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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Prologue | Summary


Antigone has no acts or scenes. This study guide uses stage directions, entrances, and exits to divide the text into sections for analysis.


The set is plain, usually a bare stage with three entrances. The actors wear evening clothes. The Chorus tells us that the cast members, who are grouped on the stage, are about to act out the story of Antigone. He introduces the play's characters, and they file offstage as he does so.

Next, the Chorus explains that since the death of the king (Antigone's father, Oedipus), his sons Eteocles and Polynices were to take turns ruling Thebes, each for a year. But when the time came for Eteocles to give up the throne, he refused, throwing the country into civil war. The brothers killed each other in combat outside the city walls. Creon gave Eteocles—whose side he favored—a state funeral, but he branded Polynices a traitor. He has prohibited the burial of Polynices's body on pain of death. It lies rotting outside the city walls as a warning to would-be rebels.


The Chorus focuses the audience's attention on the theatricality of what they are about to see. Speaking directly to the audience and pointing out the actors' role-playing are hallmarks of metatheater. Instead of persuading the audience that what's happening in the theater is real, metatheater suggests that what happens in the real world is something like theater. The audience is all, to some extent, caught up in roles.

Neither all of the audience nor all of the characters are aware of how decisive these roles are. However, Antigone is different: "From the moment the curtain went up, she began to feel inhuman forces were whirling her out of this world." The Chorus says that when Haemon abruptly asked her to marry him, Antigone wasn't at all surprised: "She looked up at him out of those solemn eyes of hers ... and said 'yes.'" She knows how things are going to turn out.

Creon too is aware he has a role to play, though he doesn't relish it: "like a conscientious workman, he does his job." Unlike Antigone he doesn't comprehend the disaster that is about to unfold. Among the rest of the characters, only the messenger, who "has a premonition of catastrophe," seems to feel the "inhuman forces"—which explains why he, like Antigone, is "brooding."

Audiences familiar with Sophocles's Antigone will notice the absence of Tiresias in the cast of players. Tiresias was Creon's most vocal critic in Sophocles's drama. His absence will make it harder for the audience to conclude that Creon is the villain. Another difference between Sophocles's Antigone and Anouilh's is the complete absence in the latter of any reference to the gods. Whatever "inhuman forces" are controlling the characters, they don't seem to be divine. What those forces are is a question audiences can ponder during the play and long after it ends.

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