Antigone as a Tragic Character

Antigone(written by Sophocles), much like Medea, is most likely part of a larger work, as it ties in with Oedipus Rex. Greek drama, being based on the same set of myths, was largely a continuous work with plays building upon the plots of other plays. Antigone is effectively a sequel to Oedipus Rex, and the two could be compared to the Star Wars series as they build upon family lines for characters. Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus, a cursed man who killed his father and married his mother, which led to the suicide of his mother. This is where Freud got the name for the concept of Oedipus Complex. After Oedipus's mother’s suicide, he fled, leaving his children in the care of Creon. After Oedipus’s leave, there are two heirs left to the throne, who end up killing themselves in battle for the throne. This allows Creon to assume the position of King. He decrees that Eteocles, Antigone’s brother who fought alongside Creon, will have a proper burial, whereas Polyneices’s body will be left to the whims of nature. This understandably upsets Antigone, which leads to the opening scene.

The opening scene of Antigone takes place outside of the city gates. Antigone reveals her plans to bury her brother’s body to her sister, Ismene. Antigone hopes that Ismene will aid her in the burial of her brother, but Ismene fearfully declines out of fear of breaking a royal decree. This sets up the recurring theme of women being basically powerless in Greek society , as Ismene feels very powerless to do anything to aid Antigone. She even doubts that Antigone will be able to locate the body of her slain brother. Ismene tries to sway Antigone to give up her plans, but Antigone is enraged by this notion. Antigone says that she no longer would want Ismene’s help if she even decided to offer it. Ismene at least tries to convince Antigone that she should be discreet in her burial ritual, but Antigone rejects this notion as well. This scene develops Antigone as a devoted person, albeit at her own peril.

In the next scene, Antigone has an argument with Creon after the burial of Polyneices. This argument begins to show what some have called Antigone’s “love affair with death”. Antigone, as the opposite of the powerless Ismene, sees the only way to gain power in Greek society is by becoming a martyr for her beliefs. This morbid fascination with death is continued throughout the play. The reasons for Antigone to be powerless are her many obligations to men. She feels to be obligated to her brother, for she felt the need to give him a proper burial. She also is obligated to Haemon, Creon’s son, to whom she is engaged. She also feels somewhat obligated to Creon, as he was the only father figure she has ever known. This obligation to Creon as a father figure develops the theme of struggling against patriarchy in Greek society in a very literal sense. She is rebelling against the powerful father figure, and this unnerves both Creon and almost every other character in the play. In this sense, if Medea was not the first feminist in theatre, it is because Antigone predated her.

As the play progresses, the cause for which Antigone is martyring herself becomes more readily apparent. The play deals heavily with the Greek debate of divine law versus human law. Since divine law was not recorded in Greek times, Antigone only has her conscience to base her understanding of it on. She is going to become a martyr to her own conscience, which tells her that her brother should be rightfully buried, and more indirectly, that women should not be the puppets of their husbands, fathers, or any male figure. Her cause is furthered by the fact that Creon sees himself as the embodiment of human law, and inflects his patriarchal leanings into it. He makes numerous remarks that say effectively say I will not let a woman get the better of me. This develops more fully with his statements of “Is the city not the rulers?” and “Should the city tell me how I am to rule them?". After this statements, Antigone is no longer just a martyr for women, her loyalty to her brother, and divine law, but also against tyrannical government, a subject which probably did not fall on deaf ears in democratic Athens.

The play ends as it should, with Antigone dying, but a few people go along with her to cause some interesting changes in how Creon feels. After her death, Haemon takes his own life, as does his wife Eurydice, causing Creon to be flung into despair. This establishes recognition of pride leading to retribution, which eventually leads to wisdom. So effectively Haemon and Antigone were martyrs against patriarchy and tyranny, and for divine law and loyalty to family. Three of these subjects probably hit home with many of the Greek audience members, although women’s rights were far off in the future, and the feminist aspects of the play probably unnerved the crowd accordingly.