Dan Sandman

13: Antigone by Sophocles

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 27/03/2015 at 12:00 pm

Antigone by SophoclesThe background to this tragedy involves the previous king of Thebes Oedipus, who had four children – Eteocles, Polynices, Ismene and Antigone. The two brothers have recently both been killed in a fight on opposite sides; Eteocles on the side of Thebes and Polynices on the side of Argos. Since Oedipus and both his sons are dead, Creon (brother of Oedipus / uncle to the four children) is now king of Thebes. The first thing that Creon does is to give Eteocles full burial rites and to leave Polynices unburied. Creon threatens all with death who dare touch the exposed corpse, but the fearless Antigone will not bow down to her uncle.

Sophocles wrote this play around 441 BC, and it would have been performed in an amphitheatre to a circling seated crowd (early stages were constructed with surrounding hills). It is possible to imagine the gasps and cries from the stands, as the drama unfolded before these ancient theatre-goers. As far we know, these early performances are the blue-print for all that follows – the European renaissance, the romantic era and the Broadway musical. And because these classical stories focus on family feuds and political intrigue, they continue to be reinterpreted and watched by new audiences.

Unsurprisingly, when the play was staged in Nazi Germany, the Nazi interpretation was to side with Creon the dictator, who spends much of his time stomping around and stamping out his authority (Hitler mustache prop ready on standby). In more recent times, feminists have sided with Antigone for her brave fight against a male dominated society. Yet, however the play has been interpreted, it continues to create an emotional reaction whenever and wherever it is performed well. I think this might have something to do with the poetry and the drama – two things that we need as human beings.

The poetry and the drama.

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