Antigone– The Characterization
Sophocles’ tragic drama, Antigone, presents to the reader a full range of characters: static and dynamic, flat and round; they are portrayed mostly through the showing technique.
In “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone,” Charles Paul Segal takes the stand that there are two protagonists in the drama (which conflicts with this reader’s interpretation):
This is not to say that there are not conceptual issues involved in the characters of Creon and Antigone. But the issues are too complex to be satisfactorily reduced to a single antithetical formulation. We must avoid seeing the protagonists as one-dimensional representatives of simple oppositions: right and wrong, reason and emotion, state and individual, or the like (62).
Werner Jaeger in “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development” pays the dramatist the very highest compliment with regard to character development:
The ineffaceable impression which Sophocles makes on us today and his imperishable position in the literature of the world are both due to his character-drawing. If we ask which of the men and women of Greek tragedy have an independent life in the imagination apart from the stage and from the actual plot in which they appear, we must answer, ‘those created by Sophocles, above all others’ (36).
The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the story (Abrams 32-33). Surely it can be said of Sophocles’ main characters that they grow beyond the two dimensional aspect into really rounded physical presences. This is done through mostly the showing technique, though the chorus at times is involved in the telling technique, telling the audience various pieces of information. The drama begins with Antigone inviting Ismene outside the palace doors to tell her privately: “What, hath not Creon destined our brothers, the one to honoured burial, the other to unburied shame?” Antigone’s offer to Ismene (“Wilt thou aid this hand to lift the dead?) is quickly rejected, so that Antigone must bury Polynices by herself. The protagonist, Antigone, is quickly developing into a rounded character, while Ismene interacts with her as a foil, demurring in the face of Creon’s threat of stoning to death as punishment for violators of his decree regarding Polynices.
Antigone develops into a very religious person who is not afraid of death, and who respects the laws of the gods more than those of men:
Nay, be what thou wilt; but I will bury him: well for me to die in doing that. I
shall rest, a loved one with him whom I have loved, sinless in my crime; for I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living: in that world I shall abide for ever. But if thou wilt, be guilty of dishonouring laws which the gods have established in honour.
Ismene remains static for the present, unbudged by the reasoning and sentiments of her sister: “I do them no dishonour; but to defy the State,-I have no strength for that.” Ismene, in parting, accuses Antigone of rashness in her bold plans: “Go, then, if thou must; and of this be sure,-that though thine errand is foolish, to thy dear ones thou art truly dear.” Surprisingly, Ismene later shows dynamism in her character; after the guard apprehends Antigone in the act of burying Polynices, and brings her before Creon for sentencing, Ismene changes dramatically into a courageous sister who is willing to face death with Antigone even though Ismene is totally innocent. Thus it can be said that Ismene does not retain her static quality for the duration of the drama.
Creon is introduced into the drama; he replaces Eteocles as ruler in Thebes: “I now possess the throne and all its powers, by nearness of kinship to the dead.” Creon explains to the elderly Thebans of the chorus the rationale behind the new edict regarding Polynices, which stipulates: “it hath been proclaimed to...
Cited: Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Antigone by Sophocles. Translated by R. C. Jebb. no pag.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Ode on Man in Sophocles’ Antigone.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Jaeger, Werner. “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development.” In Readings on Sophocles, edited by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
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