Sophocles’ Antigone is the third and final play in the Oedipus series, and the first of which I read. I believed – quite rightly with regard to my out-of-order trilogy reading this time – that each play could be treated as an individual entity, as the outstanding elements of the plot which were of relevance were covered before it began.
A quick overview of the plot here is of importance. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes. In defiance of Creon, who has taken over his rule, she decides to bury her brother, who was slain during the attack upon Thebes. Creon inevitably finds out about this and, not willing to listen to Antigone’s explanation, decides that she should be imprisoned within ‘a rock-hewn chamber’. Haemon, Creon’s son, to whom she is betrothed, pleads for her life, and succeeds. As is the norm in such plays, Antigone is quite unaware of this, and hangs herself. Haemon is then found by her side after his own suicide attempt.
As a character, Antigone is incredibly well developed. Her own musings about her impending death and what it will mean are the perfect balance of sensitivity and bravery: ‘Friends, countrymen, my last farewell I make; / My journey’s done. / One last fond, lingering, longing look I take / At the bright sun. / For Death who puts to sleep both young and old / Hales my young life, / And beckons me to Acheron’s dark fold, / An unwed wife’.
Antigone is rather a slim play, and accordingly has rather a select cast. As is, almost without exception, the case in Ancient Greek plays, the entity of the Chorus set the scenes and backgrounds. Here, they do so wonderfully. They seamlessly move the story along, and place the action of the play within a very well-constructed whole. The Chorus are an incredibly moral group; they are essentially overseers who add their own judgements and sense of right and wrong to proceedings. This, too, gives the whole a wider scope.
The translation which I read, by an oddly anonymous translator, was rather old-fashioned in terms of both rhythm and the vocabulary used, but I very much enjoyed the way in which the text had been interpreted. The rhyme scheme works perfectly, as does the urgency and intensity of some of the scenes: ‘Antigone, so young, so fair, / Thus hurried down / Death’s bower with the dead to share’. Emotions have been well considered throughout.
Antigone is not my favourite play, but it is a most interesting and enjoyable one nonetheless. In it, Sophocles provides us with a fascinating window upon the ancient world.