Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Creon, the gray-haired ruler, is a tragic figure in the play. As the King of Thebes, he issues an edict that brings him misery, causing the death of his niece, his son, and his wife; but he never changes the law. When Haemon begs him to save Antigone and tragically says, "Father, you are master in Thebes!," Creon replies, "I am master under the law. Not above the law."
Creon, brother-in-law of Oedipus, had lived life as an idealistic patron of the arts. After the death of Oedipus and his two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, the throne of Thebes is thrust upon him. He rules as a powerful politician and dictator and is distinctly modern in his questioning attitudes towards morality and religion. He never understood the idealistic and truth-loving Oedipus; he certainly cannot understand the idealistic and determined daughter of Oedipus.
Neither could Creon understand the civil strife that raged between Polynices and Eteocles. He felt that neither of his nephews was right, but believed he was in a position where he needed to choose one over the other. As a result, he sided with Eteocles and claimed that Polynices was a traitor, bringing foreign princes into the fray. When Eteocles is killed, Creon issues a decree honoring him as a hero of Thebes and giving him a state funeral. When Polynices is killed, he labels him a traitor to all of Thebes and declares that anyone who dares to bury him will be put to death.
Antigone refuses to follow his edict and attempts to bury her brother, claiming it is her sacred duty both to Polynices and the gods. When Creon realizes what his niece has done, he tries to get her to change her mind and back down. Unlike Antigone, he is not full of truth and honor; he even says the attempt at burial can be hidden from the public so neither he nor Antigone will be shamed. He then tempts her with visions of love and happiness that she will share with her future husband, Haemon. Antigone refuses budge, for she feels it is her sacred duty to bury Polynices; she will not risk angering the gods or denying an eternal rest to her brother in order to save her own life. Creon believes she is only trying to make a heroine of herself and despises her for casting him in the role of villain.
Creon is a practical man. He uses every possible argument to persuade Antigone to give up her mad stand. But Antigone is determined. She has the same stubborn pride that runs in the family, as seen in both Oedipus and Creon. As an individual, Antigone is right; and as a king, Creon is also right. Both are to be blamed for the tragic outcome of this play. Creon can only think of the good of the state; he is blind to the freedom of the individual to act and does not understand what the loyalty of a sister towards her brother means. Creon's values are measured by the world of men, whereas Antigone seeks a spiritual joy that can only be obtained by fulfilling her sacred duty. Thus, the conflict between Creon and Antigone is really a conflict between earthly law and divine law. Creon does not understand this; he feels Antigone is selfish and hypocritical. He scorns her as a woman who has tried to pit her puny power against the state of Thebes.
By the end of the play, Creon is doubting the wisdom of his own decree in ordering Antigone to be immured, or buried alive. The Chorus warns him that she will become a martyr if he punishes her, for she is an innocent girl trying to live by the laws of the gods and familial duty. Creon correctly fears he will become a helpless victim of his own edict. When he hears Haemon's voice coming from within the Cave of Hades where Antigone has been sealed, he becomes wildly distraught. He orders the soldiers to tear down the wall and save his son. When he enters the tomb and finds Haemon holding on to Antigone, who has hung herself, he begs Haemon to come away with him. His pleas fall on deaf ears. Haemon draws his sword in hatred and thinks about killing his father, whose edict has caused the death of his beloved. Instead, Creon is made to watch his beloved son kill himself. Then he learns that his wife has also committed suicide. Creon realizes that his edict and his unwillingness to bend it have destroyed his entire family. He has nothing left but to do his duties as King of Thebes. He goes off with his page to meet with his council, a sad and isolated figure. His tragic outlook on life is voiced in his words to his page: "It is best never to grow up." Like Antigone, he is a truly tragic character; unlike Antigone, he does not find eternal rest through a heroic death.