Antigone

Definition

Theater

  • (1) A one-act tragedy by Sophocles, first performedin 422 BC in Athens. It is set in the aftermath of the Thebancivil war. Polyneices, the son of King Oedipus and the rebel leaderin the war, was amongst those killed. Creon, Oedipus's brother-in-law,now rules Thebes and refuses to allow Polyneices to be buried. Antigone,Oedipus's daughter, defies the ban but is caught and brought beforethe king. Although she insists that her obligation to her brothercomes before her duty to the state, Creon sentences her to be buriedalive. His son Haemon, who loves Antigone, pleads for her pardon andthe king finally relents. She has already committed suicide, however,and Creon cannot prevent further suicides by his son and his queen.He is left shattered by sorrow and guilt. With its powerfully presentedtheme of the conflict between public and private loyalties, the playhas proved perennially relevant. It has inspired numerous later versions.

    (2) The tragedy by Jean Anouilh that first establishedhis international reputation. It opened in 1944 in German-occupiedParis, where it enjoyed a great but controversial success. The playwas widely interpreted as a parable of wartime France. Some felt thatit was anti-Nazi in its emphasis on private conscience and personalloyalty in the conduct of Antigone, while others saw a defence ofthe Vichy government in the sympathetic portrayal of the authoritarianCreon. Anouilh's chorus concludes:

    Tragedy is clean, it is restful, it is flawless. In tragedynothing is in doubt and everyone's destiny is known.

    In the 1949 Old Vic production at London's New Theatre, LaurenceOlivier played the Chorus and his wife Vivien Leigh played Antigone.The role finally brought her recognition as a fine tragedian.

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