Antigone as a Classic Tragedy

Antigone- one of the celebrated tragedies written by Sophocles was a turning point the history of world literature. Through this article I am trying to analyze Antigone as a Greek Classical Tragedy by equating it with Aristotle's Poetics. Evaluating the characteristics of the play and connecting the same with Aristotelian ideas ,this is a humble attempt to define Antigone as a classical Tragedy.

Sprouted in Athens ,the Greek tragedies were the part of Dionysus festival conducted in honor of the Greek god Dionysus-the patron of arts.Tragedies were the essential part of the fest that a single playwright was supposed to submit 3 tragic plays and a concluding satyr together in order to participate in the competition.Three ensuing days were devoted for the performance of three brilliant dramatists,all of them taking a whole day to finish their set of plays. The plot of these tragedies were not supposed to be fresh. They were mainly adopted from the early known epics or oral stories of the land. Even the laymen were familiar with those plots. However , to engage the audience and to make the plays interesting, the playwrights were keen in keeping suspense by reinterpreting and giving new dimensions to the already existing plot. The author of Antigone, Sophocles was a man of discernment. He adopted the story line of his play from the myth of Oedipus. By focusing on Oedipus' daughter 'Antigone' ,Sophocles attributed a different aspect to the prevailing story. Now lets equate Antigone to Aristotle's Poetics ,where he defined the qualities of a good tragedy.

The Three Unities

According to Aristotle a fine tragedy must follow the unities of time,space and action.It is supposed to deal with those events that took place with in the limit of a single day . Regarding the unity of space, only one scene is allowed in a tragedy. And action must be bound to a single plot. Any additional subplots or parallel plots are restricted. In Antigone we see all this proportionality coming together.Because we see the play starting at dawn when the 2 sisters, Antigone and Ismene secretly meeting to talk about Creon's verdict over their brother's burial; and it ends with the suicide of Eurydice- Creon's queen with in the next 24 hours. The spacial arrangements is confined in front of the palace gate and further events are not performed on stage. The whole action revolves around the edict issued by Creon and Antigone's response to the same. Hence the 3 unities of time, space and action are strictly followed in Antigone.

Themes and Characters

Usually the frame work of a tragedy revolves around the basic human emotions like love, lust, anger, revenge etc. . . The themes include the conflict between human and divine will, pride ,power hunger and war, intervention of muses, total destruction,fate and so on.The hero or heroine must be a person of noble birth.He/she must suffer at the end ,not because of his/her abusive character but of a minor mistake -a flaw which is termed as Hamartia. Peripeteia-the turning point and Anagnorisis, the recognition of his mistakes are essential part of a tragedy.Each of this can be easily traced from Antigone. Even though the title of the play is attributed to Antigone, we are confused about the protagonist. Because both Creon and Antigone have noble birth and the heroic characteristics they show are almost similar. However its Creon who is realizing his mistake (anagnorisis) when he comes to know about the veracity of Teiresias' prophecy (peripeteia) regarding the total destruction of his clan. Creon's pride that a woman spoke against his first edict ,forced him to take merciless decision and alas he was too late to correct it. That unnecessary pride- Hubris was his flaw(Hamartia). She lost his queen Eurydice and son Haemon together only because of that verdict. We witness the love and loss of Antigone's affair with Haemon; the intervention of Greek Gods Dionysus and Zeus (the God of war) during the course of the play. Moreover, as prescribed, no violent scenes, blood sheds, suicides, rape, war or any such coldblooded incidents are shown on stage. Instead they are all reported by the chorus.


Corresponding to the choral lyrics songs honoring Dionysus , Wearing masks , a group of men danced in circular motion ,constituted the earlier Chorus. Chorus is the reflection of audience. They comment on the course of the play from audience's view point. At first, there were more than 50 members in the chorus. Later the number reduced to 12 and separate characters were introduced to answer the questions asked by the chorus members. Sophocles added three additional characters and thus increased the complexity of his plot.In Antigone, chorus have an active role from the entry song- Parados, explaining the victory of Creon over Antigone and they comments over past ,present ,the offstage events and they are the one who force the king to change his decisions.However the elder thebians are all men and it tells us about the patriarchal set up of Thebes at that point of time.

In-short , if you checkout the play Antigone with the yardsticks of Aristotelian principles, we can judge it as one f the best examples of a classical Greek Tragedy.


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