Cornell New Student Reading Project
Cornell Study Questions
Thoughts Related to Antigone
Suggested Antigone Study Questions
of the crucial thematic conflicts of Antigone have been described as individual
conscience versus loyalty to community; the demands of family and kinship
versus obligations to the state; moral or divine law versus temporal and
human law." How are these conflicts represented in the play?
2. In his
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail,"
Martin Luther King, Jr. writes "One may well ask, 'How can you advocate
breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer is found in the fact
that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust
laws." Is this what Antigone is arguing? How might her perspective be
similar or different?
scholars like Judith Butler have commented on the complex significance
of gender roles in this play.
Interestingly enough, both
Antigone's act of burial and her verbal defiance become the occasions
on which she is called "manly" by the chorus, Creon, and the messengers.
Indeed, Creon, scandalized by her defiance, resolves that while he lives
"no woman shall rule," suggesting that if she rules, he will die. And
at one point he angrily speaks to Haemon who has sided with Antigone
and countered him: "Contemptible character, inferior to a woman!" Earlier,
he speaks his fear of becoming fully unmanned by her: if the powers
that have done this deed go unpunished, "Now I am no man, but she the
man." Antigone thus appears to assume the form of a certain masculine
sovereignty, a manhood that cannot be shared, which requires that its
other be both feminine and inferior.
How do the representations
of gender in the characters of Creon, Antigone, and Ismene construct and
influence the characters' attitudes toward each other and ours toward
many critics find it hard to find blame in Antigone, some see in her a
tragic flaw--her intransigence. In this latter camp is Patricia Lines,
Creon may have something
to offer after all. He believes justice requires him to give priority
to the order of the polis, overruling individual judgments based on
conscience.... Yet, he is ready to discuss the issue, to listen, to
question, to entertain self-doubt. Although he believes that in a time
of emergency the order of the polis may require harsh punishment for
those who create disturbance, he is willing to reconsider. He listens
to the chorus, to Teiresias, to others; and, although he seems adamant
at times, he changes his mind. With his own hands he will unearth Antigone
and bury the body of Polyneices. Antigone, on the other hand, has found
a higher justice.... But she will not discuss her judgment; she remains
unyielding. She never doubts the wisdom of her course. She isolates
herself. She acts under the illusion that only she is able to grasp
the meaning of higher justice. She can only conclude that she does not
belong in this world, which so misunderstands the nature of right action....
Antigone's belief that she and only she understood justice and how it
must apply in the particular situation before her left her with no choice
but martyrdom. Antigone's flaw-the flaw of self-certainty-is the chief
obstacle to this kind of deliberationů Politics in our time suffers
from the same flaw. True believers, religious or secular, seek to replace
deliberative politics with eternal principles. Such persons admit of
just one right answer. Premises are beyond questioning. Defining political
questions as exclusively governed by immutable principles of right eliminates
all need for further, often troublesome debate. Only the process of
arriving at conclusions-whether the right principle was applied-can
Does Antigone's unswerving
confidence in the path she has chosen constitute wisdom or arrogance?
chorus is a striking feature of Greek tragedy often representing the opinions
of the common bystander to the events unfolding. How would you describe
the particular role or effect of the chorus in Antigone? Who or what does
the chorus represent to you?