The Tragic Figures in Sophocles' Antigone

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Tragic Figures in Antigone

 
   A good working definition of a tragic figure, in the Greek mythological sense, would be a person who, through a character flaw, is brought lower than that flaw would merit. The person with the flaw is usually royal, or at least noble. Greek tragedies were not written about common people.

 

Antigone may be a tragic figure in the modern, common sense of the word; that is, she was someone who has something bad happen to her. "Oh," someone might say when they discover Antigone's fate, "how tragic." Nevertheless, they do not mean that Antigone is tragic in the classical Greek sense; rather they just mean that Antigone got a bad lot that she didn't deserve. Antigone cannot be a tragic figure in the classical Greek sense because she didn't have any character faults. She was brought low for other reasons -- in this case, she died because she was obedient to the will of the gods. That isn't a fault, it's a virtue. Throughout the play she shows herself to be kind, generous, and giving. Again, those are hardly vices.

 

This leaves Creon as the only possible tragic figure in Antigone. And he does make an ideal tragic figure in the classical sense! His flaw that brings him low is a sense of narrow-minded pride. Although in some sense he may be justified in what he is doing through his claim that he is doing it for the good of the state, this does not completely excuse or ameliorate his actions in the eyes of the gods.

 

The fact that Creon persists in his actions despite the warnings of others (Tiresias, Antigone, Haemon, etc.) is part of what makes the tragedy so tragic -- he had chance after chance to back out. Antigone tries her best to persuade him, saying, "Surely, to think yours the only wisdom, / And yours the only word, the only will, / Betrays a shallow spirit, an empty heart," but Creon dismisses this because she is a woman. Haemon tries to tell his father that the people are not in agreement with him, but his father accuses him of being a weakling and arguing only to protect his fiancee. Finally, Tiresias the seer tries to warn Creon that what he is doing is not in accordance with the will of the gods, but Creon accuses him of lying for profit, saying, "Money! Money's the curse of man, none greater.

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/ That's what wrecks cities, banishes men from home, / Tempts and deludes the most well-meaning soul, / Pointing out the way to infamy and shame."

 

Antigone could not be a tragedy without Creon; Antigone herself doesn't make much of a tragic figure. She is a heroine and a martyr, but not a tragic figure. In contrast, Creon provides many facets of pride, his one glaring character flaw -- selfishness, narrow-mindedness, misogyny, and suspicion -- for the reader (or watcher) to consider. Creon is the necessary figure that not only makes Antigone a tragedy, but makes it worth reading (or watching).

 

Works Cited and Consulted:

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

"Antigone." In The Encyclopedia Americana, edited by Dudley, Lavinia P. et alii. New York: Americana Corporation, 1957. vol. 2.

Sophocles. Antigone. Translated by R. C. Jebb. The Internet Classic Archive. no pag.

http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html

 

 


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