Objective for this Page: To address some of
the overarching issues of the play.
In addition to the section questions throughout the "Structure"
pages that summarize each segment of the play and provide commentary and study
questions about the segment, readers of Antigone may wish to consider
these more global questions.
|The following questions are suggested by Resources for
Teaching MAKING LITERATURE MATTER by John Schilb, John Clifford, and
Joyce Hollingsworth (Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s, 2000):
|Who is the true tragic hero in this play—Antigone, Creon, or
|How are Antigone and Haemon parallel to Romeo and Juliet? (268)|
|Should the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice be acted out
onstage or only reported, as they are in Sophocles’ script? (269)|
- Write a soliloquy to be delivered by Creon before the Prologue of Antigone
that would explain the "back story" for him. This portrayal
would assume a "conspiracy theory" that makes Creon an ambitious
and conniving ruler who aspires to be the tyrant of Thebes.
- What has it been like to serve as regent for nearly 20 years
(maybe more), watching the children of his brother-in-law (and nephew) grow up to
take his power from him?
- How did he pit the brothers against each other and ensure
that they would both die in the battle for Thebes?
- What does he hope to gain by his decree about Polynices,
which seems aimed at ensnaring the defiant Antigone?
WARNING: Most commentators don't see Creon this way, based solely on
evidence from the play. Creon could simply be a new ruler, a bit
paranoid about his power base. But Antigone is suspicious of his
motives. Why not bury Polynices? In fact, why try to have
the brothers rule in alternate years? Both were ideas that were
bound to fail--to Creon's profit, it must have appeared to him.
- Write a eulogy for Antigone to be delivered by her sister Ismene when her
sister is brought back to Thebes for a proper burial--a state funeral--in
the family's burial plot.
- Was Haemon right about the people of Thebes--that they were
in agreement with Antigone but afraid to speak out against Creon?
- How does Antigone's death change Ismene? (For a
comparable situation, see the epilog to Arthur Miller's Death of a
Salesman to observe how both of the sons have been changed by their
father's suicide; Biff seems finally free of his burden of spite, but
Hap seems to have taken on the burden of his father's version of the
Issues in Antigone
- What social and religious values are in conflict in this play and which of
the main characters holds which of these values?
- Is the ending of the play justified? How could there be a more
- As viewed in this play, to what extent do people have control over their
own lives, as opposed to being controlled by fate, the gods, their rulers,
or other forces like luck or chance (mentioned by the sentry who lost in
drawing lots and became the one to tell Creon of Polynices'
Poetics, chapter 4, defines and analyzes tragedy as Aristotle found
it in ancient Greece, especially Athens. Chapter 5 (keep scrolling at this
same link) considers plot. Keep in mind that Aristotle's analysis basically
influences dramas ancient and modern (Shakespeare and later), including movies
and television dramas.
- Aristotle's definition of tragedy is the second sentence of section 4.1:
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action . . . ." Find
this entire definition in the link above.
- Read section 4.3 to see Aristotle's reasons for focusing on plot
(conflict) as the chief component of tragedy.
- Read section 5 to understand several basic considerations about a
carefully made plot of "artistically constructed incidents"
- Apply the notion of "completeness" (5.1) to Antigone:
What starts the conflict of this play? What ends it (keep in mind the
consequences of earlier actions)?
- Does magnitude (5.2) have to involve a life and death situation?
Does the protagonist have to die for there to be sufficient
"magnitude" to move us? (Aristotle does use these terms directly,
so read his principles but decide for yourself. How serious does a
drama have to be for it to be a serious drama, even a tragedy?
Consider the difference between a dramatic movie like Saving Private Ryan
against an action movie like one of the Star Wars movies--which has
more magnitude and why?)(Also consider section 6.5 of Aristotle's Poetics
- Unity of plot (5.3) doesn't mean all about one man but a selection of
incidents that are all related. If there are 5 episodes in Antigone,
how are they all related?
- Think of "determinate structure" (5.4) as dealing with
inevitability in plot. Consider, for instance, what the play Antigone
would be missing without the episode involving Tiresias or the one involving
- Think of "universality" as probability, based on human
nature. Given Creon's nature and situation, for instance, how likely
is it that he would be moved to change his mind because of the reasoning of
a woman, his son, the chorus, or even Tiresias? What does finally
cause Creon to overturn his decree? Also, Antigone's suicide is a sort
of a surprise, but it is also the final resolution of her conflict with
Creon, so does it make sense in some way?
- Consider "reversal" (6.3) and "recognition" (6.4)
together. Tragedy is most moving, Aristotle tells us, when a good person
suffers a downfall through their own pride--and realizes that they have
caused their own downfall--at nearly the same instant. This happens to
Oedipus: When he finds out he's adopted, he realizes that the old man he
killed at the crossroads must have been his father and the former king of
Thebes--and that he has been making babies with that former king's
queen. Does Antigone recognize anything?
- Consider sections 7.2 and 8.1 in order to decide whether either Creon or
Antigone is the right kind of person to make a tragedy.
- Consider section 7.4 to decide if you feel "fear" (dread) and
"pity" (sympathy) for either Creon or Antigone. If either is
too arrogant or villainous, then we may feel like they deserve what they
- Consider section 8.3 to decide if the actions of the
"Epilog"--the suicides of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice--Creon's
niece, son, and wife--should be shown or just described.
The Bottom Line: So is Antigone an effective tragedy or not?
Assessment: Choose a question that intrigues you and prepare an oral or