Major topics to consider…Note that there will be other ideas discussed in class as well, so while you should use this as a guide, do not treat it as the only source you will need to fully understand this play.
Also known as hubris; A trait despised by the gods, who bring suffering to the proud
At the same time, in the Greek mind pride is also an inextricable part of greatness.
Both Antigone and Creon are incredibly proud, making it impossible for either to concede
Pride is part of what makes Antigone heroic.
Individual versus State; Conscience versus Law; Moral or Divine Law versus Human Law
Some of the central issues of the play revolve around this conflict
Antigone and her values line up with the first entity in each pair, while Creon and his values line up with the second.
Antigone’s rebellious character is a threat to the status quo; she invokes divine law as defense of her actions, but implicit in her position is faith in the discerning powers of her individual conscience. She sacrifices her life out of devotion to principles higher than human law.
Creon makes a mistake in sentencing her (and his mistake is condemned, in turn, by the gods) but his position is an understandable one. In the wake of war, and with his reign so new, Creon has to establish his authority as supreme. On the other hand, Creon's need to defeat Antigone seems at times to be extremely personal. At stake is not only the order of the state, but his pride and sense of himself as a king and, more fundamentally, a man.
Gender: the Position of Women
Antigone's gender has profound effects on the meaning of her actions.
Creon himself says that the need to defeat her is all the more pressing because she is a woman.
The freedom of Greek women was extremely limited; the rules and strictures placed on them were great even for the ancient world.
Antigone's rebellion is especially threatening because it upsets gender roles and hierarchy.
By refusing to be passive, she overturns one the fundamental rules of her culture.
Ambition vs. Complacency
There is a contrast between Antigone and Ismene when faced with injustice; the two women react in very different ways. Ismene chooses to do nothing, and Antigone chooses to act; later, Antigone proves again and again that she is the character with the most agency. She is arguably the only character in the play who walks into her fate with her eyes open all along the way.
The Corrupting Nature of Power
Athenians were sensitive to the idea of tyranny and the fine line between a strong leader and a brutal tyrant. Creon is in many ways a sympathetic character, but he often abuses his power. His faults do not necessarily lie in a lust for power; often, he has noble intentions. He is completely loyal to the state, but he is subject to human weakness and poor judgment.
Major issues to consider while reading:
Character traits of major characters
Creon’s character change as the play progresses
conflicts, including motivations and resolution
theme(s) and development
Overlapping parallels to previous works studied this year
irony and how it develops character; develops theme; adds dramatic tension/suspense
Characteristics of a Tragic Hero 1. Someone who is born of high or noble birth
2. Someone who has a tragic flaw which leads to his/her downfall
4. Someone who gains knowledge or insight through suffering
The Role of the Greek Chorus The Greek chorus continued to play an important role in classical Greek drama, especially in tragedy. Ranging in number from 50 in the time of Thespis to 15 in later classical Greek drama, the chorus consisted of Athenian citizens and was not a professional body. Its role was:
1. To give background and summary information that facilitates an audience’s ability to follow the live performance;
2. To indicate a movement or change in events, including elapsed time;
3. To show popular consensus or public opinion regarding events in the play;
4. To offer a sense of rich spectacle to the drama;
5. To provide time for scene changes and give the principal actors a break;
6. To model an ideal audience’s response to the unfolding drama;
7. To evoke the visionary experience through the rhythmic dance and chants of the chorus (positioned always to mediate the physical space separating audience and actor).
Greek Tragedy and the Tragic Hero: Greek tragedies deal mainly with the relationship of man and the gods and try to illustrate some particular lesson of life.
The Greek tragic hero represents man and each man inevitably has some flaw. In Greek culture the most serious flaw was hubris or excessive pride.
The Greeks believed that every person’s life was ruled by a pre-determined fate set in motion by the gods, a force that could not be changed. Each person is fated to endure some suffering. A person who accepted his fate would endure his suffering with dignity.
The Greeks also believed in free will. If a man exercises his freedom in defying the gods, more suffering would be heaped upon him. The protagonist or hero comes to be destroyed, but the tragedy also affects both the bad and the good; the guilty and the innocent.
Man gains insight through his suffering and is redeemed. Sophocles’ plays are compassionate in his sympathy for his characters, no matter how deluded or broken they are.
Terms: Protagonist - The character around whom the story centers
The character faced with the conflict
Antagonist - A character who struggles against the main character or adds complication to the conflict.
Dramatic Irony – The audience knows more about a situation than a character(s) does
Situational Irony - The story contains a twist through which an expectation is violated; what happens is the opposite of what was expected
Atmosphere - The feeling surrounding a piece of writing. Atmosphere is created through description of the environment, setting circumstances, and conflict
Conflict - A central struggle or problem that a character faces
Internal conflict - A character is struggling with a decision or with his own feelings.
Interpersonal conflict - A character is in conflict with another character.
External conflict - A character is struggling with an external force such as nature of fate.
Motivation - The cause or causes that move a character in a story or play to behave as he or she does. These are usually internal forces; for example, greed, pride, loyalty, etc.
Catharsis - An intense stirring and release of emotions experienced by the audience. It participates in the grief, pain and fear of the tragic hero.
Apostrophe - A figure of speech in which a thing is spoken to as if it were alive, a person who is absent is spoken to as if he or she were present, or a dead person is spoken to as if he or she were alive.
Allusion - A reference to a historical, literary, religious person, place, or event with which the reader is expected to be familiar.
Paradox - A statement which appears to contradict itself, but upon closer examination, reveals a truth.
Climax - The event of point of greatest intensity or interest. The climax of the plot is the point of highest tension before the plot is resolved.
