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 ramble 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” says one critic named Berhardy. 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.

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. Creon had made a decision and was unwilling to compromise. Antigone was to die for her violation of the law, the sin of burying her brother. Antigone’s gender had a profound affect on the meaning of her actions. Creon had disliked for her disrespectful and rebelling nature. His need to defeat her was all the more pressing because she was a woman.

The ideal of the female character in Antigone is boldly and severely outlined. The freedom of Greek women was extremely limited and restrictive. Antigone’s rebellion is threatening because it upset the gender roles and hierarchy. Creon was a sympathetic character but abused his power. One of the purposes of the Chorus is to illustrate the sway of public opinion. In the end of the play, Creon is ruler over an orderly city, but he has lost everything dear to him. Closely related to the theme of gender, the theme of Inaction/Lack of Agency versus Agency plays itself out in the contrast between Antigone and her sister Ismene.

Ismene chooses to do nothing under the threat of the law whereas Antigone chooses to act despite the possible penalties. Antigone and Creon are both championing what is right, but they define rightness through different sets of values. In Antigone, Creon finally recognized that he has been misguided and that his actions have led to the death of his wife and son. Antigone’s persistence in disobeying Creons decree falls under the themes of Individual verses State: Conscience versus Law: Moral or Divine Law versus Human Law.

Antigone and her values line up with the first entity in each pair, while Creon and his values line up with the second. Antigone decides that she must disobey Creons orders arguing that a law of man, which violates religious law, is no law at all (Encyclopedia Mythica). The moral focus of the play Antigone is the conflict between physis (nature) and nomos (law), with physis ultimately presiding over nomos. “Throughout Antigone, King Creon is the symbol for nomos, while Antigone stands on the side of physis. To portray these ideas, light and dark images are used as a recurring motif to reinforce the theme.

As the play is carried out, the chorus is constantly changing its opinions, first believing in the actions of Creon with respect to nomos, then unsure of what to believe, and finally seeing that Antigone’s actions are more consistent with the morality of the gods and the truths of physis. Light and darkness are used to support in an emotional way the action of whoever the chorus is siding with at these various stages of the play” (Wilf 1). In the first scenes, these light and dark images show the reign of Creon.

These are followed by the indistinct and ironic middle scenes, and ending with the gods choosing Antigone’s actions over Creon’s, leaving Creon spiritually dead and paying for his poor choices and conduct. Antigone’s determination and persistence challenge the status quo and Antigone continues to be a subversive and powerful play. Creon makes a mistake in sentencing her but his position is an understandable one. Antigone stands as one of the best works of literature to this day. The reader is drawn into their last look of the Oedipus, where nothing is ever as it should be.

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