The two themes of Antigone
The two themes of Antigone
The play Antigone is set in ancient Greek society and revolves around the life and tribulations of the main character- Antigone and her family. The plot is developed in relation to three key events that dominate the entire play. It starts from the point when Oedipus who is Antigone’s brother is at the helm as the king of Thebes. The plot then takes another twist when Antigone discovers that her two brothers have died while she was trying to save them. The last bit of the plot unfolds when Antigone decides to take her own life while in detention.
When Oedipus passes on in Colonus, Antigone decides to come back in a bid to rescue her two brothers-Eteocles and Polyneices from their impending death based on earlier premonitions. In that prophecy whose source remains a mystery (but known to Antigone), there is a prediction that the two brothers will kill one another in a battle to take the throne of their slain brother. However when she arrives, she discovers that the prophecy had already come to pass, and, therefore, nothing could be done. On the other hand, the throne had been taken over by her uncle-Creon. Further, Antigone learns that her uncle had banned the burial of one of Polyneices on grounds that he was a traitor. However, the king fails to substantiate this claim especially after according Eteocles a proper send-off.
At this point, an argument ensues that results in Antigone forcefully taking the remains of his brother and accords him a proper burial. On realizing that Antigone has defied his orders, Creon commands the immediate arrest and detention of Antigone. It is during her time in prison that she also take her life. This somber mood of the play is set at its lowest when the blind prophet and Antigone’s fiancé together with Creon’s son plead the king to order her release unknowing to them that she had already died. She could later be found dead in the cell-a situation that culminated in Haemon and the wife of the king also committing suicide out of despair. The king is left alone to lead a stressful life full of regrets for his past deeds.
As illustrated in the synopsis above, the themes of the play develop out of the interactions of the two main characters-Antigone and her uncle, Creon. Out of the disagreement over the burial of her brother, the two characters demonstrate how far their rivalry has gone not only issues but also on their ideologies and believe for what is right and wrong. They are seen to be at opposing sides throughout the play, but their competition is not about the current state of affairs but rather a long-standing rivalry emanating from aspects such as religion, culture and their belief in family bonding as well as justice and fairness. Thus, among the other themes that stand out from the entire play, two of them are dominant and have been used over the years to represent the other themes of the play. This, however, does not auger well with some scholars who argue that the little or no attention paid to other smaller themes in the play has played a part in distorting the intended message as well as dragging the play towards extinction.
The first theme that stands out from the play is the love for family and the will of the gods. This theme is developed by Antigone, who through her action and argument with the King, demonstrates her strong believe in family as a divine institution that is supposed to be characterized by a strong bond and understanding among all members. She shows great courage and resilience in her face off with the king over the burial of her brother to the extent of risking arrest. She defies the odds and goes ahead to bury her brother-a decision that prompted her detention. Her affinity for the family is seen in her lamentations in the conversation she had with Ismene, Creon buried our brother Eteocles with military honors and it was right………..but polyneices, Creon has sworn no one shall bury him, mourn him.” This shows how much she values her brothers even in death.
Antigone goes on to underline her resolve of burying her brother by seeking the assistance of Ismene, her sister, challenging her to prove her stand either as a traitor or a family person. She says, “I am going to bury him, will you come, he is my brother……..he is your brother too………Creon is not enough to stand my way.” As the conversation ensues she goes on to show the love she has for his brother adding that, “I shall lie down with him in death, I will bury he brother I love.” Whereas her sister teamed up with Creon and others, Antigone stood firm and reduced to cede to pressure and went ahead to bury her brother.
On the other hand, the theme of Law and Order is developed by Creon, who has just ascended to the throne by taking advantage of the death of the two brothers. He argues that law and order should be observed above family. He places this system above the family institution pointing out that the observation of family ties should not be a hindrance to the observation of law and order in the society. To underline his belief, he refuses to accord one of his nephews a proper burial on the ground that he was a traitor. He shows his intent during his inauguration by saying, “And as for the man who sets private friendship above the public welfare, ––I have
no use for him, either.” This was a deliberate warning to Antigone regarding the burial of her brother.
Creon is seen as a man who not only had an ego for power but also as a person who was always out to exploit any opportunity to impose his beliefs on others. He further reiterates his stand on the burial by sternly saying, “This is my principle and I have made the decision concerning…….Polyneices, I say is to have no burial: no man is to touch him or say the least prayer.” His tone demonstrates his envy for the undying love Antigone has for her brothers, and these statements are just meant to hurt her rather than a statement of intent to show his belief in law and justice. His disregard for the gods is also evident when he uses such statements as,” The gods favor this corpse, how had he served them, he tried to loot their temples, burn their images.” Although some argue that he only said this as a result of the disregard he had for his slain nephew, the bigger picture is the disregard for the gods and their role in the society.