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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What is the significance of saying yes in Jean Anouilh's Antigone?

In Antigone Creon says yes, Antigone says no. For Creon saying yes means accepting the role that has been thrust on him; it means agreeing to "roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows." This visceral image of saying yes is mirrored in Creon's idea of the "kitchen of politics," where lies are propagated in the name of maintaining order. This "kitchen" is where Creon devised his plan to elevate Eteocles as a hero and brand his brother the traitor, though both were villains. (In fact their two bodies were found mashed together, indistinguishable—another visceral image.) Saying no, Antigone's choice, means defying Creon's edict. But it also means staying out of the "kitchen" and retaining the purity of youth, which she symbolizes. Of course, since growing up makes corruption inevitable, Antigone's choice means death.

What is the role of the three guards in Anouilh's Antigone?

In the Prologue the Chorus introduces the three guards as a unit. They are thoroughly ordinary, "bothered by the little day-to-day worries that beset us all." But as policemen, they are also dangerous, because they have the power "to arrest anybody at all." People like the three guards are a type found in many of Anouilh's plays; critics have noted that these exist in a kind of catatonic state, never truly acting with free choice. Treating them as a unit reinforces the idea of them as part of the mob—that insensitive, brutal, indifferent crowd so repulsive to Antigone. Throughout the play she begs to be shielded from the mob, whose gaze alone threatens to contaminate her. Their intrusion into Antigone's world—the heroic, idealistic world in which she wants to isolate herself—is almost unbearable to her, especially because she symbolizes the purity their presence sullies. Together the guards serve as a menacing reminder to Antigone and the audience of the omnipresence of the mob and the mundane world of compromise she is trying to avoid.

Why does Antigone declare "I am a queen!" in Part 6 of Antigone?

In Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus), Antigone taunts Creon with this line, which reveals the different way they view their roles. As a symbol of pragmatism, Creon sees being a king as a trade. Refusing his role "would have been cowardly ... like a workman who turns down a job that has to be done." He believes it his duty to do his job well, even if it means killing Antigone to maintain order. "I call that being a king," he says. Antigone, representing the opposite, has no sympathy for this point of view; she believes he should have said no to being king—as she says no to his law—because saying yes has meant denying his own instincts to bury Polynices and spare his niece. He has corrupted himself. Antigone, on the other hand, resisted compromise. The blood and bruises on her body are a sign of her struggle to remain pure. This to her is the only way to be a queen—which, as the daughter of Oedipus, she nearly is. Creon is physically unsullied, but he has compromised his integrity.

How does the scene between Antigone and Haemon in Part 2 of Antigone illustrate dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something a character onstage does not. In this case of Part 2 (Meeting with Haemon), although the audience may not know for sure that Antigone has buried (or will try to bury) her brother, they surely suspect it. As soon as Haemon enters, Antigone begins talking about the little boy they were going to have. Haemon, on the other hand, seems blissfully ignorant of the coming disaster, not that he has any particular reason to know what his fiancée has in mind. When Antigone finally cries that she can never marry him, the audience knows for certain what she is planning. Haemon, who has sworn not to ask her about what she has revealed, can only walk away despondently.

Why does Antigone say to Haemon in Part 2 of Antigone, "You loved me! You did love me that night, didn't you? You're sure of it!"

In interrogating Haemon about the depth of his love—pinpointing a particular night when he chose Antigone over Ismene—Antigone seems in Part 2 (Meeting with Haemon) to be looking for the icing on the cake of her childhood, a world she has inhabited purely and intensely. She wants to make sure Haemon's feelings are authentic, not because she plans to marry him—in fact she knows she is going to die—but because she insists on the absolute authenticity of everything in her life. As she later tells Creon, "I want to be sure of everything this very day." In fact because she is the very symbol of purity, she cannot bear to accept less than perfection from life. After she sends Haemon away, telling him they can't marry, she is at peace, "as of calm after storm." Keeping this preserved-in-amber idea of Haemon's love is preferable to a life of compromises.

Why does Antigone ask Haemon in Part 2 of Antigone if he feels "a great empty space is being hollowed out," as if something inside him "is just—dying?"

In Part 2 (Meeting with Haemon) Antigone is looking for confirmation from her lover that he shares her feelings. The meaning of the words, however, is obscure. The "great empty space" could be the sadness she feels knowing she is going to die without consummating her love. In "dying" she could be talking about Romantic love with a capital R—a union of two souls so intense that the individuals are erased. But Antigone's feeling also sounds similar to the explanation of tragedy provided by the Chorus a little later: the hollowed-out, dying sensation may be akin to the stillness that surrounds the hero at the tragic moment, setting the hero apart from the everyday world. It's interesting that Haemon says yes, he does feel that way. Throughout the scene he has been agreeable to everything Antigone says, without appearing to really hear her words. Whether he really feels something "dying" inside him is hard to know at this point. When Creon sentences Antigone to death later, however, Haemon's impassioned declaration in Part 8 (What Have You Done?) that he will not live without her sounds like something Antigone would say.

