Dan Sandman

28: Antigone by Jean Anouilh

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 10/07/2015 at 12:00 pm

Anitgone by Jean AnouilhDuring the Nazi occupation of France, the playwright Jean Anouilh reworked Antigone by Sophocles, choosing to keep the plot more or less the same. But Anouilh added many elements of his own, and in particular wrote a celebrated exchange between the idealist Antigone and the realist Creon. This heated conflict is about whether Antigone should become a martyr for what she believes in, or whether Creon can convince her to give up her unlawful beliefs for the sake of stability. In the light of the French Nazi conspirators, this raises interesting questions about whether it is right to break the law under certain political conditions.

It is controversial that Creon is portrayed almost in a reasonable way in the Anouilh reworking, whereas in the Sophocles original he is far closer to a typical totalitarian despot. In the Anouilh version, Creon’s arguments for why Antigone should not admit to her crime of burying her brother’s body are entirely convincing, and the way in which he pleads with his niece is appropriate for an uncle. Creon’s problem is that he cannot reconcile the rational responsibilities of being king with the emotions of a family feud, when at a crucial point during the argument he turns Antigone against him by mentioning ‘happiness’ because he wants to offer his advice as a father figure.

Antigone does not want to grow old and be happy, instead she wants to die young and be miserable. This is why she is unable to compromise when a deal is offered, and why the tragedy is so profound in the end. It is so tragic that the idealistic Antigone cannot listen to reason, so sad that the powerful King Creon chooses not to hear the please of the chorus and must destroy his family because of his principles. Although the debate between idealism and realism is relevant to the World War Two period, I believe that the strength of Anouilh’s adaptation lies not in any comment on contemporary politics, but in its ability to represent the complete unraveling of a ruling family.

Sort of like King Lear or The Godfather.

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