Analysis of Creon’s Character in Antigone and Oedipus the King

Subject: Literature
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Word count: 1997
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Sophocles displays two distinct dramatic characters of Creon in his two plays Antigone and Oedipus the King. In the first play dubbed, Oedipus the King, Creon emerges as a loyal servant who is committed to helping the king in crafting an efficient rule in the country. When Creon banishes Oedipus from the kingdom, his loyal character makes him the perfect person to be the next king of the region. However, Creon adopts a different style during his reign in Antigone; he becomes a stubborn and proud king, who feels that he is above the will of the gods (Arnott 14). Moreover, Creon gives little regard to the welfare of his people and rules with ruthlessness without listening to his advisers. A comprehensive examination of the unique characters of Creon in Antigone and Oedipus the King will explain why Sophocles changed his characters in the two plays.

First of all, Sophocles uses Creon to show the importance of family love and loyalty in the lives human beings. Creon keeps his word by willingly handing over power to Oedipus, who resolves the Sphinx riddle and marrying off his sister Jocasta to him. He goes ahead to provide unconditional support for his brother-in-law throughout his reign, and his loyalty is unquestionable. Creon expressly states he lack the interests in becoming the ruler. Instead, Creon relegates himself to the position of the most trusted advisor and voice of reason to Oedipus in spite of the false allegations made against him. Creon’s love for his family comes into vivid play when he rescues Oedipus from the public eyes, to allow him to grieve in private, and making a promise to take care of his children. Besides, Creon’s decision to banish Oedipus was not out of political interest, but a fulfillment of Oedipus wishes. Due to the creation and observation of strong family bond, Creon becomes the noblest character in Oedipus the King.

However, Creon’s utter disregard for his family in Antigone leads to his downfall. When Creon became the king of Thebes, there was a complete shift in his regard for his loved ones as he concentrates on growing his power. Although Polynices was his nephew, Creon uses his power to declare that he should not receive a proper burial and his body should be left to rot in the friends. Creon fails to listen to Antigone’s arguments that “The slain man was no villain but a brother” (Sophocles 815). Antigone goes ahead to defy Creon by burying Polynices with an observance of all the burial rites, hence transforms to become the king’s enemy. Moreover, Creon also loses the love and loyalty of his Haemon, his son, when he stubbornly refuses to reconsider freeing Antigone. Consequently, Haemon and Antigone commit suicide, and later Eurydice also kills herself upon the discovery of her son’s tragic death. As a result, Creon ends up alone and profoundly grieves and regrets the result of his mean actions towards his own family. He also faces the tough time leading a city that is angry with the death of Antigone. If Creon had abandoned his pride, the situation would have been different, and he would have drawn strength from his niece, son, and wife.

Additionally, Creon characters in Antigone and Oedipus the King helps Sophocles to point out the inability of human beings to learn from others. Although Creon was aware of Oedipus’ wrongdoings and their negative consequences, he commits the same mistakes as the new king of Thebes. Oedipus believed that he was above the will of the gods and this was the genesis of his prideful nature. Moreover, Oedipus also accused his mentor Creon of betraying him and having a hand in the death of the old king. According to Oedipus, his ability to solve the Sphinx riddle made him the best king, and he was above the reproach of anybody in the city. Oedipus rejection of the prophetic word of Tiresias, the blind prophet, prevented him from averting his tragic fall as he leaves Thebes in rags and a blind man.

Similarly, Creon follows the same path as Oedipus.  In the following quote “Am I to rule this land for others-or myself?”(823) indicates that Creon was after his interest. He retaliated his original claim by saying “The City is the king’s-that’s the law” (825). Creon develops a stubborn nature as he pursues legislative changes to enforce his will on the people. Since Creon faced a significant political enemy in Antigone, he was keen to quash her opposition throughout Thebes permanently. Sentencing Antigone to death was a perfect solution to Creon’s problems, but the decision was a vivid display of his ruthless nature to the public. Like Oedipus, Creon insults Teresias by stating saying “I will not bandy insults with thee, seer” (1053) and “Prophets are all a money-getting tribe” (1055). Due to his low opinion of the old prophet, Creon ignores the warnings to stop his evil ways. He realizes too late about the legitimacy of the seer’s claims until Teiresias tells him about the impending death of his immediate family. When Creon confirms that indeed his wife and son are dead, he regrets his non-adherence to the right way of governance. Not through your stupidity, no my own” Just like Oedipus, Creon ends-up a dejected king by committing the same type of mistakes as seen in his sorrowful proclamation “Ohhh, so senseless, so insane……my crimes, my stubbornly-Look at us, the killer, the killed, father and son, the same-the misery! My plans, my mad fanatic heart, my son, cut off so young! Ai, lost to the world” (1395-1400).

Creon’s story shows the systematic development of the harmatias in Greek plays. There are three key types of harmatias in the Antigone and Oedipus the King namely irrationality, Hubris, and stubbornness. Initially, Creon’s character was devoid of harmatias in the Oedipus the King; he was a simple, wise, and a loyal man to the ruler and his primary interest was everybody’s happiness. His devotion to the people of Thebes is admirable as he steps down for Oedipus without any hurt feelings. Creon remains a good man until his rise to power in Antigone.

