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Short Story: Antigone by Sophocles - Essay Example

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Themes develop as the conflict between Creon and Antigone unfolds. The tragedy is set in the Greek city of Thebes. The choice of the setting makes allusions…
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Short Story: Antigone by Sophocles
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Short Story: Antigone by Sophocles Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone includes several themes: loyalty to family and supremacy of law, the nature of state. Themes develop as the conflict between Creon and Antigone unfolds. The tragedy is set in the Greek city of Thebes. The choice of the setting makes allusions to the myths about the curse of Oedipus and influences the tone of the tragedy. Since Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter, she is doomed to die. In addition to concept of destiny the play elaborates on duty, pride. Sophocles includes different characters’ perspectives on the moral issues. The characters are portrayed through their actions rather than through direct characterization by Chorus. As the protagonists’ name Antigone, “the one who goes against”, suggests she opposes to the authoritative law represented by Creone.
The main character, Antigone and her sister Ismene are introduced in the exposition of the play at the gates of Thebes. Antigone wants to bury her brother’s body though she knows it would violate Creon’s decree and cost her life: “For me death holds no pain, but if I had left my brother unburied, for that I would have suffered” (Sophocles). Her sister, on the contrary, fears Creon and believes that weak women should not contradict the king. However, Antigone’s loyalty to her brother and her family remains strong: “I will do my part,-and thine, if thou wilt not,-to a brother. False to him will I never be found” (Sophocles). Antigone believes that blood ties and the law of Gods cannot be substituted by laws of rulers. In her opinion Creon has no power to interfere with her intentions to bury Polyneices’ corpse as “... he hath no right to keep me from mine own” (Sophocles). Creon, in his turn, is introduced early in the play as a wise ruler of Thebes who cares about the state: “For I-be Zeus my witness, who sees all things always-would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens; nor would I ever deem the countrys foe a friend to myself..” (Sophocles). However, as the events of the play rise and Antigone is caught trying to bury her brother, Creon develops new dimensions to his character: pride, stubbornness, suspicion. Creon believes that his law is supreme. He doesn’t listen to Antigone who pleads her case in front of him and proves that Gods’ laws should be honored above the laws of men: “Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven” (Sophocles). Creon’s injustice and stubbornness leads to the argument with his son, Haemon, Antigone’s fiancé. Haemon tries to use logic and reasoning to persuade his father to set Antigone free: “Wert thou not my father, I would have called thee unwise” (Sophocles). What is more, Haemon points out htat Creon’s decision is not supported by the population “... can hear these murmurs in the dark, these moanings of the city for this maiden; no woman, they say, ever merited her doom less,-none ever was to die so shamefully for deeds so glorious as hers ...” (Sophocles). However, Creon’s pride turns him into despotic ruler who places himself above the community: “Shall Thebes prescribe to me how I must rule?” (Sophocles). The pride blinds the king when the climax unfolds and the blind prophet Teiresas warns Creon of Gods’ fury: “... the altars of our city and of our hearths have been tainted ... and therefore the gods no more accept prayer and sacrifice at our hands ...” (Sophocles). Creon’s pride is the reason of his downfall, because he violated Gods’ will twice: by refusing to bury Polyneices’s corpse and by burying Antigone alive. The fall of events sees Creon changing his mind and agreeing to bury Polyneices and set Antigone free. However, the king soon finds out that Antigone has committed suicide in her vault and his son Haemon is determined to remain faithful to his fiancée “... he straightway leaned with all his weight against his sword, and drove it, half its length, into his side; and, while sense lingered, he clasped the maiden to his faint embrace...” (Sophocles). The final resolution of the plays plot is Creon’s ruin. Gods punish him for his pride and he laments over his fate “Lead me away, I pray you; a rash, foolish man; who have slain thee, ah my son, unwittingly, and thee, too, my wife-unhappy that I am!” (Sophocles). As Creon is lead away, the Chorus sings about the inevitable punishment for the sin of pride.
Sophocles’ tragedy uses symbols as one of characterization techniques. The fist symbol in the play is the vessel of state Creon refers to when he claims his rights to throne: “Sirs, the vessel of our State, after being tossed on wild waves, hath once more been safely steadied by the gods...” (Sophocles). Thus the king sees himself as wise leader abiding by Gods’ laws. The symbol is referred to by Haemon as he tries to remind his father of the perils stubbornness holds for the man himself and his country: “And even thus he who keeps the sheet of his sail taut, and never slackens it, upsets his boat, and finishes his voyage with keel uppermost” (Sophocles). In the end Creon’s pride overturns life of his family and his decisions leads to citizens’ dissatisfaction with the ruler. Antigone’s characterization, in its turn, includes the symbols of tomb and burial. She is sealed in the vault alive, so the tomb symbolizes the living dead. Antigone sees herself as the bride to death calling her tomb “... bridal-chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock....” (Sophocles). In her fearlessness Antigone reveals that she feels closer to her dead family than to the ones that live “But I cherish good hope that my coming will be welcome to my father, and pleasant to thee, my mother, and welcome, brother, to thee; for, when ye died, with mine own hands I washed and dressed you, and poured drink-offerings at your graves; and now, Polyneices, tis for tending thy corpse that I win such recompense as this” (Sophocles). The symbol of the tomb helps Sophocles to present protagonists’ views on destiny: Antigone feels doomed to die from the very beginning; she is ready to die and abides by the will of Gods committing suicide.
The setting of the play reinforces the conflict of the play: civilization versus Gods, human laws versus laws of nature. The play is set at gates of the city of Thebes where the Polyneices’ corps lies, in Creon’s palace, and in Antigone’s vault. The palace represents the tragedy of Antigone’s family and the curse of Oedipus: Oedipus and Jocasta found horrible truth about their marriage and blood ties, Antigone’s brothers killed each other trying to get the throne. The field where the corpse lies becomes the setting for Antigone’s own tragedy. As she attempts to bury her brother the nature helps her showing the will of Gods, the storm erupts to hide her, as she walks by the corpse she leaves no trace “...the ground was hard and dry, unbroken, without track of wheels; the doer was one who had left no trace...” (Sophocles). The storm is recognized by the citizens as the sign from the Gods, though Creon refuses to admit to see it “...out he suns bright orb stood in mid heaven, and the heat began to burn: and then suddenly a whirlwind lifted from the earth storm of dust, a trouble in the sky the plain, marring all the leafage of its woods; and the wide air was choked therewith: we closed our eyes, and bore the plague from the gods” (Sophocles).
Themes and conflicts in Antigone elaborate on the questions of pride, submission, authority, fate. Pride and stubbornness are depicted as sins in Creon’s actions, submission to the laws of Gods and morality are portrayed by Antigone. The protagonist represents the will of free individual, who is capable of making choices: Antigone chooses family over the state, she chooses death over life. Besides, the play elaborates on the role of woman in society, Antigone is not afraid to question the decisions of the ruler and confront him even though her sister warned her that women won’t be listened to.
Works Cited
Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. R. C. Jebb. The Internet Classics Archive. Web. 1 December. . Read More
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