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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):
bulletWho is the true tragic hero in this play—Antigone, Creon, or Haemon?
bulletHow are Antigone and Haemon parallel to Romeo and Juliet? (268)
bulletShould the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice be acted out onstage or only reported, as they are in Sophocles’ script? (269)


  1. 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. 
    1. 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?  
    2. How did he pit the brothers against each other and ensure that they would both die in the battle for Thebes?
    3. 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.
  2. 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.  
    1. Was Haemon right about the people of Thebes--that they were in agreement with Antigone but afraid to speak out against Creon?
    2. 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 American dream.)

Issues in Antigone

  1. What social and religious values are in conflict in this play and which of the main characters holds which of these values?
  2. Is the ending of the play justified?  How could there be a more reasonable ending?
  3. 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' "burial")?


Aristotle's 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Read section 4.3 to see Aristotle's reasons for focusing on plot (conflict) as the chief component of tragedy.
  3. Read section 5 to understand several basic considerations about a carefully made plot of "artistically constructed incidents" (4.3.iii).
  4. 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)?
  5. 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 on "suffering.")
  6. 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?
  7. 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 Haemon.
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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 got.
  12. 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 written response.


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This instructional web was made in July, 2002, by Prof. Eric Hibbison, who is solely responsible for its content.