Antigone is very much her father’s daughter, and she begins her play with the same swift decisiveness with which Oedipus began his. Within the first fifty lines, she is planning to defy Creon’s order and bury Polynices. Unlike her father, however, Antigone possesses a remarkable ability to remember the past. Whereas Oedipus defies Tiresias, the prophet who has helped him so many times, and whereas he seems almost to have forgotten his encounter with Laius at the three-way crossroads, Antigone begins her play by talking about the many griefs that her father handed down to his children. Because of her acute awareness of her own history, Antigone is much more dangerous than Oedipus, especially to Creon. Aware of the kind of fate her family has been allotted, Antigone feels she has nothing to lose. The thought of death at Creon’s hands that so terrifies Ismene does not even faze Antigone, who looks forward to the glory of dying for her brother. Yet even in her expression of this noble sentiment, we see the way in which Antigone continues to be haunted by the perversion that has destroyed her family. Speaking about being killed for burying Polynices, she says that she will lie with the one she loves, loved by him, and it is difficult not to hear at least the hint of sexual overtones, as though the self-destructive impulses of the Oedipus family always tend toward the incestuous.
Antigone draws attention to the difference between divine law and human law. More than any other character in the three plays, she casts serious doubt on Creon’s authority. When she points out that his edicts cannot override the will of the gods or the unshakable traditions of men, she places Creon’s edict against Polynices’ burial in a perspective that makes it seem shameful and ridiculous. Creon sees her words as merely a passionate, wild outburst, but he will ultimately be swayed by the words of Tiresias, which echo those of Antigone. It is important to note, however, that Antigone’s motivation for burying Polynices is more complicated than simply reverence for the dead or for tradition. She says that she would never have taken upon herself the responsibility of defying the edict for the sake of a husband or children, for husbands and children can be replaced; brothers, once the parents are dead, cannot. In Antigone we see a woman so in need of familial connection that she is desperate to maintain the connections she has even in death.
More characters from The Oedipus Plays