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Antigone

Jean Anouilh

Part VIII

Part VII

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

The Guard asks if he can do anything for Antigone. She asks if he could give someone a letter after her death. As the Guard is reluctant to endanger his job, Antigone offers her gold ring. Still reluctant, the Guard suggest that she dictate her letter and he write it in his notebook in case they search his pockets. Antigone winces but accepts. She recites her letter, and the Guard mutters it back to her as he writes. She hesitates upon admitting that she does not even know what she is dying for and then asks the Guard to scratch it and the entire letter out. No one must know her doubt—it would be as if they were defiling her corpse. She begins anew: "Forgive me, my darling. You would all have been so happy except for Antigone."

Suddenly a drum roll is heard, and the other Guards appear and lead Antigone out. The Chorus enters, announcing that it is Creon's turn. The Messenger appears, calling for the Queen. He tells the Chorus what has ensued: Antigone had just been immured, when the crowd heard Haemon's moan from within. Creon howled for the slaves to remove the stones, tearing at them himself with his bloody hands. They found Haemon holding Antigone's corpse: she had hung herself with the red and gold cord of her robe. Creon approached his son, but he remained deaf to his father's voice. Suddenly he then rose, struck Creon, and drew his sword. Staring at him in contempt, Haemon stabbed himself and lay beside Antigone in a pool of blood.

Creon and the Page enter upon the Messenger's final words. Creon announces that he has laid the lovers out side-by-side. The Chorus warns that Creon has one thing more to learn regarding his wife's fate. Creon murmurs that Eurydice is a good woman, always knitting sweaters for the poor. The Chorus moans that the poor will go cold this winter. Upon being told of Haemon's death, she finished her row, climbed to her lavender-scented room, and cut her throat. Creon is alone.

Creon tells the Page that while they do not know it, the truth is that the work has to be done. The Page should hope that he never grows up. He asks the time and it is five o'clock, and he has a cabinet meeting. They exit. The Chorus moves downstage that notes that it is true if it had not been for Antigone, all would have been at peace. But now all who had to die have died. They are stiff, useless, and rotting and will be forgotten. We shall never know the fever that consumed Antigone. The Guards then enter and resume their card-game. The Chorus remarks that only the Guards are left, and none of the tragedy matters to them. They go on playing cards.

Analysis

Here Antigone offers her last thoughts, delivering them through her letter to Haemon. Anouilh complicates the pathos of this message with its dictation to the Guard. The pathos of the scene thus also inheres in the final indignity that Antigone suffers. As before, the Guard considers the condemned Antigone with the same callous indifference. His job security ever in mind, he only agrees to transcribe her letter. As the bribe of the ring suggests, he acts out of vulgar self-interest alone. The ring is also a gift from Haemon, it evokes Antigone's lost love and the virginity she will take to the grave. As a number of critics have noted, Anouilh comically casts the transcription of Antigone's letter as that of a schoolboy doing dictation. The Guard licks his pencil, repeats her words dully, and asks her to slow down. The Guard's muttered repetition of Antigone's wrenching last words would rob it of its pathos. To the Guard, her farewell is a "damn funny letter."

Though addressed to Haemon, some critics have identified the letter as a subterfuge to communicate Antigone's last thoughts. Because these thoughts will never reach the living, and go unnoticed by the Guard, the letter's proper addressee is thus the audience. As we have seen, this opposition between the Guards and the proper spectator is central to the play. Here Antigone reveals her fear and uncertainty, but she does not know what she is dying for even as she knows she must die. If the living knew these last fears, what many critics have identified as her most human ones, they would defile her, rob her of her tragic glory by judging her according to the terms of common men. Perhaps Anouilh enjoins the audience here to resist doing the same. This confession recalls Antigone's struggle with Creon, which forced Antigone to understand that she dies for no just cause and in no one's name except hers and perhaps Oedipus's. Again, Anouilh would distill the political and moral from Antigone's death, making its purposelessness essential to the tragic. Antigone dies because she must: her desire requires it. This futility again complicates the familiar reading of Antigone as an allegory for the Resistance.

Antigone's arrest gives way immediately to the denouement. True to classical convention, death takes place off-stage in accordance with the rules of bienséance or the "good spectacle." The removal of death from the seen/scene of makes it all the more horrible in the spectator's imagination. The Messenger reports its occurrence, in some sense enunciating the death that has determined the drama throughout. Note especially the trope of the moan from the grave in the Messenger's account. In some sense, the characters marked by death have always been speaking from a place beyond the living. As predicted by Antigone, the tomb becomes the bridal bed, the resting place for the cursed lovers. The lovers preserve their love against the demands of life with their death.

The Chorus then announces Eurydice's death. As established by the Chorus, Eurydice functions here as Creon's final lesson, that which condemns him to solitude. Before the Chorus announces her death, Creon fondly and sentimentally recalls his knitting, benevolent wife, a reminiscence made terrible by the death about to be announced, a death of which we already know. The end to Eurydice's knitting, an activity that marks her as the docile matriarch, is the end of her life, evoking the Greek myth of the life-thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates. In announcing Eurydice's death, the Chorus evokes the domestic bedroom—bedecked by familiar, comforting feminine accoutrements—and, as with Antigone, makes it both bridal chamber and tomb. Eurydice dies a maiden queen, having scarcely changed since her first night with Creon. The wound in her neck appears all the more horrible in marring her virgin neck. Her death would appear all the more tragic because she dies in all her feminine purity.

According to the dictates of tragedy, this rapid denouement aims at the audience's catharsis—that is, the provocation, through terror and pity, of a purgation of the passions. The "falling action" after the death announcements would bring this purgation to its close. Creon returns dully to the business of governance. His submission to the State robs him even of his grief. The Chorus then delivers an epitaph, announcing that those fated to die have died and will be forgotten and that a "melancholy wave of peace" has now fallen upon Thebes. The Guards make their final, ironic appearance, resuming their card-game from the beginning of the play. As the Chorus remarks, they remain untouched by the tragedy. The indifferent members of the rank-and-file would thus stand in an almost edifying contrast to the audience that has undergone, or should have undergone, its catharsis.

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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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38 out of 53 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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