Thebes.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: We don't know how the neighbouring cities feel about Thebes by the end of the play, but just about everything else happened as predicted.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Sentry serves an antagonistic role in arresting Antigone for trying to bury her brother. However, he is clearly doing this under Creon's orders, and after the first attempt Creon threatens to have him executed if he cannot find the one responsible.
  • Punished for Sympathy: Antigone's brother Polynices dies an enemy of the state, and Creon commands that Polynices' body shall not be buried. Antigone gives him a proper burial anyway, so she is sentenced to be locked in a tomb.
  • Secondhand Storytelling:
    • The illegal burial of Oedipus's son is not shown, it is only known to the audience thanks to a guard who (unwillingly) tells the king about the subject, while stopping the story every few seconds to make sure he won't get killed for giving the bad news.
    • Antigone's capture is told by the guards bring her to the king. Since the capture took about half a day, its omission helps to keep the play from running for an ungodly amount of time.
    • Per the standards of the day, all the suicides happen off-screen to be related by messengers for the audience.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Creon threatens to have the Sentry executed after they bring him news that there has been an attempt to bury the body, saying the guards must have been responsible. The Sentry was worried this would happen, delaying the journey, and the guards chose him by lot.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Antigone refuses to let the king stop her from doing what is right by burying her brother, thus forcing the king's son, Haemon, to stand by as his father sentences to death the woman who should be his wife.

The Anouilh play contains examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The 1944 version, although it's meant to fit in any place and time, mentions cigarettes, long trousers, jackets, movies, guns, sports cars, nightclubs, gangsters and evening clothes.
  • Fatal Flaw: Antigone's complete unwillingness to bend even in the face of reason.
  • Greek Chorus: The Chorus in this version is unique in that it is not the "voice of the elders of the city" as it would have been (and was) in the original play, but is instead something like a meta narrator who points out the inherent flaws and hypocrisy of the characters within the play
  • Tomboy: Antigone in this version of the play in contrast with her sister who is the traditional "feminine" character.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Antigone is insistent throughout the play that this is the real reason she fights so hard to die, because both she and Creon have "roles" to play.


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