The Tragic Hero of Sophocles' Antigone
Length: 857 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
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In Sophocles' Antigone, the question of who the tragic hero actually is
has been the subject of a debate for years. It is unlikely for there to be
two tragic characters in a Greek tragedy, and there can be only one in the
play Antigone. The king Creon possesses some of the qualities that constitute
a tragic character, but does not have all of the necessary traits.
Antigone, however, contains all of the aspects that are required for her to be the
main character. According to Aristotle's Poetics, there are four major
traits, which are required of the tragic character. The character must be
a good and upstanding person. The character must focus on becoming a better
person, must be believable, and must be consistent in his or her behavior. Due
to the fact that Antigone represents these four character guidelines,
as well as several other protagonist traits, she can definitely be defined as
the tragic hero.
In order for Antigone to be the tragic character, she first must be a good
and upstanding person. Antigone is indeed a good-hearted person and has
committed no crime up to her decision to give her brother, Polynieces, a
proper burial. There is no doubt that Antigone is upstanding and a person
of importance in Thebes. She was scheduled to marry Haemon, the son of
Creon, and was considered a princess. Aristotle stated that the aspect of
a good person was first and most important when creating a tragic character.
The fact that Antigone is a woman makes no difference, because Aristotle
expressly said, "Even a woman may be good.though the woman may be said to
be an inferior being."
Aristotle's second rule for determining a tragic character is that the
person must aim at propriety. The character must work towards becoming a
better person. Antigone illustrates this second guideline by her effort
to clear her conscious and bring honor to her family by giving Polynieces a
decent burial. By taking this responsibility, and by denying Ismene's
involvement in her crime, Antigone shows that she has acquired a greater
courage within herself than she had possessed before. In no way does
Creon comply with Aristotle's second guideline. Throughout the play, he does
not allow himself to see the point of view from other people, such as when
Haemon tries to reason with him, and he neglects the blind prophet,
Tiresias, when he warns Creon of his actions.
The last two expectations of a tragic character are intertwined.
According to Aristotle, the character must be true to life and be consistent in
behavior and actions. He states that these two areas are "a distinct
thing from goodness and propriety." Following these two guidelines, Antigone is
a believable person with realistic thoughts and emotions. She is also very
consistent in her behavior, and does not demonstrate a dynamic
personality. Throughout the entire play, Antigone stands by her beliefs and keeps her
Besides the four major outlining rules regarding the tragic character in a
Greek drama, Aristotle states several other guidelines that the
protagonist should adhere to. Arguably the most important of these is the aspect of
hamartia, the character's fatal flaw, which brings about his or her
downfall. Antigone's flaw was her headstrong behavior and her
stubbornness, which ultimately brought about her demise and the demise of those around
her. Her stubbornness of course, is what forces Antigone to rashly take
matters in to her own hands, and take the body of Polynieces. She did not
realize until she was about to die, that she had possibly acted foolishly.
Antigone shared her flaw with Creon, who seemed to have an even more
obstinate personality. It can be argued that it was Creon's stubbornness
that brought about the demise of his family, but this cannot justify Creon
as the tragic character because he does not meet other necessary
To bring up the last point that defines Antigone as the true tragic
character in Sophocles' play, the protagonist must face a conflict in
principles, and must rely on his self in order to solve the conflict. At
the beginning of the play, Antigone immediately faces a problem; she must
decide whether or not her morals are worth risking her life for. She is
forced to decide between honoring the gods and her family or displaying
loyalty to the state. The entire play is centered around this conflict
between morals and Antigone's final decision.
A very confusing aspect of Sophocle's play, Antigone, is discovering who
the true tragic character actually is. To do this, one only has to understand
the rules and guidelines for Greek tragedy, which Aristotle specified in
his Poetics. When Aristotle's strict guidelines are applied to both Creon and
Antigone, it becomes apparent that there can only be one tragic hero.
Creon fulfills some of the aspects required of a tragic character, but is
immediately eliminated as the true main character because he fails to fall
into the other important categories. Because she does fulfill all of the
requirements, it is safe to assume that Antigone is the true tragic hero
in the play.