Study Guide

Antigone Analysis

  • Context

    Sophocles gets the award for most famous version of Antigone's tale. His tragedy, Antigone, has stood the test of time in a major way and is still performed all over the world. Though it's the last chronologically, the play was the first written by Sophocles of the Theban plays, which include Oedipus at Colonus (costarring Antigone) and Oedipus the King. Sophocles' main rival, Euripides, also wrote a play called Antigone, but unfortunately only a few fragments remain.

    The version of the play by Sophocles has also been adapted like a ba-jillion times by all kinds of different playwrights. One particularly awesome version is by French playwright, Jean Anouilh, who many say crafted it to protest the Nazi occupation of France. Antigone's story has also been used to protest apartheid in South Africa. In The Island by John Kani, Winston Nitshona, and Athol Fugard, two black prisoners in the notorious Robben Island prison perform Antigone as an act of protest.

    Many other famous playwrights have taken a swipe at it as well, including Bertolt Brecht, Seamus Heaney, and Mac Wellman. All these adaptations and continual performances of Sophocles' classic tell us that the story of Antigone is one that will never die. Why is it, do you think? Maybe it's easy to root for a heroine who sticks to her guns despite overwhelming forces against her. Maybe we just like rooting for an underdog.

  • Setting

    Thebes

    One of these days somebody ought to write a story about something nice that went down in Thebes. There had to be something happy that happened, right? As it is, we've got story after story of bad things that happened here. The suffering of Oedipus and his kids is only the tip of the iceberg. If you want to dig deeper into this doomed city's tumultuous past check our Euripides' The Bacchae. All in all, this ancient city is synonymous with doom and gloom.

  • The Hero's Journey

    The Hero's Journey is a framework that scholar Joseph Campbell came up with that many myths and stories follow. Many storytellers and story-readers find it a useful way to look at tale. (That's actually putting it lightly. Some people are straight-up obsessed.) Chris Vogler adapted Campbell's 17 stages of a hero's journey, which many screenwriters use while making movies. Vogler condensed Campbell's 17 stages down to 12, which is what we're using. Check out a general explanation of the 12 stages.

    The story of Antigone doesn't fit perfectly into the Hero's Journey structure, but we're giving it a shot. As the gross old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    Ordinary World

    Antigone lives a nice life as the princess of Thebes.

    Call To Adventure

    Things get crazy when it's revealed that her dad, King Oedipus, unknowingly killed his own dad and married his (and Antigone's) mother Jocasta, making him Antigone's brother as well as father. When Oedipus blinds himself and heads off into exile, Antingone is the only one to go with him.

    Refusal Of The Call

    There's no refusal here. Antigone doesn't hesitate to go with her father/brother.

    Meeting The Mentor

    Oedipus is probably the closest thing that Antigone has to a mentor, but it's not clear if he actually teaches her anything. He's definitely the person that influences Antigone to go across the threshold though.

    Crossing The Threshold

    Together, Oedipus and Antigone head out into the wilderness.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    At Colonus, Antigone's uncle Creon proves to be an enemy when he tries to kidnap her. Theseus, King of Athens, proves to be a friend, though, when he grants Oedipus asylum and a peaceful place to die.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    Antigone learns that her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, are fighting over the throne of Thebes, so she heads home to try and stop them.

    Ordeal

    After Eteocles and Polyneices kill each other in combat, Creon decrees that Polyneices' body won't receive a proper burial. Antigone defies her uncle and buries him anyway.

    Reward

    Instead of being rewarded, Antigone is punished by Creon, who sentences her to death by being buried alive in a tomb.

    The Road Back

    This kind of already happened when Antigone came back to Thebes.

    Resurrection

    There's no resurrection for Antigone. She hangs herself instead of slowly suffocating inside the tomb.

    Return With The Elixir

    Sorry, no elixir here... except maybe the integrity that Antigone takes with her into the Underworld.

  • Saint Joan

    Well, you can't exactly call Joan of Arc a mythological character, as she's widely considered to be a real live historical person. However, the stories around her have grown so much over the years that she's definitely taken on a legendary status and even been declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

    Joan reminds us of Antigone in a lot of ways. The big one being that she was a woman who was way ahead of her time. Joan made a name for herself during the Hundred Years War, when she single-handedly rallied the dispirited French army into some major victories against the invading English and managed to finally put the throne of France back in French control. Like Antigone, Joan faced a lot of opposition from the men around her, even the ones she was trying to help. It totally blew these dudes' minds that a young girl would be able to succeed where so many men had failed before her.

    Antigone and Joan are also similar in that they followed a higher moral code of their own. Joan believed that she heard voices that came directly from God. It was these voices that inspired her to do all the heroic things she did despite all the opposition from the men around her. Antigone too shows a loyalty to the divine, when she argues that not burying Polyneices is an insult to the gods and uses it as one of her justifications for violating Creon's decree.

    Unfortunately, these two tough ladies are also similar in that they died for their beliefs. Joan was eventually captured and sold to her English enemies. She was tried for heresy; her accusers said that she was a witch and that the voices she heard were from Satan instead of God. Though Joan did waver momentarily, in the end she stuck to her guns and refused to recant her story. In the end, Joan was burned at the stake as punishment, going to her death like Antigone for the higher cause she believed in so fiercely.

    Click here to read all about Shaw's great play Saint Joan.

  • Burial

    One of the major motifs that runs through Antigone's story is burial. (Yeah, she's kind of a morbid girl. But we dig her anyway. Ha!) First, we see her supporting Oedipus, while everybody's fighting over where he'll be buried after he dies. Later, she defies Creon by insisting on burying her brother, Polyneices. Then as a punishment, Creon has her buried alive. Wow, you kind of can't blame Antigone for being a morbid. For Antigone, death has always lurked just below her feet.

    For more details on how this motif pops up in Sophocles' Antigone click here.