Stephen Conway September, 1995 Creon in Sophocles’ and Anouilh’s “Antigone”

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Stephen Conway

September, 1995

Creon in Sophocles’ and Anouilh’s “Antigone”

In both plays, Creon sees himself as a passive agent rather than a villain, only acting out a predetermined set of instructions based upon certain laws and edicts. Creon tries to give the impression that he is not really in control; if it were up to him, as an individual, things would be different. Sophocles' Creon tries to wash his hands of Antigone's death by leaving her in a sealed cave. The gods will determine her fate, so he thinks. Anouilh's Creon goes so far as to admit the "childish stupidity" of his own decree. He even confides in Antigone that he is not certain which brother's body was buried. He insists, though, that once knowledge of her act is public, the matter is entirely beyond his control. There is a point of no return past which he is powerless to act. In becoming king, an instrument of the State, Creon can no longer assert his will as an individual, morally or otherwise. Where the original Creon tried to leave matters with the gods, Anouilh's Creon points toward the State and its will independent of his own.

Antigone's fate unfolds in both plays and Creon does not interecede. Although ironically they share a sense of powerlessness, an important distinction can be made at this point. Sophocles' Creon learns from Antigone's death. Her sacrifice acquires meaning. Anouilh's Creon is too busy with matters of state to assess Antigone's death on a personal level. Her sacrifice is inconsequential, another shot fired into the mob. The reaction of each king to Antigone's death and the carnage that ensues shapes the conclusion of each play literally and thematically.

Creon in the original play repents belatedly after learning his fate from Teiresias. He is devastated by the consequences of his actions (though it is interesting also to note that he focuses on the deaths of his wife and son and fails to even mention Antigone). At the conclusion, Creon has realized the transient nature, the folly of human endeavors. He bows his head in reverence to the gods and seeks their guidance. Order of a larger, more universal, nature is ultimately reaffirmed.

The modern Creon does not repent. In fact he resumes his duties and seems scarcely affected by the bloody scene that surrounds him. Creon is aware of the absurdity of his role as ruler, but this is not a new discovery for him. To Creon, accepting absurdity is part of the natural progression of life. He made this concession when he became king, if not before. Antigone has reached that crucial moment where she must either surrender to life on its absurd terms or be destroyed. From Creon's point of view, it is time for her to come of age. Creon counsels her to submit to his experience in these matters. "Go to your room", he says. And she very nearly does. What changes her mind?

Antigone realizes Creon has no personal moral center. If she submits to his will, the same fate awaits her. We know he was once a decent man, a patron of the arts, but now Creon clings to the State. Someone must steer the ship and he has tethered himself to the wheel. He no longer has the "luxury" of morality. He has become too addicted to the freedom and power of existing beyond good and evil to sever the cord that connects him to the State. Creon chooses order over absurdity at the cost of his own morality. He sees human built institutions, institutions that wield power and create order, as the only alternative to the absurd chaos, the storm that engulfs the modern world. The gods are not a viable alternative. They cannot exist in this spiritual vacuum. The result is that where Sophocles' Creon was equated with the State and as he fell the esteem and importance of the State fell likewise, Anouilh's Creon is distanced from the State. The audience can pass judgement on Creon without calling into question the value or necessity of the State. Creon himself is painfully aware of the fact that he is only one of a number of nameless agents serving the State, a pawn whose purpose is to aid in its preservation at all costs. "Nothing has a name except the ship, and the storm" (793). Creon may be thrown overboard but there must and will be someone there to take his place.

Order and morality are separated in Anouilh's universe. He questions our ability to establish order and act morally. In order to live without anarchy (internal or external), he seems to suggest that morality must or will be compromised. For Sophocles, morality helps to reinforce order, but on a cosmic, and in many ways absurd, level. Creon is forced to submit to the laws of jealous, fickle, inconstant gods. Antigone is the only advocate for the god's place in judgement over mankind and her reward is an untimely death. This "order" is beyond human comprehension. Both plays leave a reader or audience morally unsettled. We find Creon morally culpable but are left uneasy by the order established at the conclusion. Perhaps this unsettling effect was at least part of the playwrights' ultimate goal.

Works Cited

Anouilh, Jean. Antigone. Rpt. in Masters of Modern Drama.

Ed. Haskell M. Block and Robert G. Shedd, New York:

Random House, 1962.
Sophocles. Antigone. Rpt. in Ten Greek Plays. Ed. L.R.

Lind, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

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