Most likely produced around 441 B.C.E. near the height of the
Peloponnesion War, ANTIGONE is part of a trilogy written by the
Greek playwright, Sophocles. The other plays in the trilogy are OEDIPUS
TYRANNUS and OEDIPUS AT COLONUS. All three revolve around a double
history: the tragic life of Oedipus and his progeny and the laws and
lessons of the city of Thebes. Plot wise, ANTIGONE is the last of the
trilogy, happening after the events of the other two plays.
It helps to know a few things before you start. The play opens
after the following events have already taken place. Oedipus the King
is expelled from the city of Thebes, blinded and penniless with only
his daughter, Antigone, to support him. He later dies in Athens.
Neither of Oedipus’s two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, offer to help
their father and, instead, fight each other for the newly vacated
throne of Thebes. Eteocles throws his brother out of the city.
Polynices returns with seven champions from Argos to attack the seven
gates of Thebes. Both brothers die simultaneously as they wrestle each
other in bloody battle. The kingship falls to the next in line, Creon,
who decrees that Polynices was an enemy of Thebes and should therefore
be refused the funeral rites and burial customs reserved for its loyal
citizens. The body of Polynices is left outside the city to rot while
Eteocles’ corpse is properly buried and given the full rites due to a
Antigone asks her sister, Ismene, to help bury the body of
their brother, the traitor to Thebes, Polynices.
stating that her fear of King Creon’s authority outweighs any family
loyalty. Antigone thus goes off on her own to sprinkle dust on the
corpse of Polynices. This seemingly minor act blatantly defies the
law of the king (and therefore the law of the city itself). By
performing the makeshift burial ceremony for her brother, Antigone
becomes a criminal. She is called before the king who sentences both
she and her sister to death. Creon’s son Haemon, who is engaged to be
married to Antigone, pleads with his father to revoke his punishment on
the two women. When the king refuses, Haemon runs away. After a lengthy
dialogue with the Chorus, Creon finally relents (slightly) and releases
the innocent Ismene but re-sentences Antigone to be sealed away without
food or water. Creon eventually comes around - due largely to public
pressure - frees Antigone and buries Polynices. He is too late, however,
Antigone has already committed suicide while locked away. Meanwhile,
Creon’s son, Haemon, has killed himself upon discovering Antigone. As If
that were not enough, Creon’s wife, the queen, also kills herself. In
the end, Creon is left alone to suffer the consequences of his actions.