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Notes on Episode I and II
Throughout the play, the Chorus is omnipresent (ever present) and omniscient (all knowing), as shown in its ability to predict the tragic fate of the characters. The prologue of the Chorus does three significant things for the audience: 1) it fills in the events of the recent past; 2) it introduces the characters, or dramatis personae; and 3) it outlines that the conflict of the tragedy will be the individual versus the state and idealism versus practicality.
Antigone feels that it is her sacred duty to bury Polynices, for the Greeks believed that the soul of a dead person does not attain eternal rest until the body is given a decent burial. Antigone had also promised her brother that, in the event of his death in battle, she would bury him. For Antigone, not to bury her brother is a betrayal of her promise
The Chorus examines Antigone's motive and her acknowledgment of her own doom. In her defiance of Creon's edict about burying Polynices, she is inviting her own death. Antigone is young and in love with life; she would much rather live than die, but she is idealistically committed to duty. As a result, Antigone feels she is in the eye of a storm and that cruel, inhuman forces are whirling about her and dragging her to her terrible fate.
The Chorus momentarily turns its attention to the radiantly beautiful Ismene. They are amazed that Haemon has chosen the quiet, introverted Antigone over her lovely sister; but they acknowledge Antigone's charm and power. The omniscient Chorus is sad that Antigone is doomed to never marry Haemon.
The Chorus next turns to Creon, the King of Thebes, a powerfully built man who sits lost in thought. The Chorus comments that he plays a difficult part as a leader of men. When Oedipus was king, Creon was an idealistic, sport-loving, patron of the arts. Because of the tragic deaths of Oedipus, Polynices, and Eteocles, the burden of the throne of Thebes has fallen on Creon's shoulders. He tries to rule as wisely as he can, but he is a timid figure. The Chorus seems to judge him as mediocre, for they only say that he "does his job as a conscientious workman". Next the Chorus turns to Eurydice, Creon's wife and queen. She is an old lady who knits constantly to clothe the poor of Thebes. She is good woman and a worthy soul, but she is of no help to her husband.
The lights dim on stage and the Chorus begins to tell the story of the recent past. When Eteocles refuses to share the throne with Polynices, a civil war begins. Polynices brings foreign princes into Thebes to assist him in overthrowing Eteocles. The brothers are both slain, and Creon is made King. He declares that Polynices is a traitor and must not be buried; his body is left to rot outside the gates of Thebes. Creon states that if anyone dares to bury Polynices, he will be executed. After telling this history of the recent past, the Chorus departs.
It is early dawn when Antigone sneaks into the palace with her sandals in her hand. The nurse is surprised to see Antigone so early and scolds her for her secretive behavior. There is an intentional contrast between the superficiality of the nurse and the deep idealism of Antigone. While the nurse thinks Antigone has gone out with a lover, Antigone has been busy burying Polynices; but she keeps it a secret at this point in the play.