Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
The ‘Agon’ OR Debate between Antigone and Creon
This scene continues the action of the previous scene without a break. Creon and Antigone are the two main characters left on the stage along with the Chorus. After Creon has sent away the watchman, he turns to Antigone and asks her if she was aware of his decree concerning Polynices’ body. Antigone curtly responds in the affirmative. Creon then demands to know why she dares to disobey the edict he had laid down.
Antigone replies that the law Creon has made is not the law of heaven, nor is it a law that is in any way just. She asserts that the gods have laid down laws for human beings to follow. Antigone does not believe that Creon, a mere mortal, can issue edicts that defy the “infallible, unwritten laws of Heaven.”
Antigone reminds him that the laws of heaven have been in existence from time immemorial. Nobody can claim to know when they were first framed and set down. Antigone does not want to incur the wrath of the gods by breaking their divine laws only because they clash with the man-made laws of the state. She is aware that she has to die one day, and it does not matter if she dies young. In fact, she prefers an early death, as she has lived a life of “boundless woe.”
Antigone is not afraid or saddened by the prospect of her own death. However, she declares that she could not allow her “own mother’s child” (her brother, Polynices) to lie in the open without a proper burial. She taunts Creon by telling him that if he calls her a fool for committing the deed, then she is foolish only “in the judgment of a fool,” the “fool” being Creon.
The Chorus admires Antigone’s fierce resolve and courage in the face of calamity. But Creon is confident that Antigone’s self- assurance will soon break down. He asserts that the strongest bar of steel which has been hardened by a long process in the fire is often shattered to pieces afterwards. He brands Antigone a criminal and remarks that she has added insolence to her crime by laughing off her offense and appearing to “glory in it.” Creon declares that he cannot let Antigone go free on the pretext that she is a woman. He must prove his manliness and new-found powers by punishing her for the “crime” she has willfully committed. Nor will he spare her because she is his sister’s daughter.
Creon now states that Ismene, Antigone’s younger sister, is a “co- partner in this plotted funeral.” He considers her equally guilty of the “crime,” and he summons Ismene to appear before him. He claims to have seen her recently, walking around the palace in a frantic manner, like a person who is scheming to undertake some devilish plot. He believes that Ismene’s disturbed spirit is a sure sign of her guilt although she has not been caught in the act of committing the deed. Creon promises that the two sisters shall surely be given the “worst of deaths” by the state.
Antigone asks Creon whether he wants more from her than her life. When Creon replies that he claims only her life, Antigone requests that she be given death immediately. Nothing Creon says can change her mind now. She believes that she could find no greater honor than in burying her own brother. She tells Creon that the men of Thebes approve of her deed but are unable to speak out openly because they fear Creon’s power. Antigone sarcastically remarks that being a king has its benefits, the chief of these being the ability to do as one wishes.
Creon tells Antigone that no Theban supports her, but Antigone rebukes him by asserting that they do support her, but “curb their voices” due to Creon’s absolute power. Creon asks Antigone whether she is not ashamed to be the only one to break the law. Antigone responds by saying that her sisterly piety bears no trace of shame. Creon asks Antigone if her actions have been harmful to the memory of her other brother, Eteocles. He tells Antigone that Polynices was a vile traitor who had come to destroy Thebes. Antigone respects her brothers equally. “Death knows no difference,” she says.
Creon maintains that enemies must be hated even if they are dead. Antigone, for her part, has faith in the power of love and not hatred. Creon then sentences her to death and asserts that he will not be ruled by a woman.
This is the first major agon (debate, or dramatic conflict) in the play between the two main characters, Antigone and Creon. Creon tries to subdue Antigone by proclaiming that she has broken “the published law.” But Antigone is not to be defeated. She is morally correct and she uses this fact to her advantage. Antigone quite sensibly believes in following Heaven’s laws and not those laid down by mortals like Creon. The laws of Heaven are “infallible” for her, as they have existed from the beginning of time. Creon’s law, on the other hand, is but “newly-born,” as Antigone points out. For Antigone, the established laws of Heaven have been tried and proven to be correct.
Antigone holds that death will not bring her as much sorrow as the fact that her brother’s body lies unburied. Her fierce pride and loyalty to family are evident in this scene. The Chorus is the first to observe this: “Fierce shows the maiden’s vein from her fierce sire;/ Calamity doth not subdue her will.”
The Chorus notes that Antigone’s traits have come down to her from her father, King Oedipus. Despite Antigone’s fierce resolve in the face of calamity, Creon is confident that he will be able to break her spirit. He accuses her of being insolent and shameless. His insecurity is evident: her defiance is a threat to his status as a king, and so he must destroy her, even though she is his sister’s child. Creon tries to detract from the fact that Antigone’s action is an honorable one by claiming that Antigone and Ismene had entered into a conspiracy against the state. Antigone, on the other hand, maintains that she has performed a glorious deed.
The entire debate is an attempt by Creon to demoralize Antigone. He tries to prove that she is wrong so that he can gain the upper hand in his attempt to win over the people of Thebes. He asks Antigone whether she has not betrayed the memory of Eteocles (the brother who had refused to give up the throne of Thebes). Unlike Creon, who supported Eteocles because it was politically expedient for him to do so, Antigone treats both her brothers as equals. She does not accept Creon’s argument that Polynices was a traitor who came to destroy Thebes. For Creon, Polynices is the wicked brother, hated even in death; but Antigone adheres to the law of love and is not consumed by hatred for anyone. She makes a powerful and telling statement: “Death knows no difference, but demands his due.”
At the end of the scene Creon has lost his composure and states that he will never allow himself to be ruled by a woman. This scene is the climactic point: it demonstrates the clash between Creon’s world of power and Antigone’s world of ideals. Antigone is resolute to the end and thoroughly enrages King Creon.