Discuss the perception of Creon as a noble leader and Tragic Hero rather than a merchant of tyranny and an abuser of power. Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is “Tragedy is a story taking the hero from happiness to misery because of a fatal flaw or mistake on his part. To be a true tragic hero, he must also elicit a strong emotional response of pity and fear from the audience.” (Aristotle). Creon fits perfectly into this description of a tragic hero. There have been many controversies regarding the true nature of Creon in the play “Antigone” by Anouilh. In this essay of mine, we shall perceive Creon as a nobleman rather than an arrogant tyrant. In my view, Creon was the protagonist. At the same time, Antigone was undoubtedly the antagonist, the cause of the whole tragedy, which caused her own downfall and the downfall of Haemon and Eurydice, courtesy of her obnoxious and immature behaviour.
To prove my point here, I shall start with the fact that Creon hadn’t desired power. He was a patron of art, a lover of music, an idealist. The Chorus had stated this in the Prologue. This throne had been forced upon him by the circumstances after the death of Eteocles. As a practical man, Creon distances himself away from the tragic aspirations of Oedipus and his line. His only aim is to maintain social order. Creon compared Thebes to a sinking ship whose crew was only interested in looting the ship for their petty concerns. Creon, in such dire circumstances, stepped in and guided the ship safely to the harbour. He looked upon his kingship as a bane rather than a boon. He described his work as that of a labourer, with no amusement or surprises whatsoever. Looking at his ideas and frame of mind, we can be almost sure that he is too sensitive to be a tyrant. In fact, this was stated by Antigone herself during the course of the play.
Let us now discuss the question of Polynices’ burial. It cannot be argued that Creon was proud. He was firm on his decisions and didn’t change them. Hyperbolically, he was as constant as the pole star. Although he had a fairly cynical view of priesthood and religious rituals (demonstrated in his description of the burial ceremony as “ecclesiastical rigmarole ” ), he had denied Polynices a burial just for political reasons. He had done this to crush any anarchic and revolutionary ideas in Thebes. Even morally, his actions were justified to some extent. Polynices was a drunkard and a gambler. He went to siding with an Argive army to kill his father Oedipus and capture the throne. Does such a person need to be dignified? Doesn’t he deserve to wander around the world in his chains of misdeeds? Creon was a proud and firm man. But does that make him a merchant of tyranny?
Many of the readers easily stereotype Creon as a tyrant just because he decides to execute Antigone. In fact, it had been Antigone’s wish to die. Antigone was born to die .It was her fate, her destiny, and she wanted to achieve it. It didn’t matter to her what she was dying for. In fact, she wasn’t aware herself what she was dying for. Polynices’ burial was just a pretext, an excuse. When it became invalid, she just found another excuse. She decided to die because she could not accept the basic truth of life that the fires of youthful idealism and passionate love do not burn forever. She wanted a life without any compromises and imperfections. Creon left no stone unturned to convince her to change her attitude but to no avail.
This extract provides hardcore evidence about Creon’s intentions. “Heaven knows I’ve got other demands, but I’m going to spend however long it takes to save you, little pest.” (Jean Anouilh, pg37) Antigone purposely kept on provoking him, which was insincere on her part. Creon had the desire to help his niece and hated making the decision. He was different from Sophocles’ Creon, a brute who suffered from a much greater obstinacy. However, he was patriarchal to some extent and could not bear to be openly insulted by women, that too his niece. He gave her several opportunities before condemning her to death. Creon’s flaw wasn’t his tyranny. It was his pride and his firm nature that caused this tragedy. Creon stood for the laws of the land and the state. He remained loyal in upholding these laws. Antigone, on the other hand, represented the laws of gods. When these laws clashed, the pride of both Antigone and Creon prevented them from backing their decisions.
The Chorus, being omniscient and omnipresent, already knew about the inevitable outcome. Here, I would like to appreciate some of the literary features in Anouilh’s Antigone. Anouilh uses many literary features like foreshadowing, symbolism and imagery during the play to emphasize its tragic nature. All these, along with the soliloquy, seem to deliver the message that a man’s actions are governed more by fate than the man himself. Foreshadowing: Antigone knew what was coming for her. This is evident from some of her dialogues in which she foreshadowed her death.
- Antigone: “Nothing, Nan, just that I’m a bit small for it all.”( Jean Anouilh, Pg 15)
- Antigone: “Perhaps it will keep me safe still” (Jean Anouilh, pg15).
Symbolism: The soliloquy by the chorus is full of symbolism. It emphasizes the inevitability of the outcome in tragedy. They describe tragedy as convenient. Only a small push is needed, which leads to cataclysmic consequences. Imagery: There are also some instances of the use of imagery. For example, the portrayal of Thebes as a ship letting water on all sides. Then, the splitting of the masts and the shredding of the sails by a powerful storm. Irony: Antigone risked her life for a brother who never cared about her. Anachronisms: Artifacts that appear out of place chronologically.
- At the opening curtain, the guards were playing a game of cards. The game of cards wasn’t developed until the 1700s.
- Polynices was described as a gambler whose only interests were “gambling” and “driving “recklessly. Unfortunately, these actions do not seem contemporary of that time.
On the whole, I would like to conclude by stating that the doomed outcome was merely a consequence of fate rather than a result of Creon’s tyranny. Tyranny, though said to be an important theme in the play, hardly affected its course. The message of “Antigone,” however, can be appreciated by all. Though this fine production conveys the ageless dilemmas of the human condition, it has powerful resonance and significance in this present day. Antigone showed courage in the face of death, and Creon, due to his flaws, lost his family, making him a true tragic hero. (1099 words)
- “Creon as the Tragic Hero in Antigone.” 123HelpMe.com. 27 Oct 2008 <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=127110>.
- “Essay on Sophocles’ Antigone – Antigone’s Fatal Flaw.” 123HelpMe.com. 27 Oct 2008 <http://www.123HelpMe.com/view.asp?id=13826>.
- Books Anouilh, Jean. Antigone. Trans. Barbara Bray. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 2005.