How does law function as a theme in Antigone by Sophacles? What different kinds of law are presented in the play? How do the characters approach these different kinds of law?
Date:The roles of Law in Antigone
Kinds of law in Antigone
Law controls the society, but the same law can only exist when the society exists. Therefore, the main question as to whether the law is superior to the society or the society is superior to the law is very important in the Oedipus the Kingdom, as illustrated in the play “Antigone” by Sophocles. The play presents a tragic and a dramatic end where the rule of law influences the course of people’s lives in the kingdom. There are two types of laws however in the play, the divine law and the Human law. The divine law is enshrined by the gods of the land and is meant to be a superior way of controlling people behaviour in the kingdom (Sophocles and Blondell 76). They ordain kings through which they provide control. However, the Kings also have their laws, which they believe should be followed since they are ordained by the gods. When a conflict arises between human law and the divine law, tragic drama ensues.
Set in the rich Greek culture, where cultural and divine revelations are very important, and the gods of the land set up laws that should be followed by the people. The gods communicate their laws through overseers but acts the laws through their appointed kings. Kingship in the kingdom is monarch based, and the prince is supposed to take over the reign of his father’s kingdom. In the absence of the prince, the nearest male heir in the family lineage takes over the kinship. The decrees of the king too, are paramount, and people should not go against it, even if you are a princess in the king’s family (Sophocles and Blondell 78).
In the play, however, the rules of the two laws antagonize one another, creating confusion and tragic drama. On the death of King Oedipus, one of his sons, Eteocles is supposed to take over the kingdom, but unfortunately, Eteocles is killed by his brother Polyneices in the battle according to the prophecies on the gods through the overseer, Tiresias. This happens when Antigone, trying to return home to stop the two brothers from killing one another, only reaches so late that he finds when they have already killed one another. On the same note, she finds her uncle, Creon, as the new king according to the ways of the gods, and thus the divine law. The new King Creon has his laws, indicating that Antigone’s younger brother, having gone against the kingdom in killing his heir brother, Eteocles, should not be buried but left to the dogs and the carrion birds to feast on his body, as people watch, the human law. This is against the Greek tradition that states people not buried can never have a resting spirit, and their spirits will remain to wonder the earth. At this point, Antigone is torn between the need to either follow the god’s law, and bury her brother, or follow human law, Creon’s law and let her brother’s spirit wonder the earth (Findley 83).
Approaches to the Various Kinds of Law
Defiance of the human law takes the better part of Antigone and she, against the human (Creon’s) law, buries her brother. Creon learns of the defiance with rage, and vengeance. According to him, the ultimatum of such defiance is death, and at this point, Creon wishes to follow the human law to the later, making it his duty to arrest Antigone and throws her to prison. At this point, extremists of the human law, led by Creon and divine law, led by Antigone, his niece is full blown, and people take sides, for fear of the consequences of going against either law.
On the flip side is compliance with the laws. Antigone, out of deep brotherly compassion, complies with the divine law as a way of helping his younger brother’s spirit not to wonder the earth. She wonders why the uncle, King Creon cannot respect the ways of the gods, and let her brother the brother to make his spirit rest in peace. On the other hand, King Creon feels that the young Polyneices was a traitor, killing the supposed heir of the kinship, according to the ways of the gods. In due respect to tradition and divine law, such a person should not be buried (Sophocles and Blondell 112). The king’s decree, the human law, is final in the kingdom since according to King Creon, it is based on, and supported by the divine law.
Truce comes on when the overseer Tiresias intervenes on behalf of Antigone to tell King Creon that his actions are not right and are not supported by the gods, and this, have no basement in divine law. The king treats Tiresias, initially with contempt, and the overseer gives another tragic prophecy, that King Creon will have to pay for his actions, corpse for a corpse, flesh for flesh. The king later learns his mistakes and moves on to correct some of the wrongs he has committed, one being to free Antigone from prison. Meanwhile, King Crone’s son Harmon is dating Antigone and is planning a marriage very soon.
However, when the king reaches out to Antigone in prison, he finds when she has hanged herself, dead. When the king’s only son learnt of the death of his fiancé, he tries to reach out to his father the king, but stumbles to his sword, and so, he too dies on the sport. Haemon’s mother, Eurydice, decides to take away her life, on learning the death of her son, leaving King Creon alongside Antigone’s younger sister as the only living members of the kinship family. King Creon finds the tragedy too much to bear and abdicates the kingship.
Functions of Law as a Theme in Antigone
The law is used to correct errant behaviour in the society, and in the play. The gods have their way of correcting bad behaviour, the key being eternal punishment. People this fear such punishments are meant to conform. This is what almost all the actors in the play portray, albeit with very diverse, different and very antagonizing approaches (Findley 162).
The law helps in determine the kinship heirs. According to the Greek law, the first male member of the kingship family, the prince must take over the kingdom on the death of the father. In the absence of the prince, or any other son of the king, the nearest male member takes over the kingdom. However, every king is supposed to follow the divine laws set up by the gods.
The law is used to define the types of punishments that befall those who go against the social needs. When Polyneices goes against the kingdom and kills his brother, has the eternal punishment, he should be killed and should not be buried so that his spirit should not have peace. This is the decree that King Creon followed, disrespecting the needs of Antigone to have her buried given a decent send-off. However, the king’s decree, as a form of human law I final, and Antigone cannot go against that.
Human law is equally important. According to King Creon, his kingship that is ordained by the gods has the powers to set up rules in line with the divine laws to control the people in the kingdom. His application of the human law also has consequences, and if not followed, one is condemned to be punished by the very human laws (Findley 383).
The tragic play shows how the law is important in controlling the social behavior and actions of the people. Without the law, people may commit serious errors. Therefore, any attempt to go against the ways of the laws, whether human or divine has dire consequences. It also shows how a small misunderstanding that causes conflict in the understanding of the law can have devastating tragically consequences. The law was not very clear on what should be done to the person who goes against the ill of the divine law, whenever it antagonizes the human law that it approves. The controversy lead to the different people taking diverse actions and sides that bring catastrophe to the people of the Oedipus kingdom. King Creon, trying to follow the ways of the divine laws through his decrees finds himself on the wrong side to the needs of princess Antigone. Antigone feels that the divine laws should not be used to punish his late brother’s spirits, and so feels that King Creon is acting on his human nature to press the poor spirit of his brother. Since the law controls the society, but the same law can only exist when the society exists, which course, therefore, should the law take?
BIBLIOGRAPHY l 1033 Findley , H. D. (1962). Antigone ; Oedipus the King ; Electra. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sophocles, & Blondell, R. (1998). Antigone. Washington DC: Focus Publishing.