ANTIGONE was the first of Sophocles' three Theban plays to be produced, probably in 442 B.C. As the play begins, Antigone and Ismene, the only surviving children of Oedipus, discuss an edict prohibiting the burial of their brother Polyneices, who has been killed in battle while attacking Thebes, leading an Argive army against his brother Eteocles. Creon, their uncle, is the new ruler of Thebes and has determined to leave Polyneices' corpse unburied as an admonition for anyone else who would attack the state. Antigone is set on giving her brother proper funeral rites, even though her sister will not take the chance with her. Successful in burying Polyneices, Antigone is apprehended by Creon's guards when she returns a second time to tend the corpse. Her capture sets the stage for a series of confrontations, first between Creon and Antigone, then between Haemon, Creon's son, and his father, and finally between Creon and Teiresias, the old Theban seer who announces that the gods are offended by Creon's refusal to grant burial to the fallen warriors. Shaken by Teiresias' prophecy, Creon attempts to undo the wrong. It is too late, however; Antigone, interred by his order in a sealed tomb, has taken her own life, and Haemon upon discovering her death kills himself. (For the story of Antigone's parents see the note prefatory to the Theban plays.)
Creon is much censured in criticism, called "stupid" by Kitto and "godless" by Linforth. Because it is difficult to imagine how the fullest dramatic and tragic qualities of the play will be realized if he is played as a tyrannical, stupid, godless wretch, an attempt is made to cast a sympathetic eye on him in these notes. Others, of course, have gone so far as to call him the "hero" and tragic protagonist of the play, a path which, if clearly wrong to the majority, nonetheless indicates that he has some potential for sympathy. Wrongheaded is not "stupid," however, nor is "spiritual blindness" godless blasphemy, and we want to find the fine line of characterization that permits sympathy for him in the last scene of the play; otherwise the audience must simply rejoice in the devil getting his due. When the gods speak through the omens of Teiresias, Creon, thoroughly shaken, responds--too late. A truly godless tyrant would laugh Teiresias off the stage and wait for news of his son's suicide.
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Publication information: Book title: A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles. Contributors: James C. Hogan - Author. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press. Place of publication: Carbondale, IL. Publication year: 1991. Page number: 126.
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