Drama Review – Sophocles – Antigone
Classic text book Greek tragedy, with a tone of relentless doom, gloom and despair throughout. Few tragedies, even from Shakespeare are this spectacularly doom-laden and downbeat.
After a heavy costly Theban civil war for control of the throne left vacant by the earlier death of King Oedipus, his sons, the brothers Eteocles, and Polyneices, have killed each other in mortal combat struggling for kingship.
As the oldest surviving heir, their uncle, Creon, takes the crown. He becomes an unwavering tyrant almost immediately he secures office. He sets State above religious sensibilities. As Eteocles was also very much a legal by the book government driven politician Creon grants him a state funeral with all due honour and pomp.
Polyneices, however is seen as a traitor, and usurper. King Creon orders that his body is to be left outside the city gates unburied, to rot in the street and be torn apart by vultures & wild dogs.
This is of great offence to his sister, Antigone, who believes passionately that Polyneices deserves a decent burial. She gets herself arrested trying to bury him herself (after the city guards narrowly escape blame for the crime).
Creon is all set to execute her for defying his laws, even when his own son, Haemon, declares her case just and threatens suicide if she is to die.
Antigone is sent away to be sealed in a tomb, where she will slowly starve to death.
Creon is visited by his favourite prophet who warns that his stubborn folly will lead to much death around him, and his popularity falls as the people of Thebes pity poor Antigone as a martyr.
Creon finally comes to his senses and rushes to the tomb to release Antigone from her tomb before she starves, only to discover that he is too late because she has hanged herself there. His son Haemon commits suicide before his eyes, and he gets home to find that news of the deaths has driven his wife, Eurydice to kill herself too.
The play ends with the emotionally devastated King Creon wandering around alone; the most powerful man in Thebes reduced to helpless despair by his folly. The Chorus ends the play by asking if he will gain wisdom from his great mistakes and loss.
There is something quite astonishing in the sheer momentum of the tragedy here – Creon is not a villain, just a naïve politician making difficult unpopular decisions that ultimately destroy him.
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