The three forms of harmatias manifest themselves in Creon through various ways. First of all, Creon develops a high level of pride immediately after assuming power as the new king of Thebes. He goes to extreme lengths to establish his authority among his people, and he fails to listen to any voice of reason along the way. He dismisses Antigone because she is a woman, and holds the view that women should not trample on the wishes of men. Creon’s pride was the critical obstacle in his ability to right the wrong done to Antigone. According to Teresias, “The only crime is pride,” yet Creon found it extremely difficult to let go of his pride, which eventually led to his downfall.

Secondly, Creon is a stubborn king, and he sticks to his words irrespective of the high cost.  For instance, he stands by his rule to deny his nephew a respectable burial because he feels that traitors deserve the most callous punishment in the world. Moreover, Creon stubbornly refuses to grant Haemon’s wishes to free Antigone and demands one thing from his son that is to be “subordinate to your father’s will in every way”(714-715). Creon’s pride and stubbornness are to blame for his irrational behavior. For example, Creon forgot his love for his niece by deciding to entomb Antigone to ensure her painful death. In Creon’s view, forgiving Antigone and proceeding with the punishment would lead him to the same tragic end. Creon’s irrationality made him blind to the fact the people of Thebes would have been appeased by releasing Antigone, and allege their loyalty to him.

Finally, Sophocles shows that the will of the gods surpasses the wishes of human beings through Creon’s character. Creon held immense respect for the gods in the play Oedipus, as he fulfills the role given to him by the king to consult the gods about the best way to eliminate the plague. Creon also advises Oedipus to listen to the words the gods, and undertake further consultations to assure himself of the god’s wills. However, Creon openly disrespects the gods in his refusal to have the body of Polynices buried. “But as for his blood brother, Polynices, who returned from exile, home to his father city and the gods of his race, consumed with one desire to burn them roof to roots who thirsted to drink his kinsmen’s blood and sell the rest to slavery: that man a proclamation has forbidden the city to dignify him with burial, mourn him at all. No, he must be left unburied, his corpse carrion for the birds and dogs to eat, an obscenity for the citizens to behold!”(1443). Since the gods demand respectable burials for all human beings, it was wrong for Creon to pass the above judgment on another person. Moreover, punishing Antigone for her courage to defy his orders, and doing the right thing by the god, was another sign of Creon’s failure in the eyes of the gods (Bloom 26). At the end of Antigone, Creon confesses his sins by acknowledging that it is the gods that have kept him going.

Sophocles develops Creon’s tragic character in Antigone and Oedipus the King systematically and understandably. Tragic heroes have several; characteristics including being imperfect and lacking noble bath. Creon takes the throne after the death of his two nephews, who are the rightful heirs to the throne, with the intentions to rule the people on the principles of justice and fairness. Although he is keen to unite Thebes and lead the city to success his imperfection inhibits his efforts. For instance, his laws become oppressive and lead to Antigone’s eventual death. Moreover, he loses focus on his family as he concentrates on building his power and influence throughout Thebes. However, Creon comes to understand the errors of his ways, and regrets for all his wrongdoings in Antigone.

The character of Creon is a clear depiction of a variety of elements in the modern-day communities. Through a comprehensive analysis of his character, a lot will be realized to be a forecast of the modern-day Greek society. Profoundly, the plot of the story is predominantly covered by political ambitions of both Creon and Oedipus. In such a competition of interests, the wittiest is the one with the best odds to triumph over the other (Toye 14). Through his careful scheming, Creon poses as the advisor to Oedipus before attacking him from the inside and eventually assuming the throne. Arguably, most politicians, as well as leaders in various institutions in the modern-day Greece, deploy similar tactics as used by Creon. This extends beyond the political circles to much smaller societal pacts like friendship. In most cases, people tend to befriend other for certain benefits that might include companionship or favors. Power corrupts. Contemporarily, the more power is vested in an individual, the more proud he or she becomes (Sylvester 24). Uncontrolled power creates a false notion of deity among mortals. Ergo, leaders in the current society tend to neglect the needs of their subordinates just like Creon neglected and mistreated his subjects. In most cases, such proud leaders end up failing to achieve their leadership goals. It is debatable that despite the medieval setting of the plays, the society has changed very little based on the similarities of the society then and Greece today.

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  1. Arnott, Peter D. Oedipus the King and Antigone. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2014. Print Book.
  2. Bloom, Harold. Sophocles’ Oedipus plays : Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, & Antigone. Broomall: Chelsea House, 1999. Print Book.
  3. Sophocles. Oedipus the king ; Antigone. Chicago: Great Books Foundation, 1949. Print Book.
  4. Sylvester, Ken. Negotiating in the leadership zone. Amsterdam: Academic Press, 2016.
  5. Toye, Richard. Winston Churchill : politics, strategy and statecraft. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Print Book.
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