Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Antigone how does Creon's rule threaten the democracy of Greece?

In Episode 3 Creon mockingly asks Haemon, "so the city now will instruct me how I am to govern?" after Haemon informs him that the citizens of Thebes do not support Creon's punishment of Antigone. Haemon advises him to reverse his decision, and Creon responds that he won't let his citizens instruct him on how to govern them. The tone of his question reveals that he doesn't see Thebes as a democracy—he sees himself as a ruler who should be able to make decisions for his city on his own. But in a true democracy, which ancient Greece is credited with founding, the citizens inform the laws their government creates and they have the power to elect anybody they please. Creon would be wise to take Haemon's advice since to earn the trust of his citizens and create a true democracy he needs to take their positions into consideration—anything less is to threaten their system of governance.

How do the characters in Antigone view the god Zeus?

All of the characters in Antigone seem to respect Zeus and to understand the important role he plays in deciding their fates, and they are fearful of incurring his wrath. Zeus is the king of the gods and to offend him is to directly offend the other gods as well. However, Creon's respect for Zeus seems to wane over the course of the play, which sets up the thematic tension between the laws of gods versus the laws of mortals. Antigone reminds Ismene in the Prologos of "all the troubles Zeus keeps bringing on the two of us, as long as we're alive." For this reason she seems to be the most intent on pleasing the gods by respecting them and giving her brother a proper burial, even if it means disobeying Creon. She reminds Creon in Episode 2 that "Zeus did not announce those laws to me" and that the gods' laws are the only laws she respects. Her views show the gravity with which mortals considered the gods' influence not only in their current lives but in their afterlives as well. The Chorus also reminds other characters often of the respect and honor they owe Zeus, believing that the death of Polyneices occurred because "Zeus hates an arrogant boasting tongue," and he boasted about invading Thebes. Even Creon initially speaks of his respect for Zeus when discussing his beliefs about what makes a good leader, but by Episode 3 he seems sarcastic when he says of Antigone, "And so let her appeal to Zeus, the god of blood relationships," believing at this point that his laws are more powerful and important. He even goes so far as to say that if Zeus's eagle were to claim the body of Polyneices, he wouldn't bury his corpse.

In Antigone what role do Hades and the Underworld play?

Hades is the god of the Underworld, where the dead go in the afterlife. Hades's role as a god influences Antigone's decision to respect the laws of the gods over Creon's state laws. Antigone explains to Ismene in the Prologos that she will spend far less time in Thebes than in the Underworld, anyway: "My honours for the dead must last much longer than for those up here." She is much more concerned with what will happen to her and her family in the afterlife than here on Earth. After Creon explains in Episode 2 why he gave Eteocles a proper burial but not Polyneices, Antigone reminds him, "That may be, but Hades still desires equal rites for both." Here she reminds Creon that his laws cannot be placed above the laws of the gods.

In Antigone how does Sophocles create dramatic tension between Creon and the guard?

In Episode 2 the guard arrives to inform Creon about the burial of Polyneices's body. Sophocles heightens the dramatic tension between Creon and the guard by portraying the guard as terrified and reluctant to convey the information he knows for fear he will be punished unjustly. Their interaction also reveals some of Creon's cruelty and blindness, as he accuses the guard of taking bribes and treats him suspiciously. For the audience this is the first chance to see Creon interact with someone of a lesser social status than he, and the scene does not reveal him in a flattering light. Sophocles also creates tension with the use of dramatic irony since the audience already knows who buried Polyneices's body—but Creon and the guard do not.

In Antigone how does the image of pollution pervade the play?

Many of the characters in Antigone speak about pollution on a physical and spiritual level. On a physical level leaving the body of Polyneices unburied is a kind of pollution, as birds feast on his decaying corpse out in the open. But pollution is also linked to corruption, such as when Creon mentions in Episode 3 that he will try to give Antigone a fair death "to make sure the city is not totally corrupted." In this reference Creon is speaking to the fact that killing a family member might bring on divine punishment in the form of a pollution involving the entire city—but his execution of Antigone would not be directly killing her so he would escape the divine punishment. Pollution is also linked with the spiritual health of the state, such as when Teiresias accuses Creon in Episode 4 that "our state is sick—your policies have done this." Throughout the play pollution is linked with both physical and spiritual health of individuals and the state.