Theme - The main idea or message of a story, also known as the central insight.
Typical Structure of a Tragedy
1. Prologue: A monologue or dialogue preceding the entry of the chorus, which presents the tragedy's topic.
2. Parode (Entrance Ode): The entry chant of the chorus, often in an anapestic (short-short-long) marching rhythm (four feet per line). Generally, they remain on stage throughout the remainder of the play. Although they wear masks, their dancing is expressive, as conveyed by the hands, arms and body.
Typically the parode and other choral odes involve the following parts, repeated in order several times:
a. Strophê (Turn): A stanza in which the chorus moves in one direction (toward the altar).
b. Antistrophê (Counter-Turn): The following stanza, in which it moves in the opposite direction. The antistrophe is in the same meter as the strophe.
c. Epode (After-Song): The epode is in a different, but related, meter to the strophe and antistrophe, and is chanted by the chorus standing still. The epode is often omitted, so there may be a series of strophe-antistrophe pairs without intervening epodes.
3. Episode: There are several episodes (typically 3-5) in which one or two actors interact with the chorus. They are, at least in part, sung or chanted. Speeches and dialogue are typically iambic hexameter: six iambs (short-long) per line, but rhythmic anapests are also common. In lyric passages the meters are treated flexibly. Each episode is terminated by a stasimon:
4. Stasimon (Stationary Song): A choral ode in which the chorus may comment on or react to the preceding episode.
5. Exode (Exit Ode): The exit song of the chorus after the last episode
English 3201: The Oedipus Trilogy
Keeping the Stories Straight
Oedipus the King
-King Oedipus sends his brother in law to seek the advice of Apollo from the oracle as to how to fix the curse of Thebes.
-The crops are diseased as are the grazing animals, the people are poor and sick, and they turn to Oedipus because he saved them from the Sphinx.
-Creon reveals that the curse will be lifted when the murderer of the former king Laius is punished.
-Oedipus, in an attempt to save the city, relentlessly seeks out the murderer with the help of the blind prophet Teiresias. However, he discovers that he himself is the murderer.
-Upon coming to Thebes (because he was trying to prevent killing his Corinthian “father” and marrying his Corinthian “mother”, two events which had been prophesized), Oedipus did kill Laius at the crossroads as he had tried to force him off the road, and married Jocasta, his biological mother who had given him up as a baby to prevent the oracle from coming true.
-All of this information is revealed. As a result of her shame Jocasta kills herself, and in order to punish himself Oedipus gouged out his eyes and exiled himself from the city of Thebes.
-Before he leaves Oedipus asks Creon to look after his girls, but not his sons. They can get by without him as they are considered mature
-Creon takes power
Oedipus at Colonus
-20 years have passed since Oedipus blinded himself and was exiled from Thebes.
-Oedipus now wanders from town to town accompanied by his daughter Antigone
-Creon is the regent (man in charge of ruling until the next king in line is of age to rule)
-Creon and Oedipus’ two sons have turned their backs on Oedipus
-Polyneices and Eteocles are both fighting for the throne
-Oedipus is approximately 65 years old; appears as a decrepit old beggar
-Play opens in a grove outside of Athens, Greece (a holy place)
-A citizen of Colonus approaches Oedipus and Antigone, and tells them that they must leave as mortals are forbidden here.
-Oedipus learns that the reigning god which presides over the grove is Eumenides, or the goddess of fate. This is fitting considering Oedipus’ live journey.
-Oedipus refuses to move, but sends the citizen to get Theseus, the king of Athens, and bring him to this place. This is the place that Oedipus was fated to die (another prophecy)
-The citizens try to drive Oedipus and Antigone away from this place, Colonus, however, he reveals himself and says that the city will benefit if they do not drive him away.
-Ismene enters the scene. She is back from her journey gathering news from the oracles.
-Ismene informs Oedipus that Eteocles, the younger son, has overthrown his older brother Polynices in Thebes. Now Polynices is gathering an army to attack Creon and Eteocles.
-The oracle predicted that Oedipus’ burial place would bring good fortune to the city in which it is located, and as a result, Creon is on his way to claim Oedipus so that he can bury him in Thebes.
-Oedipus doesn’t want this, as his sons did not prevent his exile all those years ago, so instead he asks to stay in this place.
-First, Ismene must ask the gods for forgiveness for her father trespassing on their land, and she offers prayers and sacrifices on his behalf.
-Creon kidnaps Antigone and Ismene to make Oedipus go with him. However, Theseus retrieves them.
-Polynices comes to try and convince Oedipus to return with him, he refuses. He says that the brothers will die at each other’s hands as was the curse he laid on them when he left Thebes.
-Oedipus knows death is close as is signaled by the thunder.
-He only tells Theseus where he will die so that Theseus’ sons will always be blessed
-Theseus is charged with looking after the girls.
-The girls ask for safe passage back to Thebes so that they may prevent a war between their brothers.
-Polyneices and Eteocles, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes’ civil war, have both been killed in battle.
-Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has declared that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices disgraced because he rebelled against his brother.
-Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead brothers; the last children of the ill-fated Oedipus.
-Antigone brings Ismene outside the city gates late at night for a secret meeting because she wants to bury Polyneices’ body, in defiance of Creon’s edict.
-Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, and she is unable to dissuade Antigone from going to do the deed by herself.
-Creon seeks the support of the Theban elders, in particular their support for his edict regarding Polyneices’ body.
-The Chorus pledges their support.
-News is brought that the body has been buried.
-The Sentry brings Antigone to Creon as the guilty party.
-Creon questions her, and she does not deny what she has done.
To be seen…