Sophocles’ and Jean Anouilh’s versions of the famous Greek tragedy; “Antigone” raise some interesting themes, motifs, and topics. The most prevalent theme throughout both versions was Human law Vs. Divine law. This helped me conclude that; in both versions of Antigone, characters that only adhere or favour man-made law or divine law, lead unstable lives and themselves suffer through isolation, loss, and deterioration. Both versions have a tragic hero that only adheres to one spectrum of the two laws in discussion, causing them the abovementioned problems. However, in both versions of the play, there are neutral characters that adhere to both spectrums. Because of this balance, these characters avoid a tragic fate.
Sophocles’ version paints Creon as the tragic hero. His neglect of divine law and adherence to human (man-made) law was his undoing. This unbalance caused conflict amongst his loved ones. While he drove his wife away, the story focused more on his son Haimon. Throughout the play, a distinct division between him and his son grew as he became more and more neglectful of divine law. At its peak, Haimon took his life. While reflecting on the past, Creon admitted his flaws saying “behold the slayer, the slain, the father, the son. O the curse of my stubborn will!(Sophocles, 160)”. This was Creon’s first realization of his tragic flaw, which was his inability to adhere to divine law. Realizing that because of this flaw he lost his son. Creon’s choices paved the path to his grim fate. However, his fate would not have been so grim had he adhered to divine law as well. Creon stated towards the end of the play “Now I believe it is by the laws of heaven that man must live(Sophocles, 156)”. This quote helps strengthen the idea that without recognizing both the laws of life, one will have unfavourable outcomes. Furthermore, Creon at that moment recognized that for this situation, divine law trumped human law. In the end, because of Creon’s skewed spectrum of his adherence to law, he paid for it. Now all that is left is a husk of man that once was.
Interestingly, many characters in Antigone have a foil character, an opposite to them. Creon’s foil is Antigone. While Creon only supports human law, Antigone only supports divine law. Jean Anouilh’s version of Antigone shows the consequences again of only adhering to one side of the spectrum. From the get go, Antigone defended divine law. Even knowingly sacrificing herself to uphold it. Saying “Creon orders that our brother rot and putrefy… an offense against every decent human instinct; against the laws of god and man(Anouilh, 23)”. Point being, Antigone was such a blind supporter of divine law, she blocked out all reason and respect for the human aspect of the law. This was her great tragic flaw, and her undoing. Antigone even tried to make her sister, Ismene, support her cause and used guilt as a way of convincing her. Antigone became so driven by honouring her brother that she was prepared to have others die with her. Expressing the fact that it was her responsibility to bury their brother, Antigone said “we are bound to go out and bury our brother(Anouilh, 23)”. Knowing fully well that Creon would sentence them both to death, she still wanted Ismene to help her. Her divine quest was hers alone, however, she placed the burden of carrying it out on Ismene’s shoulders. In addition to that, when Ismene didn’t help, Antigone shamed her. Antigone was completely consumed by her mission and sacrificed everything to fulfil it.
While the two main characters in Antigone are extremely skewed, there are neutral characters that abide by both laws. Ismene truly did want to help Antigone, but she is also smart enough to recognize a suicide mission when she sees one. Telling Antigone “I know it’s horrible. I know Polyniecies was cheated out of his rights… I sort of see what uncle Creon means. Uncle Creon is the king now.(Anouilh, 23)”. Ismene understood that divine law was defiled, however she also understood that if she were to intervene, it would cost her life. Because of her balance of both divine and human law she was able to keep and preserve her life. Much like Ismene Teiresias, the seer also understood that a balance must exist. For life to run smoothly for someone, that someone must have that balance of laws. Teiresias brought Creon’s imbalance to light, “only a fool is governed by self-will. Pay to the dead his.(Sophocles, 152)”. Teiresias is a blind seer but has the ability of “seeing” everything and thus he was able to show the imbalance Creon has, and told him to correct it. These two characters were vital in showing the audience that only those with balance can go on to live proper lives.
In conclusion, the lessons learned from the greek tradegy; “Antigone” is that one must have balance internally with man-made law and divine law. Life does not offer you the luxury to pick and choose which law you would like to adhere to, especially when it suits your convenience. Antigone and Creon are examples of that lesson. One needs to understand that the rules of life are not one-sided but complex and multi-faceted and have different dynamics that need to be understood, followed and if possible, mastered.