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Analysis

Antigone Writing Style

Poetic—Uptight, then Fancy-Free

The writing style of Antigone kind of depends upon whose translation you’re reading. Since the play is, you know, way old, there have been many translations of Sophocles’s original Greek through the years. Some of these have kept the play’s verse (poetic) form, some have translated it into prose (non-metrical sentences, instead of poetic lines), and some have even gone for a combination of both.

For now, we’re sticking with the Francis Storr version, which is why we can say this play definitely has its formal points when it comes to writing. Storr uses a lot of iambic pentameter in his lines, which will sound familiar to any of you who have ever read Shakespeare. The Bard himself also favored this poetic style, which features lines of five iambs (hence, iambic pentameter).

So, what’s an iamb? Good question! It’s a two-syllable combination with the stress on the second syllable, like the word “belong.” Say it to yourself. It sounds like “be-LONG.” So, a line of iambic pentameter would sound like daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, daDUM. Want an example? Check out these lines from Storr:

To me, Antigone, no word of friends
Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain
(I.i.10-11)

Listen to the rhythm of those lines in your mind’s ear (if you can picture where that might be). You might be thinking, “Why did Storr start a new sentence in the first line, then break it off after three words?” Well, iambic pentameter is your answer:

To me, Antigone, no word of friends
Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain

While it may not be a total match with everyday speech patterns, clearly Storr is using this poetic form, which has a kind of regular, formal rhythm to it. Like Shakespeare, the presence of this form often (though not always) indicates that a person of royal or noble character is speaking. Iambic pentameter is reflective of their proper, some might say uptight, demeanor.

But. And this is a big but: it ain’t all daDUM, daDUM. When the Chorus comes on the scene, we get lines like:

Against our land the proud invader came
To vindicate fell Polyneices' claim.
(I.i.107-108)

And suddenly, we're rhyming in heroic couplets. The effect is a bit jarring for the reader, but it’s an important technique in reminding us that the Chorus is separate from the other characters. Its job is to comment on the behavior that’s happening on-stage, and this shift to more sing-song-y style, is an effective indicator of that.

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