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This Summer 2003 - Join a Community-wide Reading of Sophocles' Antigone



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Some Suggested Antigone Study Questions

1. Some 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?

3. Feminist scholars like Judith Butler have commented on the complex significance of gender roles in this play.
She writes:

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 them?

4. Though 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, who writes:

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 be questioned.

Does Antigone's unswerving confidence in the path she has chosen constitute wisdom or arrogance?

5. The 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?

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