In Antigone what is significant about Teiresias's blindness?

Although Teiresias is physically blind, as a prophet he has the gift of seeing events—past, present, and future. He clearly sees truths that others cannot. His blindness also creates situational irony in the play—it is ironic for a blind man to be able to "see" the future. In Antigone Creon is particularly contrasted to Teiresias, as Creon is gifted with physical sight yet has little perception of reality. There is also irony in the fact that Creon believes he can "see" what's better for the state than a prophet whose predictions have come true many times in the past. Even after Teiresias warns Creon of his fate, Creon still can't see how his actions have led him to this fate. It is Creon who is blind to the truth when he has it within his power to prevent so many tragic events. Only too late does Creon open his eyes to see what Teiresias saw all along.

In Antigone how does the structure of the play suit the story?

Antigone maintains the classic structure of rising and falling action. The play begins with a Prologos, which establishes the setting and context, picking up from where Sophocles's last Theban play left off: Oedipus and Jocasta are dead, as well as their two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles. Ismene and Antigone are the only surviving members of the family. The Prologos also sets the conflict of the play: Antigone's disobedience of Creon's proclamation. The Parados introduces the Chorus, who fill the audience in on the recent developments in Thebes—the battle and subsequent ruling of Creon. Then the play switches between episodes that contain actions, and stasima, which contain the Chorus's reflections and narration. The play finally ends with the Exodus, or final message of the play. This structure suits the story in that it allows for the backstory to be introduced and brings in tension and anticipation that keep the audience hooked. The stasima offer moments for the audience to reflect on what has happened as well as the larger themes and questions of the play. They also help build anticipation for what will come next.

In Antigone what does Creon mean in Episode 2 when he says of Antigone, "If she gets her way and goes unpunished, then she's the man here, not me"?

Creon has revealed his misogyny throughout the play. In many ways Antigone's actions are an affront to him not just as a leader but also as a man since she doesn't seem to "know her place" as a woman. For him to see her as usurping his manhood is the biggest threat to him, far more than any other possible consequences of her actions, such as the possibility of divine punishment from the gods. It's interesting that he sees her as "getting her way" if she is not punished, and it reveals his arrogance and hubris as a leader since it is not he who can mete out ultimate punishments—only the gods can do that. It's notable that Creon does, in fact, lose his identity by the end of the play when he feels reduced to "nothing"—which is a consequence of his actions, not Antigone's.

In Antigone in what ways does the Chorus judge Creon's and Antigone's characters?

The Chorus, perhaps acting as stand-in gods, passes judgment on both Creon and Antigone at various points throughout the play. At times they seem to underestimate the harm that Creon's decision to punish Antigone will create for many of the characters, but since their job is to uphold Creon's laws they seem torn. They encourage Creon to listen to Haemon and Teiresias when they offer him contrary advice, but the Chorus doesn't offer him any advice of their own. The Chorus also seems to judge Antigone harshly at times, though they do convey sympathy for her plight. They admire her for standing up for what she believes is just, but they condemn her for knowingly breaking a law in the first place. The Chorus's judgment suggests that both Creon and Antigone bear responsibility for the tragic events of the play.

In Antigone what is the overall tone of the Parados, and how does it contrast with the Prologos?

The Parados provides an introduction to the history before the action of the play and is sung by the Chorus. The tone is cautiously hopeful, as the Chorus sings of the possibility of peace at last after the battle of Thebes has ended and a new ruler, Creon, has been installed. A "ray of sunlight" has "appeared at last," bringing hope that a new page has been turned. The Parados also introduces an emphasis on the influence of the gods on the characters, such as Zeus, who they believed helped Thebes win the battle. But the Parados contrasts with the Prologos in that the audience already knows of Antigone's plans to disobey Creon's proclamation, sowing the seeds of discord. Therefore the hopeful tone is overshadowed by a mood of conflict and tension.

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