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Antigone

Jean Anouilh

Part IV

Part III

Part V

Summary

The Chorus continues, evoking tragedy's stillness in the hush when the executioner raises his ax, the silence when two lovers stand naked before each other for the first time, the silence within when the roaring crowd acclaims a winner, leaving you, "the victor, already vanquished," alone in the desert. Tragedy is clean, restful, and flawless. It has nothing to do with melodrama. In tragedy, everything is inevitable, hopeless, and known, making for tranquility and "fellow-feeling" among the characters. All are innocent, simply bound to their parts. All one can do is shout.

The Guards are heard and the Chorus announces that Antigone has been caught and will be able to be herself for the first time in her life. The Guards enter with the struggling Antigone, the First telling her to give it a rest. Antigone complains of their dirty hands; the Guard gestures to her own. Imagine taking a tobacco break only to find a girl clawing away by the corpse like a hyena. The Second Guard compares her to a nut who exposed herself in the main square the other day.

The First proposes that they throw a party. The trio discusses plans, the First insisting that they keep it from their wives. Creon and the Page enter, and the guards stand at attention. The First explains Antigone's arrest. The guards had moved the corpse upwind to mitigate the stench. When he took a break for some tobacco, he found her madly clawing in the broad daylight. Antigone affirms his account and also confesses to having come the night before; the child's shovel on the scene was once Polynices's. The First Guard remarks how one sentry thought she was a dog. Creon sends the guards out.

Once he is certain no one saw Antigone arrested, he orders her to bed. She is to say that she has been ill and not left the palace. He will get rid of the guardsmen. Antigone replies that he knows she will only do the same tonight. She says that Polynices is home from the hunt and it is her duty to unlock the house of the dead for him. Creon asks if she thought her being the proud Oedipus's daughter put her above the law. No one has a more sacred obligation to the law than its makers. Antigone retorts that had she been a scullery maid she would have done the same. Creon disagrees and a maid would have taken the edict seriously. Antigone replies that she has never doubted Creon would put her to death.

Creon curses the pride of Oedipus. Like him, her death seem the "natural climax" to her life. For them, human happiness is meaningless and human misery unable to satisfy their passion. Only a "cozy tea party" with death and destiny can quench them. Oedipus was happiest when he listened greedily to the revelation of his tragic fate. But those days are over for Thebes. Being more humbly named, Creon will devote himself only to the order of the kingdom.

Analysis

The Chorus continues its comments on tragedy by underlining its stillness. Stillness appears as a key metaphor in the Chorus's comments on the nature of tragedy. First the Chorus evokes this stillness in its theatrical mode. This stillness is apiece with the spring-like tension and sense of suspense in tragedy that it evokes earlier. Tragedy's stillness appears in the moment before the execution, the moment at the beginning of a play before the consummation of a love affair. This tension only finds release in the terrible, ecstatic shout. Note this conjunction of sex and death. The stillness of sex and death is precisely where the play's two lovers will ultimately end, lain together in the tomb that figures also as their "bridal bed."

Strangely, the Chorus then invokes a filmic metaphor. Tragic stillness is the silence within the spectator when the crowd acclaims the victor. This stillness within perhaps recalls the "hollow space" imagined by Antigone earlier. This inner silence turns the outer world into "no more than a picture," a film without a sound track. This separation of sound from the image of the world is a dissociation of the spectator from that world as well. Again, two disjunctions are at work here: that of the sound from the image and the spectator from the world-become image. The Chorus shifts from a theatrical to filmic metaphor here because these experiences of disjunction are inherent to the cinematic apparatus. The spectator is then identified with the already vanquished victor, who is similarly alone in a desert of silence, similarly disjoined from the world. This disjunction from the world is the plight of the tragic hero and spectator who identifies himself with him.

Having compared tragedy to other media, the Chorus then sets it off generically, dissociating it specifically from the genre of melodrama. Tragedy is restful and flawless, free of melodramatic stock characters, dialogues, and plot complications. All is inevitable, which lends, in spite of tragedy's tension, the genre tranquility. Moreover, it gives its players innocence, as they are only there to play their parts. Though Creon will later accuse Antigone of casting him as the villain in her little melodrama, the players are embroiled in different mechanism. Again, note here the differences between Anouilh's theory of the tragic and political allegory. The latter is necessarily engaged in the generally pedagogical passing of political and ethical judgment, the arbitration of innocence, guilt, and complicity. Though tragic players face judgment, they do so on different terms. The Chorus retires, and the Guards bring forth the arrested Antigone. Though not quite a passion, this scene is Antigone's disgrace. The Guards are alternatively brutal, insulting, and indifferent to her plight. Anouilh comically imagines their indifference in their banal party squabbles. Again, the Guards will remain impervious to the tragedy before them. At the same time, under their insults Antigone, filthy, bruised, and with nails torn, begins her descent into abjection. Her insistence on her desire makes her inhuman. Conjuring her wild behavior at the scene of the crime, the First Guard compares her to a hyena. His colleagues thought she was a dog, not a girl. Antigone reminds the Second Guard of an exhibitionist. There is something decidedly perverse in her desires, something amiss in her carrying on in broad daylight.

The encounter between Creon and Antigone, the most pivotal dialogue of the play, then ensues. Though displeased by Antigone's disobedience, Creon's impulse is to cover it up, and he sends Antigone to her room. Creon will rather wryly bring a decidedly worldly set of prerogatives to bear on Antigone's tragedy, perhaps giving voice to the criticisms of many of Antigone's modern readers might make today. As Creon makes clear, his only interest is state order. Antigone's role as the mother to the next heir is far more valuable to Thebes than her death. Creon curses Antigone's tragic aspirations, aspirations that mark her as Oedipus' child. Like Oedipus, Antigone finds human happiness meaningless, and human misery cannot satisfy her thirst for torment. She too seeks a "cozy tea party with death and destiny." She believes tragic death to be the "natural climax" to her existence. Like Oedipus, she will be never happier than at the moment of her absolute ruin and abjection. We will return to his moment, what Antigone will call the moment of Oedipus's beauty, when Antigone invokes her lineage herself at the end of their dialogue. Against this tragic lineage, Creon imagines himself of humbler birth. If he was in Oedipus's place, he hardly would have given into such private concerns.

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Quiz Me!

by TheRAGINATOR, September 26, 2012

Where is the review quiz for Antigone? I like having review quizzes since it helps me see what I know and what I do not know. Once I take a quiz I can go back and see what I do not understand about this play and review.

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40 out of 58 people found this helpful

Hogwash!

by TheRAGINATOR, September 27, 2012

If you read the play Antigone by Sophocles this sparknote does not help at all. Cliff notes is better for Antigone by Sophocles. I love sparknotes and I think that it is AMAZING! But this note is not helpful and is terrible if you read the play by Sophocles.

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39 out of 54 people found this helpful

Re: Hogwash!

by 52beca, December 27, 2012

Well of course this isn't helpful if you're reading the Sophocles version. If you bothered to look at the title, then you would have seen that this is Jean Anouilh's version of Antigone, written in France, during World War II.

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