How does Anouilh's Antigone mirror the ritual aspects of Sophocles's drama?

Sophocles's tragedies were religious rituals. The subject matter was mythological yet also relevant to the audiences' lives. The purpose of the tragedies was to produce catharsis—generating, and then cleansing, feelings of fear and pity. Audience members were considered participants as much as the performers, and the chorus provided the link between the two. Anouilh's adaptation preserves the mythic, universal feel of the play not only in subject matter but also through the neutral setting. His Chorus, like Sophocles's, provides a bridge between audience and actors. He directly addresses the audience in the Prologue and prepares them for what they are about to witness, intervenes to insert interpretation in the middle, and returns in Part 10 (Late Afternoon) to wrap up at the end. But what is the ritual purpose in Anouilh's drama? Though not religious, Anouilh's drama does ask the audience to contemplate serious questions. Not all of these questions are addressed head-on by the Chorus, who is far too ironic to be taken at face value. For example, he tells the audience "we should not be in the least upset ourselves—for we are not doomed to die tonight." But in his oblique way—through reference to the roles the actors are about to play, for example—he raises serious questions about fate and free will.

In Anouilh's Antigone how does the Chorus define tragedy?

The Chorus defines tragedy as an inevitability, like the spring of a clockwork, waiting to be set in motion. This inevitability makes tragedy "restful"; no one need be agitated by "foul, deceitful hope." In Part 4 (Chorus) the Chorus suggests that not only is tragedy inevitable but it also unfolds in a hidden realm; he relates tragedy to a stillness. Recall that stillness has already been evoked several times in the play: the Prologue begins with the actors waiting to act out the story. Antigone, in particular, sits "staring straight ahead, seeing nothing." When the action begins, Antigone has been wandering in predawn, where "the whole world was breathless, waiting," yet Antigone herself made "a roaring noise ... alone on the road." These images of Antigone suggest that she exists on a different plane from the others; she doesn't see what the others are seeing, and others don't hear what she hears. Later, in Part 7 (One Last Appeal) she will tell Creon she is "in a kingdom you can't get into." This idea is further illuminated in the Chorus's speech, when he conjures images of the theater. Everything important there seems to happen in a "hush"—as in the moment before the executioner's axe falls. This hush seems akin to Antigone's gray world, her separate plane of existence. Finally, the Chorus says, the hero breaks the stillness with a "shout." This observation becomes manifest later in Part 7 (One Last Appeal), when Antigone, at the play's climax, emerges from her sullen torpor to rail against Creon's idea of happiness and seals her fate. Except for these shouts, when tragedy breaks out of its stillness, it remains on a separate plane. The rest of the players go on about their business. In Antigone's cell in Part 9 (In Her Prison Cell) with Private Jonas, the audience feels he and she exist in two different worlds. She speaks in tragic tones: "O tomb! O bridal bed! Alone!" while Jonas prattles on about his job. Tragedy exists, Anouilh suggests, but only for those attuned to its pitch.

In Antigone in what ways is Ismene a foil for Antigone?

Ismene describes herself in Part 1 (Early Morning) as thoughtful and able to look at things from various perspectives: "I sort of see what Uncle Creon means," she tells her sister, whom she calls "impulsive." Ismeme is also vivacious, "all curled and cute and tidy and trim," according to the nurse. Antigone describes her sister as "pink and golden," similar to the way she describes the "postcard" look of the day after her wanderings in the "gray" predawn; Ismene belongs to this bright, colorful world. Antigone herself is "sallow" and "scrawny." Nevertheless, Antigone has mysterious magnetism: it causes children to turn and look at her when she passes; it caused Haemon to choose her over Ismene. For all her charms Ismene is ordinary, rational, ready to be an adult; Antigone is other-worldly and determined to remain in the world she symbolizes: the heroic, idyllic world she inhabited as a child.

In Antigone how does Creon say he is different from his predecessor, Oedipus?

In Creon's view Oedipus perceived himself as different from other men. He (and Antigone) had no interest in normal human pursuits: "Human happiness was not enough to satisfy his passion for torment." He allowed himself to be enchanted by mythic prophecies, the "dark story that the gods had destined him first to live and then to hear." He abdicated his duties as king in a destructive quest to learn the truth. Creon, as the symbol of pragmatism, himself has no such obsessions. He puts Thebes ahead of his interests, saying, "Thebes has the right to a king without a past." He considers himself a level-headed ruler, "with both feet firm on the ground." He has no use for the "romantic" view of kings; instead he sees being a king as a trade. "Kings ... have other things to do than surrender themselves to their private feelings." Unlike Oedipus he is more than willing to bury the truth if it serves the kingdom. For example, he has no qualms about falsely promoting Eteocles as a hero. Creon sees Oedipus's entanglement with his past as a choice; yet in Sophocles's plays Oedipus's fate was predestined. Paradoxically, in spite of the dim view he takes of Oedipus's fatalism Anouilh's Creon feels obligated to take on a role himself.

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