Antigone - Sophocles
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Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, makes an edict that the body of the rebel Polyneices should be left unburied. This proclamation is met with reluctance from some, but in the case of Polyneices’ sister, Antigone, it is met with disobedience. She publicly defies the order because she thinks that it is not right to leave the corpse unburied. Antigone claims that she is obliged to follow an eternal, “unwritten” law, and disobey the ruler of Thebes. Antigone’s sister, Ismene, asks whether it is right to disobey the lawful authority: “Would you bury him, when it is forbidden by the city?” (line 50)
The play causes the reader to wonder about the motivations of the key characters. Why does Creon make the edict, and is it justified? Is he prudently trying to put down a rebellion by making an example of Polyneices? Or is he stubbornly asserting his power, especially when it is being challenged by a young woman? If Antigone is right in principle to defy the edict, why does not her sister feel the same motivation? Is Antigone guilty of willfulness?
The larger questions raised by the play are about the limits of political power and whether eternal, natural, or divine, laws have some role to play in the political community.
Antigone says: “I make my way to my prison sealed like a tomb. Pity me.” (line 904) Should we pity Antigone?
Creon says: “The man the city sets up in authority must be obeyed in small things and in just [things] but also in their opposites.” (line 720) Why does Creon think that?
Creon says: “There is nothing worse than disobedience to authority. (line 728) Does the play bear Creon out in this view?
Who is the hero of this play?
Law and Conscience - Sophocles, Antigone; Plato, Apology and Crito;
Lincoln / Douglas Debates; King, Letter from Birmingham Jail