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Essay on Creon in Sophocles' and Anouilh's Antigone

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Creon in Sophocles' and Anouilh's "Antigone"

In both plays, Creon sees himself as a passive agent rather than a villain, only acting out a predetermined set of instructions based upon certain laws and edicts. Creon tries to give the impression that he is not really in control; if it were up to him, as an individual, things would be different. Sophocles' Creon tries to wash his hands of Antigone's death by leaving her in a sealed cave. The gods will determine her fate, so he thinks. Anouilh's Creon goes so far as to admit the "childish stupidity" of his own decree. He even confides in Antigone that he is not certain which brother's body was buried. He insists, though, that once knowledge of her act is public, the matter is entirely beyond his control. There is a point of no return past which he is powerless to act. In becoming king, an instrument of the State, Creon can no longer assert his will as an individual, morally or otherwise. Where the original Creon tried to leave matters with the gods, Anouilh's Creon points toward the State and its will independent of his own.

Antigone's fate unfolds in both plays and Creon does not interecede. Although ironically they share a sense of powerlessness, an important distinction can be made at this point. Sophocles' Creon learns from Antigone's death. Her sacrifice acquires meaning. Anouilh's Creon is too busy with matters of state to assess Antigone's death on a personal level. Her sacrifice is inconsequential, another shot fired into the mob. The reaction of each king to Antigone's death and the carnage that ensues shapes the conclusion of each play literally and thematically.

Creon in the original play repents belatedly after learnin...

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... seems to suggest that morality must or will be compromised. For Sophocles, morality helps to reinforce order, but on a cosmic, and in many ways absurd, level. Creon is forced to submit to the laws of jealous, fickle, inconstant gods. Antigone is the only advocate for the god's place in judgement over mankind and her reward is an untimely death. This "order" is beyond human comprehension. Both plays leave a reader or audience morally unsettled. We find Creon morally culpable but are left uneasy by the order established at the conclusion. Perhaps this unsettling effect was at least part of the playwrights' ultimate goal.

Works Cited

Anouilh, Jean. Antigone. Rpt. in Masters of Modern Drama. Ed. Haskell M. Block and Robert G. Shedd, New York: Random House, 1962.

Sophocles. Antigone. Rpt. in Ten Greek Plays. Ed. L.R. Lind, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.
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