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There is still a great debate on who is, in fact, the tragic hero in Sophocles’ Antigone. Many hold that it must be Antigone, herself; after all, the play does bear her name. But in actuality, Creon, not Antigone, is the tragic hero.
In order to determine whether or not Creon is the tragic hero, one will first have to answer the question, “What is a tragic hero?” Aristotle, when discussing the nature of such a hero in his theory of drama, states that such a hero is neither purely innocent nor purely evil. This person is usually born high in the ranks of society and must also possess a tragic flaw, which originates from within and usually manifests itself through poor judgment and/or extreme arrogance. The tragic flaw also dooms the character to a ruinous end.
Creon, as king of Thebes, is at the top of the social ladder. He thus already meets one of Aristotle’s chief criteria. Yet, not only is he king, he is also human and possesses frailties which qualify him to make serious mistakes and he possesses talents which allow him also to excel. Hence, Creon is neither overly good nor bad.
It is also written that the tragic hero’s actions may determine the fates of one or more characters within the tragedy. Appropriately, Creon’s station as king place shim in a position of great power, influence and responsibility. The extent of this power was quite evident when he sentenced Antigone to death for disobeying his proclamation.
Now we come to what, if anything, is the single most important component of being a tragic hero. Here we have the tragic flaw. Creon’s tragic flaw was his hubris or his pride and arrogance in the face of divine powers. His downfall began when he denied the basic divine right of burial to Polyneices and was cemented when he condemned Antigone for her opposition to his law. When one closely examines Antigone’s reasons for burying her brother, it becomes clear that she was simply demonstrating her love, honor, and loyalty to her family.
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Thus if one must follow Aristotelian theory, the true tragic hero can only be Creon and not, as many continue to hold, Antigone.