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Breathless, Antigone tells Haemon that she would have protected their son against everything in the world, and that he would have feared nothing. Though his mother would have not been imposing, she would have been stronger than those "real mothers." Instead, she would have been Haemon's "real wife." Antigone asks him if he is sure he loved her the night he proposed, that he did not want Ismene instead. His arms and hands do no lie—he loves her as a woman. Haemon assures her that he loves her exactly as she loves him, with all of himself. Ashamed, Antigone implores him to tell her the truth. When he thinks of her, she asks whether he senses that a "great empty space is being hollowed out" inside him and that something inside him is dying. Haemon assents; Antigone feels the same.
Antigone draws away, announcing that she has two more things to say. Haemon must, however, swear to leave instantly after she does. He reluctantly swears. Antigone explains that she came to Haemon in Ismene's accoutrements because she wanted to become his wife before their wedding because she will never be able to marry him. Stupefied, Haemon departs. Ismene enters, terrified that Antigone will attempt to bury Polynices despite the daylight. Antigone says that Polynices is dead and never loved her, instead he was like an enemy in the house. Antigone tells her she is too late and she has just come from burying him.
Later in the day, Creon stands on the top step with his Page. The nervous First Guard enters, and Creon asks what has happened with the body. The Guard explains that he has been in the service for seventeen years, is known for his obedience, and is due for a promotion. Creon interrupts his chattering. The Guard continues, saying that the men had the two o'clock watch, the toughest part of the night. When they were not looking, someone covered the body with a little dirt last night. The guards heard nothing, only discovering a kid's shovel on the scene. Creon mutters in disbelief: he broke the back of the rebellion in the banks, the public square, and the temples, and a kid rebels. He will undoubtedly become a martyr. He orders the guards to uncover the body and keep the matter secret, on the pain of death. The Guard excitedly promises to obey and Creon orders him out. Creon turns to the Page and muses that he will have to "clean up the mess." He asks if the Pace would die for him, and he replies that of course he would defy the Guard with his shovel. Both exit.
The Chorus appears and announces that the tragedy is on. Its spring is wound, and it will uncoil by itself. Anything will set it going—a glance, one question too many—and the rest is automatic. The machine has been oiled since time began. Death, treason, and sorrow are "on the march," moving in the wake of storm, tears, and stillness.
The lovers' dialogue is another of the play's more sentimental scenes, in which Antigone, after a flurry of sighs and embraces, resolutely bids Haemon farewell. It proceeds according to what "would have been": Antigone imagines their son and herself as a "real wife." She assures herself of Haemon's love, which he articulates in typically narcissistic terms: "I love you exactly as you love me. With all of myself." What is more pressing to Antigone, however, is Haemon's desire, a desire that, in her fantasies, must truly belong with her rival, Ismene. Thus, after his declarations of love, she continues to ask him if his caresses do not lie, if she wants her as a woman, if he does not really want Ismene after all. This desire is predicated on a sense of lack, of insufficiency, the "hollow space" that, despite the fullness their love promises, opens within the lovers whenever they think of each other. The melodramatic nature of this subplot is most clear. Part of the pathos of the scene lies in Antigone's desire remaining unfulfilled. She went to Haemon, having somewhat chilling donned Ismene's guise, to become a woman, and will not die with their love unconsummated. At the same time, the play is also clearly invested in Antigone's virgin death. Her sexual purity, a chastity she takes to the grave, is currency for achieving a tragic effect.
Haemon's departure and the revelation of Antigone's already-committed crime give way to the scene of its report to Creon. Creon learns of her crime through the first of the three costumed guards. The card-playing trio, made all the more mindless and indistinguishable in being grouped in three, emerges from a long tradition of the dull-witted rank-and-file officer. As the Chorus notes, they smell of garlic and beer. Jonas gives voice to their thoughts: they follow orders and they cover for themselves when things go wrong. They are eternally indifferent, innocent, and ready to serve whatever powers that be. Thus the guards serve as thinly veiled doubles for the fascist collaborators or collabos of Anouilh's day.
Read an in-depth analysis of the guards.
Though enraged by the news, the ever-practical Creon orders an immediate cover- up. The kid's shovel also seems to evoke an allegory of the Resistance. Though Creon has broken the back of the organized resistance, the lone child, perhaps a double for the boy who ostensibly inspired Anouilh's adaptation, rebels, readily presenting himself for martyrdom. The play is clearly drawn to this image of youthful resistance. Chillingly Creon then turns to the Page. It would seem that he both muses about the Page's potential betrayals and wonders if he could use him in a cover-up. That is, pin the crime on the child and offer him up to the mob. Here the overtones of totalitarianism in Creon's rule are probably the most explicit.
Read more about how commentators have case the play as an anti-fascist allegory of events surrounding the French Resistance.
The scene then breaks and the Chorus returns, announcing that the tragedy has occurred. His speech offers a meta-theatrical commentary on the nature of tragedy. Here, in apparently a reference to Jean Cocteau, tragedy appears as a machine in perfect order, a machine that proceeds automatically and has been ready since the beginning of time. Tension of the tragic plot is the tension of a spring. The most haphazard event sets it on its inexorable march; tension has been lying in wait for its catalyst. Tragedy belongs to an order outside human time and action. It will realize itself in spite of its players and all their attempts at intervention.
Read more about the theme of the nature of tragedy.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Antigone!