Literature Study GuidesAntigonePart 4 Chorus Summary

Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Part 4 (Chorus) | Summary



At mid-afternoon the Chorus appears onstage. He says, "the spring is wound up tight" and "the tragedy is on." He goes on to explain the difference between a tragedy like the one unfolding onstage and melodrama.

First he describes tragedy as a "machine" that "runs without friction." It exists in the moment before the executioner's axe falls at the end of the play, or the moment before two lovers' touch at the beginning of one. It is "the silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner ... and you, the victor, already vanquished."

Melodrama, on the other hand, depends on the intervention of chance. Death in melodrama is worse than tragic death because it could have been avoided. In melodrama, "you argue and struggle in the hope of escape." He assures the audience they can relax because chance will not intervene here. Then changing tone, the Chorus announces that Antigone has been caught in the act of burying her brother. He exits.


In describing tragedy, the Chorus addresses the audience directly, again drawing attention to the theatricality of what is happening on stage. He moves from describing tragic scenes in the theater (an execution in the final act, a lovers' tryst in the first) to describing scenes in life, like winning a race. In this way the Chorus draws a parallel between theater and reality; in both places "you're trapped," like a character in a role. "All you can do about it is to shout." The shouting is absurd but necessary; ultimately tragedy is restful because it is inevitable.

Melodrama only encourages hope, a "foul, deceitful thing." The hopeful struggle of characters in melodrama is "vulgar; it is practical." Tragedy happens in stillness, outside of a confusion of words and actions. Anouilh scholar Lewis Falb observes, "The focus of attention is on the moment when the crucial actions have to be interpreted by the central character and by others." That's why there's more talk than action in Anouilh's Antigone. Antigone's two attempts to bury her brother take place out of the audience's view. The tragedy will unwind, like a spring, in later scenes, where Antigone will first embrace her martyrdom and then—when it is too late—question it.

When informing the audience of Antigone's capture, the Chorus says, "For the first time in her life, little Antigone is going to be able to be herself." His statement is paradoxical. He has just explained that tragedy is "automatic"; Antigone's fate is sealed—how can she be herself? Perhaps because she doesn't have to struggle against the "inhuman forces" she sensed in the Prologue? The clamor and confusion of melodrama is gone. In the absence of struggle, the inevitability the Chorus mentioned earlier takes hold.

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