Retrospectively, it is questionable whether plays written in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are less contemporary than Antigone. Antigone, the title character of Sophocles's third installment of a family tragedy, is the first female protagonist in modern literature. She is a woman who contests the power of a patriarchal society; she is a woman more courageous than the men who have consistently ridiculed her. Not only is Antigone a feminist's play, but a revolutionary one as well, making a revolt against authority seem glamorous and romantic.
Clearly, we can not overlook Antigone and just consider it a classic play from simpler times. The underlying message from the text is apparent, it is a threat to all societies in which a governmental system presides over the people. Antigone and her stubborn outlook in relation to the divine authority of the Gods was a direct threat the social order that her uncle Creon, the king of Thebes, was trying to control with a reign of terror.
Creon generously agreed to raise his nieces and nephews (Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polyneices) after their father and his brother-in-law Oedipus gauged his eyeballs out of their sockets and exiled himself from the kingdom he once ruled with patience and virtue. The city-state of Thebes never made a complete recovery from the tragic loss of their king. A civil war rose through the streets of the city; brothers fought against brothers. This is precisely where the tragic ordeal began.
Eteocles and Polyneices battled against each other until their inevitable and untimely deaths. Eteocles fought beside his uncle, the king. He received full military honors at his funeral and a proper burial was arranged. Polyneices, however, was left mortally wounded in the battlefield to be pecked at by the birds. Creon made it publicly known that no man was to bury the body of Polyneices, he was to be regarded as a disgrace to the royal family and an enemy of the state.
Self righteous and pious, Antigone could not bare to leave her brother's body to whither away in the field. Guided by the light of the moon, Antigone buried the deceased's body, knowingly disobeying her uncle's decree. Dusk faded into dawn and with dawn came a new day. Creon summoned for Antigone, after he had learned from the guards who were responsible for the burial of Polyneices. Antigone hung her head and admitted the activity she participated in the night before that had deprived her of sleep.
Furious with his niece's actions, Creon sentenced her with a dire consequence, death. But Antigone did not sway from her convictions as she argued she was just a mere mortal aware of the limitations of a human life. She accepted her fate and acknowledged that if it should please the Gods, she would die in honor for seeing to her brother's body. Antigone viewed her life as inconsequential to the Gods. Creon's arrogance prevented him from understanding this.
Determined to make an example of his undisputed power with the life of his niece, Creon would not back down from his authoritative position. The plot thickened when we were introduced to Creon's son Haimon, who was incidentally engaged to be married to Antigone. Creon maintained his stance, despite the pleas of his son. It is debatable if his own personal interests in ruling his country with fear impaired his insight to justice. Haimon carefully considered his options and announced that if his future bride were to be killed, he would take his own life and join her in the after-life.
Teiresias, the blind prophet, was called on to console the king and offer insight. Creon refused to view the situation rationally, Teiresias' insistence that he was a disturbed man only made Creon's rage more fierce. Teiresias parted ways with the angry king, leaving behind his prophecy. "The time is not far off when you shall pay back corpse for corpse, flesh of your own flesh."Ã¯Â¿Â½ The story escalated when the queen, Eurydice, overheard the tale of her son's death. Antigone was indeed put to death, and Haimon, true to his word, took his own life. Overwhelmed by panic and anxiety, Eurydice's life too came to a sudden, tragic end.
Aristotle's formula for a tragic story was brilliantly followed in both Oedipus Rex and Oedipus the King. In Antigone, however, it is unclear who the tragic figure is, a key component to any tragic story. The title of the play suggests that Antigone is the tragic figure and Creon is a secondary character. A careful analysis of the play reveals that even though Antigone's actions are the root of all evil within the confounds of the script, Creon is perhaps the true tragic figure because of the ill-fated decisions he made. Antigone's defiance of the state laws and regulations continue to be more of a danger to extreme fundamentalists in society today than they were to the characters of the play.