ancient Greek story, the modern French play,
and their relevance to our lives
Antigone, the daughter of the Theban king Oedipus by his mother
Jocasta, is one of the most prominent and memorable heroines of
Greek Myth. The fateful story of her family is mostly known by the
tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and above all Sophocles, whose
play Antigone immortalized her character. For ever since the fifth
century BC., Antigone has been the inspiration behind countless
pieces of art, which include: music by Mendelssohn, some thirty
operas, movies, poetry, painting and drama...
In Sophocles' play, Antigone, defies the Law of the State, in order
to remain loyal to what she believes to be true, to the Unwritten
Law of the tradition, to the love for her dead brother, to the divine
voice within. She defies the king, who has banned the burial of
Polynices, she defies her youth, she defies her love for Creon's
son Haemon, she defies the weak voice of her sister Ismene, she
defies death itself, and she does bury her brother in spite of everything.
But along-side Antigone lies Creon; the king who must set the rules
for the entire state, who must create order for all, who must carry
on his shoulders the responsibility for the peace, the happiness
and the prosperity of the entire community he has been chosen to
lead. What kind of choices does he have? What is the right thing
for him to adhere to? How idealistic and how committed to his family
can he be? How much can he challenge the popular opinion? What constitutes
courageous behavior for him?
In these crucial dilemmas, Jean Anouilh, the French playwright
of the twentieth century, found the perfect vehicle through which
to express himself in the occupied France of 1944 by writing his
own Antigone. In his play, the Greek mythical plot is not changed,
but the characters have something contemporary about them. As Ned
Chaillet wrote," the speech is colloquial, but the implications
remain classical…, Antigone …also offers ideas, many of which are
shrouded in the ambiguity which permitted both sides in occupied
France to take comfort and offence from the drama." This is
the magic of great drama: it doesn't offer us big solutions, but
it provides us with great questions that we would be fools to ignore.
In this seminar, we will look closely at the changes Anouilh has
made to the Sophoclean drama, and we will seek to understand what
was the message he tried to give to his contemporaries and to us!