71 pages • 2 hours readSophocles
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Sophocles, one of the three great ancient Greek tragedians, premiered Antigone in Athens circa 441 BCE. The Classical Greek theater tradition to which this play belongs began in Athens in the sixth century B.C.E. with the performance of plays in dramatic competitions at yearly religious festivals. The forms of comedy and tragedy, first developed in plays such as Antigone, have lasting influence on theater today. This study guide uses the 2003 Oxford University Press edition of the text, translated by Reginald Gibbons and Charles Segal.
Antigone is one of a triad of plays by Sophocles known as the “Theban plays,” which deal with the fate of the city of Thebes during and immediately following the reign of Oedipus. The other two plays in this triad are Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus. Though the first written, Antigone is the third in the cycle. These stories, in telling the doomed saga of the house of Oedipus, work towards a common moral: No man, no matter how powerful, can outwit fate.
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Antigone tells the story of a daughter of Oedipus, the king of Thebes. Oedipus has recently died, and Antigone’s brothers, fighting for control of Thebes, have killed each other. Kreon, the current ruler of Thebes and Oedipus’ brother-in-law, has decreed that no one bury one of the brothers, Polyneikes, due to his offense of attacking the city. Antigone decides to do so despite Kreon’s decree, and when Kreon finds out, he sentences her to death. When the blind seer Teiresias tells Kreon that Antigone acted out the will of the gods, Kreon realizes the error of his sentence on Antigone. This realization comes too late, however, and the mistake of Kreon also causes the death of his son Haimon and his wife, Eurydice.
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In structure, Antigone is made up of scenes, formally referred to as “episodes,” interrupted by song and dance performed by the Chorus. These poetic interludes offer reflections on the play’s events and mythological context, and they also allowed the three actors that made up the troupe an opportunity to change costumes.