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Creon struggles to cover Antigone's mouth: the anteroom is full, and everyone will hear her. A distraught Ismene rushes in, begging Antigone's forgiveness and promising to help. Antigone rejects her, saying that she does not deserve to die with her. Ismene swears she will bury Polynices herself then. Antigone calls on Creon to have her arrested, warning him that her disease is catching. Creon relents. "At last," cries Antigone, and the Guards take her away.
Standing behind Creon, the Chorus tells Creon that he cannot let Antigone die: we will carry the "scar of her death" for centuries. Creon replies that death was her sole purpose and Polynices was but a pretext. Haemon enters and also begs his father to stop the guards. He must save her, lock her up and declare her mad. Creon replies that the nation will know he is making an exception for his son. The howling mob already knows the truth, and he can do nothing. Though master of Thebes, he is but master under the law. Creon urges Haemon to bear his sorrow; he must take up the burden of manhood.
Aghast, Haemon wonders if Creon really was that "massive god" whom he loved as a child. Creon does not need to say yes to Antigone's death. He has no right to desert Haemon, to shrink into nothingness and leave the world bare. Creon replies that the world is bare, that Haemon is alone, and that he must see his father as he is. Haemon flees, crying that he will not live without Antigone. The Chorus murmurs that he is "wounded to death." Creon replies that all of us are. Suddenly the Guards enter, dragging Antigone. They warn Creon that the mob is crowing into the palace. Antigone begs to be alone until her execution. Creon orders the palace emptied. The characters exit.
Antigone sits before the pacing First Guard in her prison cell. She remarks that his is the last face she will see. She chides him for hurting her this morning upon her arrest. She asks him his age, whether he has children and if he loves them, and how long he has served in the Guard. The Guard rambles about his pay, the extra rations for his family, promotions, and quibbles between sergeants and guardsmen. "I see," Antigone replies, barely audible. She abruptly interrupts him, pointing out that she is soon to die. The Guard gapes at her and turns away.
Antigone asks if he thinks it hurts to die. "How would I know?" scoffs the Guard, but he knows that a saber in the guts would hurt. Antigone asks him how she is to die. The Guard haltingly recites the proclamation from memory: to protect the city from her foul blood, Antigone is to be "im-mured-immured" or buried alive in a cave. The Guard proudly remarks that the Guard and not the Army will stand watch. Antigone murmurs that while a pair of animals can press together in the cold, she will be alone.
Finally Antigone's obstinacy, the presence of the listening mob, and the infection of Ismene force Creon to relent. He plays the part for which he has been destined and sends Antigone to her glorious demise. Here the political allegory of resistance seems especially explicit. As Antigone has insisted throughout, Creon sends her to her death because the throne demands it of him. In saying yes to state power, he has submitted his will to the law. Antigone would subvert state authority, and the once-cowardly Ismene's recantation establishes such subversion as contagious. Thus Creon must condemn his niece. Once again Anouilh conjures the specter of the howling mob, the mob that Creon reigns and remains subject to. Once the mob knows of Antigone's crime he cannot save her. Posed against the mob, Antigone appears as the noble heroine. Ultimately, Anouilh saves Antigone the indignity of facing this mob; she has no interest in playing the martyr in public. Thus Anouilh leaves her to endure the brutalities of the rank-and-file sentry.
Read more about the play as a political allegory.
The Chorus appears at this moment, marking it as another turning point in the automatic progression of Antigone's tale. As in classical tragedy, here the Chorus, functioning until this point as a narrator-figure, intercedes into the action. It enjoins Creon to stop the death sentence. Here the Chorus would directly stand in for the horrified spectator who would futilely protest Antigone's death. Creon's retort is telling. He could not have dissuaded her, as Polynices was a pretext for Antigone's ultimate purpose, death. As we have noted throughout, Antigone refuses cede on her desires, following them to point of her demise. This purpose—one that trumps political, moral, and even familial allegiances in the name of individual desire—is again in tension with the common reading of Anouilh's Antigone as Resistance fighter.
Read more about the motif of the Chorus.
As if automatically, Antigone's death sentence sets off Haemon's. As he tells his father, he will not live without her. Haemon stages his own confrontation with Creon, similarly refusing to "become a man" and accept his place in the human world. Unlike Antigone, he explicitly calls upon filial law. He believes that Creon should save Antigone because Haemon is his son. As with Antigone, Creon reveals himself as not the god that guaranteed the young Haemon's world but a man helplessly and loathsomely beholden to the law and state. Haemon refuses Creon's world and moves to join Antigone in death.
Antigone then appears in her cell with the First Guard. The pathos of the scene inheres in Antigone's appeals to the last face she will see, a face that is blind and indifferent. The Guard, as small-minded as ever, responds unfeelingly, rambling on about the trivialities of his job. As with the discussion of the party during Antigone's arrest, Anouilh would thus contrast his heroine's high tragedy with the banalities that occupy the guardsmen. Again, the Guard is blind in his dogged and self-interested obedience to the powers that be, an obedience indicated by his halting, callous recitation of the official proclamation. As his replies to Antigone show, he is also brutal.
Read more about the guard’s indifference in Antigone’s cell.
Antigone's appearance in her cell, the only setting we encounter outside the palace, as outcast and criminal also prefigures her movement into a space beyond the living and yet not the afterlife. A number of commentators have cast Antigone as a figure "between two deaths," what we will refer to here as her death as a social or even human being and her death as her demise. This space materialized is most certainly her tomb, the cave in which she, as a tabooed and abject body, is to be immured to keep her from polluting the polis. Her death sentence makes her more wretched than animals; such is her "Oedipal" beauty, a beauty in her total abjection. As she senses, however, she will not die alone. Her tomb will also serve as her "bridal bed," Antigone ultimately bringing Haemon with her to the grave.
Read more about the motif of the tomb as Antigone’s bridal bed.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Antigone!