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Creon assures Antigone that he does not romanticize his work: ruling is his trade, and a trade he takes seriously. If some wild messenger was to tell him tomorrow his wife was his mother, he would hardly surrender himself to his private feelings. Nor will he execute Antigone today, as she is mother of the next heir, and her marriage is worth more to Thebes than her death. Moreover, though she may think him prosaic, he is fond of her. Antigone moves wordlessly to the arch.
Creon warns her that if anyone else knows of her crime, he will have to execute her. Her act will do no good. Antigone insists that she must do what she can. After a pause, Creon asks if she really believes in the desecrating "mass- production jibber-jabber" of the priests she has seen so many times. Antigone agrees to its absurdity. Creon asks for whose sake then does Antigone go. Antigone replies that she acts only for herself.
Creon declares that he wants to save her. Antigone retorts that while he is an all-powerful king, he cannot do so. Aware that Antigone has cast him as the villain of her play, Creon warns her against going to far. He was been far more generous than the average tyrant, and she taunts him when she can see the hesitation in his face. Angrily he seizes her arm. Antigone moans in pain and he twists her to his side. After a pause, Antigone remarks that Creon is squeezing her arm too tightly and his grasp no longer hurts. Creon releases her.
Creon insists that he will not let politics cause her death. The entire story comes down to politics. He finds rotting corpses as nauseating as Antigone, and he would have buried Polynices as a matter of public hygiene. But to educate the masses, his stench must fill the town for a month. He agrees that his reign makes him loathsome but he has no choice. Antigone rejoins that he should have said no; she can say no to anything she thinks vile. Because Creon said yes, he can only, for all his trappings, sentence her to death.
Antigone knows that she frightens her uncle and his fate frightens him. Creon concurs. Antigone cries that while her nails are broken, her fingers bleeding, and her arms covered in welts, she is a queen. Creon asks her to pity him then and live. There had to be a man who said yes because the ship of state was sinking. On such a sinking ship, nothing can have a name except the ship itself and the storm. Antigone replies that she is not here to understand, only to say no and die. Creon rejoins that it is easy to say no, no is a man-made word. The beasts cannot say no to hunger and propagation. They persevere in their simple, good, and obstinate will. Antigone jeers that Creon would be quite the king if men were animals.
Creon's attempt to save Antigone continues. First, changing his rhetoric, he caricaturizes the funeral rite. As Antigone knows, the priests practice but "mass-production jibber-jabber." Moreover, the Polynices's affair comes down entirely to politics. Creon himself would rather have Polynices buried; he only needs his corpse as an object lesson to the unruly masses. In asking why and in whose name Antigone has rebelled, Creon will progressively strip Antigone's act of its external motivations, be they moral, filial, religious, political, or otherwise. This stripping will appear most explicitly in his unmasking of her brothers. As we will see, Antigone's act will come to "not matter" in terms of filial loyalty, religious devotion, insurrection, and onward. Antigone will have no "just cause," no human reason for bringing herself to the point of death: her act is senseless, gratuitous. Antigone clings to her desire despite its madness. Antigone's appeal to her sisterly duty to her brother is a front. As she tells in Creon, she acts in her own name. As the Chorus says, Antigone's act and arrest finally enable her to be herself.
Read more about how Anouilh’s Antigone does not defend her act of rebellion in the name of filial, religious, or moral integrity.
This insistence on her desire puts her beyond the Creon's reach. Anouilh starkly demonstrates Antigone's transcendence with Creon's assault on her person. Enraged by her proud defiance and his inability to sway her, Creon seizes Antigone and twists her to his side. The immediate pain passes. Creon squeezes too tightly and Antigone feels nothing. Her act locates her beyond state power. As she cries throughout, her role is to refuse to understand, to say no simply to whatever she finds vile when others would endure in beast-like fashion. Again this no is not against state oppression or injustice. It is not in the name of liberation, but in the assertion of Antigone's desire. As we will see, Antigone's no makes her a tabooed body that passes outside the human community. Here she revels in her abjection. While her nails are broken, her fingers bleeding, and her arms covered in welts, she is an exalted queen.
Read more about the symbolism behind Creon’s attack.
Antigone's inflexible insistence on her desire reduces Creon to asking for her pity. Despite all his trappings of power, Creon finds himself helpless, unable to act on his own. He wants not to execute Antigone but cannot help ordering her death. Having said yes to state power, he is circumscribed by his own kingship, by very the throne that makes him the master of the land. He has surrendered himself entirely to the ship of state and knows his circumscription all too well. As he tells Antigone, conjuring the storm-tossed ship as an extended metaphor for the beleaguered Thebes, the ship of state demands that all on board lose their names. Only the ship and the storm remain. To save the ship, Creon has had to terrorize the mob into obedience. He has lost his ties with his family, his life, and other men. Unlike Antigone, he has completely ceded his desires to take upon the mantle of governance. A double for the collaborationist head of state, Creon is rendered loathsome, terrified of what his office requires of him and yet unable to act otherwise.
Read more about Creon and his commitment to state power.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Antigone!