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Antigone

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Summary

Part VIII

Summary Part VIII

Antigone's arrest gives way immediately to the denouement. True to classical convention, death takes place off-stage in accordance with the rules of bienséance or the "good spectacle." The removal of death from the seen/scene of makes it all the more horrible in the spectator's imagination. The Messenger reports its occurrence, in some sense enunciating the death that has determined the drama throughout. Note especially the trope of the moan from the grave in the Messenger's account. In some sense, the characters marked by death have always been speaking from a place beyond the living. As predicted by Antigone, the tomb becomes the bridal bed, the resting place for the cursed lovers. The lovers preserve their love against the demands of life with their death.

The Chorus then announces Eurydice's death. As established by the Chorus, Eurydice functions here as Creon's final lesson, that which condemns him to solitude. Before the Chorus announces her death, Creon fondly and sentimentally recalls his knitting, benevolent wife, a reminiscence made terrible by the death about to be announced, a death of which we already know. The end to Eurydice's knitting, an activity that marks her as the docile matriarch, is the end of her life, evoking the Greek myth of the life-thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates. In announcing Eurydice's death, the Chorus evokes the domestic bedroom—bedecked by familiar, comforting feminine accoutrements—and, as with Antigone, makes it both bridal chamber and tomb. Eurydice dies a maiden queen, having scarcely changed since her first night with Creon. The wound in her neck appears all the more horrible in marring her virgin neck. Her death would appear all the more tragic because she dies in all her feminine purity.

According to the dictates of tragedy, this rapid denouement aims at the audience's catharsis—that is, the provocation, through terror and pity, of a purgation of the passions. The "falling action" after the death announcements would bring this purgation to its close. Creon returns dully to the business of governance. His submission to the State robs him even of his grief. The Chorus then delivers an epitaph, announcing that those fated to die have died and will be forgotten and that a "melancholy wave of peace" has now fallen upon Thebes. The Guards make their final, ironic appearance, resuming their card-game from the beginning of the play. As the Chorus remarks, they remain untouched by the tragedy. The indifferent members of the rank-and-file would thus stand in an almost edifying contrast to the audience that has undergone, or should have undergone, its catharsis.