• Study Guide

Part I

Summary Part I

The action begins at dawn. Unlike in the Sophocle's Antigone, Antigone has already committed the crime, though the play, perhaps relying on the spectator's memory of the Sophocles's version, keeps this revelation in suspense in the first scenes. Anouilh himself commented on the paradoxical nature of this suspense: "What was beautiful and is still beautiful about the time of the Greeks is knowing the end in advance. That is real suspense. As the Chorus notes, in tragedy everything has "already happened." Anouilh's spectator has surrendered, masochistically, to a succession of events it can hardly bear to watch. Suspense here is the time before the realization of those events.

Thus Antigone's death is prefigured in her first words. The first scene involves Antigone and her fussy, aging Nurse. Their touching relationship is one of the more sentimental in the play: note especially Antigone's entrusting her dog, Puff, to the Nurse's care. Like many of Anouilh's heroines, Antigone wanders nowhere in a gray world, a world beyond the postcard universe of the waking. This world is breathless with anticipation: it doubles the stage, set apart from the human world, upon which Antigone's tragedy will ensue. At the same time, this world does not lie in wait for Antigone—she is meant to pass onto another, one beyond the living. Firmly located in her care-taking duties, the Nurse understands none of Antigone's ramblings. Instead, she bluntly asks if Antigone has taken a lover. Though Antigone is the opposite of the coquettish and hyper-feminine Ismene, to the Nurse she is just the same—another young, foolhardy girl like the rest of them. The Nurse does not appreciate what makes Antigone different from other girls.

Notably, Antigone tells the Nurse what she wants to hear—in some sense confirming that she is like the rest—and feigns that she has a paramour. We should weigh this subterfuge carefully. First, as we will discuss later, Antigone has gone out to attempt to become someone's lover, Haemon, having donned her sister's accoutrements to attempt to participate in pleasures that are not meant for her. Second, it is not for nothing that Antigone feigns to have taken a lover after having an illicit visit to her brother's corpse. This feint evokes a familiar trope in the Antigone tradition, that of Antigone's unnatural love for her brother. This love numbers among the desires Antigone refuses to surrender, desires she will follow to the point of death. Though somewhat suppressed in Anouilh's adaptation, this desire haunts the stage nevertheless.