Creon is the Tragic Hero in Sophocles' Antigone
Length: 1432 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)
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Antigone, which was written by Sophocles, is possibly the first written play that still exists today (www.imagi... 1). There is much controversy between who the 'tragic hero' is in the play. Some people say Antigone, some say Creon, others even say Heamon. I believe Creon displays all of the characteristics of a 'tragic hero'. He receives compassion through the audience, yet recognizes his weaknesses, and his downfalls from his own self-pride, stubbornness, and controlling demands. He is the true protagonist.
Though the audience notices how villainous Creon is, they still express sympathy towards him. They realize that he has brought all of his problems on himself and should have been more open-minded, but think no one should have to go through what he has. They understand how the warrior king Creon felt when he notices his son is love struck. The audience also expresses pity towards him because Antigone is a murderer and understands why he is upset.
Creon's noble quality is his caring for Antigone and Ismene when their father was persecuted. Creon is a very authoritative person and demands control of others. When talking to the Chorus, Creon does not ask them to agree with the decree but demands that they follow it. Creon expects loyalty from others. It is apparent that Creon is very dominating and wants to be in control. "The man the city sets up in authority must be obeyed in small things and in just but also in their opposites"(717-719). Through this quote the reader realizes that Creon wants obedience in everything he decides even if he is at fault. "There is nothing worse than disobedience to authority" (723-724). Further supporting Creon's belief that everyone shall remain faithful to him even if he rules unfairly. This is proved true when Creon says, "Should the city tell me how I am to rule them?" (790).
Creon has forgotten that the ruler is supposed to do what is best for the city and its citizens. Creon is under the impression that he is always correct in his judgments and his beliefs. Before the sentry even explains the event that has occurred, the sentry states that he is only a messenger and has not committed the crime. Yet Creon still accuses the sentry of receiving money to do the crime and threatens to punish him.
"That will teach you in the days to come from what you may draw profit [...], ill-gotten gains ruin more than they save" (342-346). Consequently, the Chorus suggests that the Gods may have committed the act. Creon stops this "nonsense" conversation immediately and remarks that Zeus and the Gods would not honor criminals.
Creon seems to believe he knows everything and stubbornly refuses to listen to others. He does not even believe Haemon, his son. Haemon informs his father of the reputation he has created for himself. Creon thinks, "It seems this boy (Haemon) is on the woman's side (Antigone)" (798). Creon refuses to believe what Haemon says and gets into an argument with him for siding with Antigone. Creon presumes that he is the one and only perfect ruler for Thebes. He believes that he can create a better city with his presence: "I would not be silent if I saw ruin [...]. I would not count any enemy of my country as a friend [...],"(202-206). Creon further continues by stating "I will make her greater still" (210). In this quote Creon declares that he will improve the city (she) by his rulings.
Creon describes how his qualities make him a good ruler. Furthermore, Creon views himself as a good leader because he believes he has the best attributes and no one can compare to him. He feels he has no time for ordinary people because he is of higher standards. When Creon says "I will not comfort you with hope that the sentence will not be accomplished" (982-983), this shows his absolute lack of compassion when he is talking with Antigone.
King Creon noticed that he had a weakness in which he tries to correct but is too late. His weakness is impulsive with his decision-making. He never really sits down and thinks about things; instead he just says what comes to mind. Creon says "you will never marry her while she lives"(807), right after his first discussion about Antigone. Creon summarizes his plans for Antigone, which comes to his mind after talking with Haemon (833-841). These two decisions decided the lives of two young people, but the impulsive Creon never thought about that. Creon's stubbornness brings about his own downfall when he chooses not to believe Teiresias, the blind prophet. Instead, Creon falsely accuses Teiresias of making "profit from silver-gold" (1088). Insulted by the false remark of trying to make money, Teiresias tells Creon of his dangerous future ahead of him. Creon tries to correct his impulsiveness with,
"I will go, just as I am. Come, servants, all of you; take axes in your hands; away with you to place you see, there. For my part, since my intention is so changed, as I bound her myself, myself will free her"(1175-1180).
These lines show how he changed his impulsive decision, but unfortunately was too late. He is forced to live, knowing that three people are dead because of his ignorance. Self-pride is the tragic flaw that Creon faces in this story. Creon is stubborn and does not want to compromise. Due to his overwhelming power of pride, he makes destruction fall upon him. His downfall comes from attempting to be just and right by enforcing the law. Since he acted the way he thought was right, he ultimately suffered a tragedy. Creon displays the image of a 'tragic hero' on account of the errors he has made. According to Aristotle, quoted in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, Creon fits the image of a 'tragic hero' "A man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by purpose, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous" (Hochman v4 1274). Creon's tragic flaw causes the deaths of both his wife and son. This is because he shows so much ignorance in every decision he makes. Even if his decisions are wrong he will not correct them, because he is the king, and the king is never wrong.
By Creon's self-pride deciding to never let his son marry Antigone, ends up killing his son also. In closing Creon is not entirely good, he does make mistakes, however the mistakes he made are simply and error of judgment, and completely understandable. His greatest error was that he truly believed that Polynices was a traitor, which consequently forced him to issue a decree, forbidding Polynices a proper burial. Polynices "sought to taste the blood he shared with us, and lead the rest of us to slavery; [...] shall no one honor with a grave and none shall mourn"(220-224). Creon loses all that he lives for "I do not know where to turn my eyes to look to, for support. Everything in my hands is crossed. A most unwelcome fate has leaped upon me" (1405-1408). After the death of his wife he acknowledges his great mistakes in being prideful and realizes how his pride has caused suffering. "Lead me away, a vain silly man who killed you, son, and you, too, lady"(1402-1403). He blunders and pays drastically for his frailty, but in the end he realizes what he has done wrong accepting the guilt and responsibilities for his actions. As the editor in chief Stanley Hochman stated in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama "a 'tragic hero' learns, although too late, from their experiences, as when Creon cries in the end of the play: Yes, I have learned it to my bitterness. At this moment God has sprung on my head with a vast weight and struck me down. He shook me in my savage ways; he has overturned my joy, has trampled it, underfoot. The pains men suffer are pains indeed" (1337-1342).
To be a good leader you must have the rock solid principals to fall back on in times of stress. Creon lost grasp of these, and that contributed to his failure as a leader. By tragically losing all, one is forced to feel sympathy toward him, by doing what he always thought was right, and what he thought would further protect his kingdom, he is regarded as a hero. These elements combine his stubbornness, controlling demands, and self-pride made Creon a true ancient Greek 'tragic hero'.