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Written by Timothy Sexton
Daughter of tragic former King of Thebes Oedipus, and brother of Polynices and Eteocles. When King Creon oversteps his authority by ordering that the corpse of Polynices not be buried and instead rot in public as a warning against rebellion, Antigone’s rebellious nature really kicks in. She defies Creon’s order, jilts his son and chooses death over renouncing her actions. In short, she becomes a kick-ass martyr for resistance to authority everywhere.
Oedipus was Creon’s brother and Creon nearly got left in the cold when his nephews became heirs to the crown of Thebes. Sibling rivalry of a fatal nature took care of that problem for his, but now he’s got an ever bigger problem. A girl is defying his authority and making him look weak. Unfortunately, that girl is his niece, daughter of the legendary Oedipus and betrothed to his own son. Could things get any worse for this newly installed King already fighting to gain legitimacy? Actually, yeah. They could get worse. Much worse.
The son of Creon and Eurydice no sooner enters the action than his fiancé announces she is calling off their relationship in total. Things just spiral ever downward from that point through a vain confrontation with his father after he condemns Antigone to her punishment to one of worst visits to a cave ever. One could almost imagine the play being titled the Tragedy of Haemon, in fact, by the time he’s done spiraling.
Antigone’s older sister is pitted against her younger sibling as an example of how not to deal with an overbearing authoritarian. Although seemingly nothing more than a vain, self-involved denier of reality, Ismene’s actions and advice to her sister consistently reveal a woman who has calculated the odds and chooses to side with what’s safe rather than what’s right.
Nurse has cared for Antigone and Ismene since they were children, but even still does not know the adult that the child has become well enough to think her capable of buying the corpse of her brother over the orders of Creon. Ultimately, becomes a personification of the fact that even when tragedy strikes close and directly impacts those around you, some people can sometimes come out personally unscathed.
The Chorus opens the play by presenting the backstory that has led to the circumstances central to the plot. The primary purpose of including this traditional element of ancient Greek drama in Anouilh’s update is to create intellectual distance for the audience by reminding them of the theatricality of the production.
The guards are representative of the way in which authority over the law determines enforcement of the law. The guards themselves are not bad guys, but their job is to carry out the orders of their superiors. If Creon has ordered a mandate against burying Polynices and punishment for anyone who disobeys that order, their job is not to question why their King is acting less than logically on this issue, their job is to do what he says. The status of the guards as the play concludes indicates that enforcement is not just immune to intellectual engagement of the difference between right and wrong, they are also immune to the effects of tragedy with the suggestion that this immunity arrives courtesy of that lack of intellectual power.
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