Hellenic Visions - Celebrating Life and Ideals Through the Greek Myth, Literature, and Drama

Presentation Description:

Jean Anouilh's "Antigone":
The 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!

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