The Themes of Antigone
Antigone is credited as one of the best works of Sophocles, ranked by most modern critics above Oedipus the King. There are many aspects of Antigone that make it the play critics love to decipher and rave about. "Antigone must be received as the canon of ancient tragedy: no tragedy of antiquity that we possess approaches it in pure idealism, or in harmony of artistic development" hails critic Berhardy (Theatre History). He goes on to rave "It is the first poem produced by the union of the whole strength of the resources of which tragedy was capable: of all the extant works of Sophocles it is the most perfect: no other exhibits such a striking combination of subject, language and technique".
There are a variety of aspects and elements open to interpretation and examination that shape and define literature and its message. One of the most commonly examined themes is that of pride. Tragedy is usually concerned with a person of great stature, a king or nobleman, who falls because of hubris, or extreme pride and Antigone is no exception. Pride and its effects are a central part of Antigone's plot and theme. The "Golden Age" of Greece is known for its contributions to the creative world, as well as its development of the play. These performances emphasized Greek morals and were produced for that purpose (Wilf 1). While the gods despise this trait and bring suffering to those who exhibit it, the Greeks consider it a part of greatness. Pride, being part of their character and morality, overran in to their literature and was a complex and multifaceted concept in Greek tragedy, exemplified by Sophocles' Antigone. In the play both Creon and Antigone were incredibly proud and unwilling to back down once they took their stands. "Pride is part of what made Antigone heroic" (Classic Notes: Themes). Creon had made a decision and was unwilling to compromise. He decided that Polynices was a traitor and was not to be administered proper burial rites for his treasonous march on Thebes. Antigone was to die for her violation of the law, the sin of burying her brother. "After the completion of the deed, and the suffering endured for it, there yet remains the chastisement of insolence, and retribution for the destruction of Antigone: nothing less than the utter ruin of Creon's whole family, and his own despair can be a worthy death-offering for the sacrifice of a life so costly. Therefore the king's wife, hitherto not even mentioned, must appear quite towards the conclusion of the piece merely to hear the misfortune, and to make away with herself. To Grecian feelings it would have been impossible to look upon the poem as properly closed by the death of Antigone, without any atoning retribution" (Theatre History). It is Creon's own actions that brought about his family untimely ending and it is his pride that made his decision uncompromising. His pride may have been his greatest tragic flaw and the most influential factor in his downfall.
Another issue illustrated through theme is the place or position of women during the time. Antigone's gender had a profound affect on the meaning of her actions. Creon had an intense dislike for her disrespectful and rebelling nature. His need to defeat her was all the more pressing because she was a woman (Classic Notes: Themes). "The ideal of the female character in Antigone is boldly and severely outlined. Her indignation at Ismene's refusal to take a part in her daring resolution: the manner in which she afterwards rejects Ismene, when the latter, repenting of her weakness, offers to accompany her heroic sister to death, borders on harshness: her silence and her speeches against Creon, whereby she provokes him to execute his tyrannous resolution, are proof of unshaken courage" (Theatre History). The freedom of Greek women was extremely limited and restrictive. The rules and limitations placed on them were great, even for the ancient world. Antigone's rebellion is threatening...
Cited: "Article: Antigone." Encyclopedia Mythica. Online. Internet. 17 Feb. 2001.
Wilf, Meredith. "The Use of Light and Dark Images in Antigone." 14 Sept. 1999
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