Sophocles’ Antigone, written circa 441BC, deals with the protagonist Antigone’s fight to give her brother, Polyneices, the proper burial that had been denied him by the king, Creon. It is considered among the great Greek tragedies of the time, and is still translated in modern times. When Greece was succeeded by Rome as the great city of the West, the Romans were more concerned with power and commerce rather than culture, therefore Greek drama was pushed aside by the majority, except a small number of Roman playwrights (Bowra, 1970, p.
154), such as Seneca.However, around 16 centuries after the birth of Christ, a collection of the plays were put into print, heralding the return of Greek drama, which is now present in countless different ways in our culture. As Knox explains in his preface to the plays, Sophocles was known to be one of nine generals campaigning against the revolt of Samos at the time the play is assumed to have been written (Sophocles, 1984, p. 35). His knowledge of politics is clearly reflected in his writing, and Antigone is no exception, as it is greatly concerned with the political issues of the polis (state).Political problems will always have great relevance in society, and Antigone has been used by many practitioners in the twentieth century ‘to articulate new visions of how the individual relates to the state’ (Wiles, 2000, p. 63). Jean Anouilh’s translation is a clear example of how the political messages in the play are highly transferrable into twentieth century situations.
Anouilh’s Antigone was produced in 1944 in Paris, when the country was in the grip of the Second World War, and occupied by the German army.Nazi regime was highly oppressive, with Hitler taking an extreme dictatorial position and in Sophocles’ Antigone, Creon is also presented in this way when being described by Antigone herself, as a supreme ruler: ‘Whoever disobeys in the least will die, his doom is sealed: stoning to death inside the city walls! ‘ (Sophocles, 1984, p. 60) In Knox’s preface (Sophocles, 1984, p. 36), he states that in Anouilh’s version, Antigone is identified with the French Resistance, made clear from the threats of torture which are characteristic of Gestapo.Although she commits suicide, Antigone could be considered a heroine who resists the oppressive, dictatorial ruler. In Sophocles’ version, the ‘autocratic materialism and narrow rationalism implied in Creon’s outlook’ (Segal, 1966, p. 83) is rejected, leaving him without wife and son at the end of the play, due to his dictatorial and stubborn attitude. This message in the play would have been appeasing to the French at the time, as they were being put in an oppressed position by a dictatorial society.
The play was accepted by the German authorities due to its sympathetic treatment of Creon himself – as a man trying to maintain control when faced with resistance. This meant both Antigone and Creon could be met with empathy from French and German audiences respectively. Sophocles’ original was set in the aftermath of war, and Bertolt Brecht adapted the play (from Friedrich Hi?? lderlin’s translation) after the resolution of WW2, when the country was still feeling its effects.
Brecht’s plays were notorious for conveying political messages, he was a follower of Marxism and placed great importance on his theatre not only displaying a consciousness of the world around us, but making changes within it. It was the first Greek tragedy he had adapted, and it was the theme of resistance to tyranny that had attracted him (Ewen, 1967, p. 427), as it resonated with his own political ideas.
Brecht also believed that an audience should be made to think about what is being shown on the stage, rather than sympathise or empathise with the characters.Although Antigone is a victim of oppression and meets a tragic end, there is also a perspective of Creon’s impossible position. This gave Brecht the opportunity to make sure the audience did not sympathise with the heroine, but instead consider the situation both characters are in, an analogy for real life situations of tyranny and oppression. He also ‘used the choral form of Greek tragedy as a device for creating critical distance’ (Wiles, 2000) to further emphasise the audience’s external position.
Antigone as a play also presents two different representations of women, and the character contrasts between Antigone and her sister Ismene are evident. As described by Webster (1969, p. 88), the play is built on character contrasts, for example Antigone standing for idealism vs. Ismene’s realist attitude. In the opening scene, Ismene is shown to be against Antigone’s plan to bury Polyneices herself.
She speaks of how, as women, they are not in a position to rebel against the state: ‘We must be sensible. Remember, we are women, we’re not born to contend with men.Then too,we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands [.
.. ] I have no choice, I must obey’ (Sophocles, 1984, p. 62) Throughout history, women have traditionally been generally in this position of not having power against their male superiors, however, in Antigone as with other characters in Greek drama, the protagonist is a woman unafraid to step out against the norms of society to fight for her beliefs. However, where Ismene considers being female a weakness that would hold them back, Antigone sees it as her strength.
She sees her womanhood as meaning duty to her family is above her duty to the state.