Table of Contents
Antigone is an ancient play by Sophocles, and it is regarded as one of the greatest Greek tragedy plays. Throughout the play, the theme of morality and opposition against the laws set is common. The main character, Antigone, is committed to burying her brother Polyneices despite the strict rules set by King Creon not to bury Polyneices. However, Antigone disobeys the King’s orders and buries his brother with a proper burial as a rite of passage. Antigone is sentenced to death for her actions but kills herself before that. Several other people kill themselves as a consequence of Antigone’s disobedience, including his fiancé Haemon, the King’s son, and the King’s wife, Eurydice (Cairns, 2016). Sophocles employs several literary devices in the play, including irony, symbolism, foreshadowing, chorus, tragic hero, themes, plot, setting, and diverse characters.
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Use of Setting and Literary Devices
Sophocles uses the play’s setting to show the battle between two royal families ruling the city of Thebes. The occasions in the play take place in the palace to help readers understand the issue of morality and Antigone’s disobedience of King Creon’s rule about burying Polyneices. In ancient Greece, the King was respectable, and no one dared disobey their commandments (Cairns, 2016). The play begins with Antigone telling Ismene her plans of burying her brother at noon the following day, the action that leads to her arrest and being taken to a cell overnight, where she commits suicide.
Another literary device employed in the play is a tragic hero and the theme of tragedy. The play commences with the death of two Antigone brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, who were fighting in the war to overrule Thebes. King Creon considers Antigone’s brother a traitor and refuses to give him burial rites as punishment for his actions towards Thebes. After disobeying the King’s orders, Antigone commits suicide (Goheen, 2017). Furthermore, the play is packed with the theme of tragic deaths following the King’s new law. In the process, many heroes die at the hands of the King and his new laws, including Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice.
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The literary device of symbolism is used throughout the play to reinforce certain themes, plots, and narratives of the characters. Some key symbols in the play include the main characters, Antigone and King Creon, money, and the stone womb. The two characters emphasize the themes of the rule of law, power, tragedy, and royalty. On the one hand, Creon believes in his laws as the principles of ruling Thebes, and everybody should abide by them. Then again, Antigone represents the true will of the gods by valuing people and not material things (Goheen, 2017). Her disobedience to the King is fueled by the need to do the moral thing for his brother by giving him a decent burial. Also, Teiresias is a symbol that represents the will of the gods, which the King fails to follow. The stone tomb is another symbol that describes the punishment for Antigone for burying her brother (van den Berge, 2017). The King orders Antigone to be buried in the tomb alive for her disobedience to the new laws.
How Themes Enhance Tragedy
Moreover, themes have been employed in the play to enhance the tragedy and the fate of the main characters, such as pride, divine law versus human law, and individuals versus state. The tragedy in the play is a direct contribution of pride and inhumane state laws set by the King, leading to the death of many people, including Antigone and the King’s family. The state and individual laws create a conflict among the royal members since the King wants everyone to abide by his new laws while Antigone disobeys them, leading to her death (Rabhi, 2021). The theme of individual versus state laws shows the values that Antigone and Creon hold dear. Another theme in the play that contributes to tragedy is the role and position of the women. In ancient Greece, women were considered low compared to men, and they were not supposed to question the decision made by men since they were more respected and powerful (Goheen, 2017). Antigone is a woman who defies the status quo of gender roles, and when she disobeys the King’s rules, she is sentenced to death (Rabhi, 2021). In the play, some women, such as Ismene, abide by the gender roles and hierarchy and are afraid to defy the King’s new laws.
In conclusion, the play ‘Antigone’ employs several literary devices and elements to capture the theme of tragedy that is seen throughout the play. The main characters, Antigone and Creon, are heads of the royal family and the laws of Thebes in ancient Greece. After fighting in the war to overthrow Thebes, Antigone’s brother dies, and the King refuses to issue his burial as a punishment for his actions. Antigone disobeys the King’s new laws and buries his brother, leading to her arrest and her being sentenced to death. However, Antigone commits suicide, and other people against the King also commit suicide, including his son and wife. The play shows how state and individual laws, the position of women, pride, and poor governance contributes to tragedy.
- Cairns, D. (2016). Sophocles: Antigone. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Goheen, R. F. (2017). Imagery of Sophocles Antigone: A study of poetic language and structure. Princeton University Press.
- Rabhi, S. (2021). The portrayal of women in Sophocles’s Antigone. Gender performativity [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Université Mouloud Mammeri Tizi Ouzou.
- Van den Berge, L. (2017). Sophocles’ Antigone and the promise of ethical life: Tragic ambiguity and the pathologies of reason. Law and Humanities, 11(2), 205-227.