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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In Antigone what is the effect of having the messenger tell the story of Haemon's suicide rather than having the audience witness it?

It's significant that the action that the messenger describes does not occur onstage—the audience only hears about it secondhand, which puts them in the same position as Eurydice. By keeping the action offstage the audience is forced to envision the action through the narration of a character. Greek playwrights and theaters weren't as interested in showing bloody tragedy as in having the audience observe the emotions of the characters, and here they would be able to see Eurydice's emotions and reaction clearly. Her reaction can be contrasted with Creon's, who witnesses the act firsthand. Yet both of them become "nothing" as a result: Eurydice by committing suicide and Creon through his loss of identity. Having the action told rather than witnessed creates a distance from the bloodier and tragic actions of the play and keeps the focus on the philosophical aspects.

In Antigone what effect does Eurydice's character have on the ending of the play?

Both the characters and the audience are meant to be surprised by Eurydice's reaction to hearing about the suicide of her son. Rather than speaking or displaying a great deal of emotion, she merely turns and heads to the palace, leaving the messenger and the Chorus puzzled by her response. The Chorus intuits that her reaction foreshadows something bad, and the audience is able to guess what might follow. Her silence also stands in contrast to Creon's emotional outburst, and in many ways it is more powerful since her silence signals a sorrow too profound to express in words. Her silence also speaks to the fact that she had no control or input over any of Creon's actions that led her family to that tragic point, a plight that points out some of the gender issues in the play. Her inaction can be contrasted with Antigone's action and rebellion. The fact that Eurydice also kills herself allows the audience to finally feel some sympathy for Creon since now his entire family is gone, and all because of his decisions.

How does the dramatic irony in the Prologos of Antigone affect the characterization of the play?

The audience members know who disobeyed Creon before he does. This knowledge affects the characterization of the play because the drama focuses on the conflict between two characters with strong opposing beliefs about justice rather than a whodunit mystery for the audience to solve. The audience understands Antigone's rationale and so she has a head start on gaining the audience's sympathy before Creon even arrives on the scene. Creon's initial ignorance of who committed the crime sets him up as a stubborn and out-of-touch leader of his people since even when he realizes who disobeyed him, not even the fact that he and Antigone are related is enough to convince him to change his mind.

In Episode 3 of Antigone what does Haemon's appeal to Creon on Antigone's behalf reveal about Haemon's character?

Haemon plays an interesting contrast to his father, Creon, in this scene. Haemon keeps his cool and does not lose his temper or get emotional, showing that he has a deep understanding of his father and the best way to appeal to him. Even the Chorus praises him for the valid points he makes. He also shows a deeper understanding of how to govern citizens respectfully than Creon does. He points out, "A city which belongs to just one man is no true city," implying that Creon isn't thinking about the fact that most of his citizens disagree with Antigone's punishment. The fact that Haemon is willing to stand up to Creon also shows his love and respect for Antigone, and it mirrors the way in which she stands up for what she believes is just.

In Episode 3 of Antigone what does Haemon mean when he tells Creon, "By yourself you'd make an excellent king but in a desert"?

Haemon points out to Creon that the people are not behind him with regard to his punishment of Antigone—and that he risks alienating them further if he carries it out. But the point is lost on Creon that, by trying to make his citizens see him as a strong leader, he is actually becoming a tyrant. He can't consider for even a second that he might be making the wrong decision and only worries that reversing his stance would bring chaos to the city and threaten his newly found rule. Frustrated over his father's shortcomings, Haemon utters this sentence in order to convey the irony that Creon is only capable of being a king if there is no one to rule.

In Antigone what is the difference between how Creon sees himself and how others in the play see him?

Creon sees himself as a fair and just ruler, helping to guide Thebes back to peace after a turbulent battle. He also sees himself as justifiably strict, believing that the citizens of Thebes need a stern ruler who can ensure that laws will be upheld and obeyed. In Episode 1 he tells the Chorus his thoughts on what makes a good leader: "A man who rules the entire state and does not take the best advice there is, but through fear keeps his mouth forever shut, such a man is the very worst of men." Creon claims that he will listen to the advice of the Chorus and others, but throughout the play he turns a deaf ear to the advice of his son as well as the prophet Teiresias, both of whom warn him of his blindness to the reality of the situation. Haemon cautions Creon that the citizens of Thebes don't agree with his punishment of Antigone, but Creon can't see their side until it's too late.

In Antigone what is surprising about Antigone's reason for not allowing Ismene to plead guilty to burying Polyneices?

The audience may be surprised that Antigone's initial reason for not allowing Ismene to falsely confess her guilt is not to spare her from punishment but rather because she doesn't want Ismene to get credit for what Antigone has done. Antigone is proud of her actions and expects to die as a martyr to her cause. In Episode 2 Antigone chides Ismene, "Don't try to share my death or make a claim to actions which you did not do." She doesn't want Ismene, who has proven herself weak, to share in the spotlight for her actions. It is Antigone alone who has taken control of her Oedipal fate and laid claim to her family legacy.

In Antigone how do Antigone and Ismene differ in their understanding of gender roles?

In the Prologos Ismene tells Antigone, "we must remember that by birth we're women, and, as such, we shouldn't fight with men." Ismene seems to believe that a woman's role is to be obedient to men and respect their decisions and laws since men are "more powerful" than women. Her reluctance to help Antigone shows that she believes Antigone is out of bounds, even if her actions are in response to what Antigone believes is her duty to her family and the gods. Antigone doesn't seem to care about what a woman's role should be or what a man's role should be—she only feels bound to do what she believes is just and fair and only cares to be judged by the gods for her actions. Whether her actions are appropriate for a woman according to mortal customs and beliefs is of little interest to her.

In Antigone how are Creon and Antigone alike and different?

Creon and Antigone are fundamentally different in their beliefs about justice and law. Creon believes that, as a ruler, his laws are just and should be followed, and anyone who disobeys these laws should be punished. He doesn't allow any exceptions to his laws even for family members or to please the gods. Antigone believes that divine justice takes precedence over state laws and that it is worse to disrespect the gods and her family by leaving her brother's body unburied than to disobey Creon. But even though Creon and Antigone are on extremely opposing sides of this equation, they are similar in their stubbornness about their beliefs, in ways that lead them both to tragic fates. Creon is so stubborn that he can't see that the tides have turned against him and that he should have listened to the advice of his son and Teiresias. Antigone is so stubborn that she is willing to get caught and face death as a punishment for her actions. The legacies of their deaths both serve as cautionary tales about the arrogance that can come with stubbornness. Even though the audience is more likely to sympathize with Antigone's fate and her beliefs, she also shows the tragic outcome of taking a risk and not listening to advice. Creon's tragic fall also leaves a cautionary legacy about not listening to advice until it is too late and how those actions can affect the lives of those you love.

In Antigone what does Creon's question regarding Haemon mean: "And men my age—are we then going to school to learn what's wise from men as young as him"?

In Episode 3 the Chorus tells Creon outright that he should listen to the advice of his son. Creon seems to equate age with wisdom, however, and therefore he dismisses Haemon's advice. Yet it becomes clear that Haemon has wisdom and foresight that his father lacks, and Haemon has advice that his father is unwilling to take because he doesn't believe someone younger than him has anything to teach him. This remark shows Creon's arrogance that he believes himself to be right in every instance. If he had followed Haemon's advice the suicides would not have occurred. Creon only realizes this too late, and he loses his son and wife in the process.

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