Antigone is a play of great historical significance. Written in 441 B.C by Sophocles, it is of the few remarkable plays that have stood the test of time. Through this play, the legendary Greek playwright introduces an array of archetypal and dynamic characters, one of whom, holds the honor of having the play named after her, Antigone. To understand the nuances of archetypal characters as opposed to stock characters, one must notice the change in the perspective and the development of a character. Stock characters do not stray from their stance and ideas.
They remain flat throughout the story and are usually a recurring segment in most literary works as a means of developing the narrative through familiar contexts. Archetypal characters, however, evolve with the progression of the narrative, though they may also be of recurring principles. Archetypal characters resemble patterns of human nature, as perceived universally.
The play is set in the city of Thebes and focuses on Antigone’s devotion to what she believes to be righteous and the consequences of her commitment. The plot is shared with the new ruler, Creon, who believes in his own right to pass cruel and unholy acts despite the advices of his counsel. This, in turn, earns him the wrath of the Gods, carrying appropriate judgement and his prelude to despair. The overall play and experience introduces a new dimension of morality and justice to the audience.
The playwright makes use of the chorus in delivering the context preceding the opening scene. The Chorus presents the two brothers of Antigone, Polyneices and Eteocles, locked in a battle to become the ruler of Thebes. The battle results in both their demise and the crowning of the new king, Creon, who favors Eteocles and forsakes his brother.
Antigone and her sister Ismene are unveiled in the opening scene, both of whom can be described as archetypal and dynamic characters to the narrative. They first appear discussing the fate of their deceased brother, Polyneices. Antigone wishes Ismene to help her bury her brother, disobeying the new ruler, Creon, who declared anyone that attempts to givePolyneices funeral rites to be stoned.
Terrified of persecution, Ismene denies her sister of any aid. She further recalls the loss that had befallen their family previously, due to the curse of Oedipus and attempts to stop Antigone, but ultimately fails. Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé, now enters the scene and Antigone conveys her doubts of marrying him, following the cruelty displayed by his father.
Haemon is hardly satisfied with the outcome and soon departs. Ismene re-enters and learns Antigone’s intentions of burying their brother in broad daylight and is petrified by the thought of it. But Antigone soon reveals that she has already buried Polyneices.
With his next scene, the playwright introduces Creon, the antagonist of the narrative, entering alongside the chorus of Theban Elders. He attempts to gather approval of the Chorus for the atrocities committed against Polyneices and succeeds in persuading the leader of the Chorus, though out of compliance. Hesitantly, the First Guard enters and briefs Creon of the corpse being given a burial by someone without their knowledge.
Creon acts out in rage and orders the guard to bring the person responsible lest he should face his own demise and even accuses the guard of engaging in bribery. The guard leaves to find the offender immediately.
After a short while, the Chorus is observed honoring the Gods and are interrupted by the Guards walking back into the Throne room dragging Creon’s niece, Antigone with them. The First Guard claims that after returning to the spot, they had removed the funeral rites off of the corpse and caught Antigone in the act of burying the body again.
Upon learning the incident and the perpetrator’s identity, Creon makes sure that the situation remains private and sends the guards out. When confronted, Antigone admits to the crime without a hint of reluctance. Furthermore, she courageously expresses the immorality of the decree and justifies her actions against it. Creon, though enraged, understands that Antigone is valuable to the order of Thebes, as her marriage to Haemon carries more stability and peace than her death.
He emphasizes that her being the daughter of Oedipus does not put her above the law, and orders Antigone to return to her bed, publically announcing that she had been ill, in an attempt to resolve the situation. But Antigone does not sway from her righteousness, saying she would rather die than see Polyneices unburied and left as food for the vultures and that she would only return to doing what she believes in.
Creon, in a final attempt to salvage the situation, tries to convince Antigone of the collective enmity towards her rebel brothers. He explains how he made her parents miserable and how Oedipus, being unable to find the courage to imprison Polyneices, let him join the Argive army, only to return wishing death upon his father. Consistently, Eteocles too, plotted to overthrow his father’s throne. They were both villains and Creon only endorsed Eteocles as his corpse was in a more sophisticated condition than its rival. Creon then recommends Antigone to marry his son quickly, but Antigone is only left dazed of the recent revelations.
In the next scene, Ismene enters the room and is interrogated by Creon. She confesses that she had committed the crime, in an attemptto tie herself of the same fate as her sister. Antigone, however, shows anger towards her and accuses her of lying. Antigone continues on, ridiculing Ismene of her abilities in the hopes of protecting her from Creon. But when Ismene threatens to bury Polynieces herself, Antigone pleas to Creon to have herself arrested, as she fears the disease is spreading. But regardless of Antigone’s efforts, Creon orders both the women to be taken into prison while he declares their final verdict.
Haemon enters the scene and first, complies with his father, Creon’s wishes, but soon states that Antigone should be spared as she has gathered a significant amount of support from the common people. The Chorus interrupts and agrees with him. But Creon is aware that Antigone’s crime has reached the ears of the public, and if he wishes to honor his decree, he must follow through with the persecution.
This, however, does not appease Haemon and wishes to see his betrothed to be free. This leads to a gruesome argument between the two and concludes with Creon threatening to kill Antigone right then and there. Appalled by his father’s perceived misconduct, Haemon vows to never see him again.
Creon declares his decision of sparing Ismene and immuring Antigone inside a cave where she will starve to death. She seems despondent, showing no resistance whilst being dragged out of her abode. She regrets not being able to experience a married life and dying for her moral code and asks the First Guard in front of her cell to deliver a message to Haemon as her last wish. The Chorus soon announces that it is Creon’s turn to encounter tragedy.
With the development of the next scene, the playwright introduces a significant character in the narrative, Tiresias, the blind prophet, who delivers a prophecy to Creon. The prophecy follows a theme of righteousness as it vows to punish Creon for his cruelty and atrocities. With his entrance, he first remarks that the Gods are dissatisfied with Creon, and mentions their unwillingness to accept prayers or sacrifices from the entirety Thebes, as he refused to give Polyneices a proper burial.
Creon chooses not to believe him and accuses him of being unscrupulous, leading to Tiresias prophesizing that Creon will be despised by all of Greece and that he shall see the death of his own son for the consequences of his evils. Following such events, the Chorus advises Creon to release Antigone and give her brother the honor of a proper burial. He then finally regains his senses and agrees to do so.
But to the discontent of many, with the arrival of a messenger, the Chorus is soon informed that Antigone, out of frustration and hopelessness, has taken her own life.
When Creon arrives at the cave, he sees Haemon in torment within himself, mourning for the loss of his betrothed. He is enraged by the sight of Creon, for he blames him for all his misery and attempts to stab his father. He fails, and as his frustration reaches a tipping point, he turns the sword onto himself and is killed by his own hands, fulfilling the prophecy of the blind prophet. Creon’s wife and the mother of Haemon, Eurydice, soon learns the news of his son’s death and disappears into the palace.
When Creon enters the palace carrying his son’s dead body, another messenger informs him that Eurydice could not bear the loss of her son and has taken her own life. The messenger also reveals that prior to her death, she cursed him for taking away her son. Creon, now broken, finally acknowledges his misdeeds.
He realizes that he lost everything precious to him because he thought his will to be superior to the Gods’. And the play retires with a sermon delivered by the Chorus “Although the Gods punish the proud, punishment also brings wisdom”.