Antigone is a tragic play written by the Greek playwright Sophocles who was considered as one of the most known tragedians of ancient Greece. The central actions of the play are contextualized in the event of the civil war that was broken out in Thebes. All the main scenes of the play have taken place in the royal palace at Thebes. The deadly fight of two brothers for the throne of the Theban kingdom, Polyneices, and Eteocles, had given birth to a new ruler named Creon. The main character in Sophocles’ play, Antigone, sets on a tragic journey to defy the political power of the Theban king.
A thematic analysis of the play is expected to explore binary oppositions that structure the ancient worldviews concerning religious beliefs, political reasoning, and the centrality of the issue of fate at that time. Thuc, this essay is going to unravel three central dualities: religious laws vs. human laws, destiny vs. free will and finally political authority vs. wisdom.
A central controversy that governs the tragic Theban universe is associated with unearthing the antagonistic relationship of what is predetermined by religious beliefs and what is humanly prescribed. This duality is epitomized by Antigone who defends that act of Polyneices’s burial and Creon who has forbidden the laws of the gods on the matter of burial. As a matter of fact, the opening scenes of the play starts off with the controversial debate between Antigone and her sister Ismene about which law is more important, loyalty to the law of the state or the obedience to the overriding laws of heaven. To illustrate, Antigone protests against the judgment of Creon who ordered to leave Polynices unburied as a harsh punishment. She states that “Nor could I think that a decree of yours / A man could override the laws of Heaven/ unwritten and unchanging” (453-55). In other words, Antigone’s resistive act to the sovereign rule of the Theban king is inspired by her powerful belief that civil laws are not sacred and eternal. According to her opinion, the laws of gods are the primary regulator of human life and death.
On the other hand, Creon is in favor of the argument that human and civil laws are most powerful and they are prior to the established divine laws. His denial of the burial of Polyneices confirms that the laws of the state can never be violated. To illustrate, his political stance is voiced in his statement: “It is the city that protects us all / She bears us through the storm; only when she / Rides safe and sound can we make loyal friends” (188-190). Admittedly, the conflicting logic that governs these two laws is the main source of the tragic overtone of the play because both worldviews are fundamental to the welfare, to the citizens of the Theban kingdom in particular, and to the existential balance of human beings in general. The end of the play proves that the sphere of the divine overrides what is humanly created. The act of burial against the will and authority of Creon can be considered as a victory for what is heavenly decreed over what is authorized by the state.
The present essay explores the conflicting relationship between a predetermined human destiny and the freedom to make a choice. The play nurtures the debate whether the belief in fatalistic law is more powerful than citizens’ free will. Arguably, one can state that the central thematic dimension in the different theatrical scenes of the play mediates on the fact that humans are caught in an inevitable binary structure: the wonder of their deeds and thoughts, and the limitation posed by fate and Theban morality.
As a matter of fact, Creon resists any predetermined fate because he believes that through unlimited will he can circumvent it. He thinks that the act of making the laws of the city of Thebes is conditioned by his denial of the myth of destiny. At the end of the play, he discovered that his revolt against Antigone’s fatalistic belief is deemed to failure “one cannot fight against necessity” (1105). The entire play is an attempt to find a form of balance between human reason and the power of fate behind the law of the cosmos. Most importantly, Creon’s blindness to the power of fate has led him to make the wrong choice, which classifies him as a tragic hero. Antigone’s rebellion against the sovereign authority of the Theban kingdom has led to her death and tragic end.
Furthermore, the essay seeks to unravel the dilemma of balancing political power and wisdom. The play reveals the birth of a new political consciousness in the ancient Theban setting. All the characters such as Haemon, Antigone, Tiresias share a common concern related to the main characteristics of an ideal ruler. One can argue that Creon is the epitome of the sole sovereign ruler who has the power to make laws. However, his authority is extended to sacred sites such as his denial of a respected burial ceremony to Polyneices.
Two main characters in the play have rebelled against the tyrannical rule of the king; Antigone and Creon’s son named Haemon think that the Theban way of ruling is mostly faulty because it is cut off from the needs and the reality of the people of Thebes. As a critical attitude to the despotic government of Thebes, they share a similar commitment that in order to guarantee justice and democracy, the king is expected to be wise, moderate and reasonable.
To sum up, the essay has charted the central thematic map of the entire tragic play. The tragedy is created from the absence or lack of equilibrium between extremes such as fatalism and free will, the religious and the human laws, as well as the conflict of wisdom and political power. The clinging to blind will has caused the tragic fall of the main characters. The lack of self-knowledge and the obsession with an absolute thought have tragically led to the suffering and death of Antigone and Creon.