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“That death would come, I knew Without thine edict;--if before the time, I count it a gain. Who does not gain by death, That lives, as I do, amid boundless woe?”
If her life appears tragic to her, death seems even more pitiable, and Antigone breaks down in the scene of her exit. It is only at this late stage that she betrays any desire to live. She mourns because she will never enjoy the fruits of marriage and thus will not be fulfilled as a woman and a mother.
Creon, like Antigone, is obstinate and unyielding. Like Antigone, he too is a shattered individual in the end. At different times in the play, different people warn Creon that he is acting irrationally. The watchman, Haemon, Tiresias and the Chorus all advise Creon against foolish and impetuous conduct. Creon’s decisions are quite rash. He even insults Tiresias and angers him. Finally, fate catches up with Creon when he goes to the cave where Antigone is immured. It seems as if Tiresias’ predictions have sealed Creon’s fate.
In the end, Creon realizes that royal powers are of no use in a world determined by the dictates of fate. It is Creon’s destiny that he must live on and suffer the pangs of guilt, while the innocent people, Antigone, Eurydice and Haemon, have killed themselves. The Exodus is, in a way, a statement of the major theme of the play. The leader of the Chorus concludes that devotion to heaven and rational behavior are essential for man. Creon’s pride has brought him disaster. Thus, there is a sense of “catharsis” at the end of the play, as all the emotions of fear, pity and awe are exhausted.
Sophocles makes use of dramatic irony in Antigone to heighten the tragic effect of the play. Instances of irony can be observed throughout the play.
One major instance is Antigone’s own idea of a noble death. Before her final exit, Antigone appears steadfast and courageous and ready to face death. But as she is led to the tomb, she is unable to maintain her composure and reveals her human frailties.
The Parodos, too, holds an instance of irony. Here, the Chorus hopes and prays for peace after the civil war in Thebes. Little do they know that Thebes is soon to face problems again. Creon’s fall at the end is also ironic, for he believes from the beginning of the play that his fortunes are on the rise after his enthronement. However, he comes to the conclusion that even the mightiest king is powerless in the face of destiny. This is an instance of the irony of situation. Creon’s opening speech, in which he makes his proclamation concerning Polynices, is also fraught with ironic possibilities. When he passes his law, Creon does not realize that he is about to bring a fresh crisis to Thebes. He foolishly believes that he is restoring stability and peace to his kingdom by establishing such an inhumane law.
The Greek epic poet, Homer, made excellent use of epic similes in his famous Iliad and Odyssey. Sophocles, too, uses an epic simile in the opening Chorus (the Parodos) when he describes how the man from Argos came to Thebes like an eagle descending on its prey. The metaphor is extended as the eagle is described feeding with “hungry jaws” on Theban flesh. The armor of the man from Argos is compared to the plumed crest of the eagle.
In the second stasimon, “Blest is the life...,” the Chorus compares the troubles faced by the House of Cadmus to a Thracian tempest. These similes lend a certain grandeur to the choral songs. The comparisons are fitting and well executed, and through them the choral songs become more poetic in nature.