Significance of the Women in Antigone
Michael J. O’Brien in the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex, maintains that there is “a good deal of evidence to support this view” that the fifth century playwright was the “educator of his people” and a “teacher” (4). Sophocles in his tragedy Antigone teaches about “morally desirable attitudes and behavior,” (4) and uses a woman as heroine and another woman in a supporting role to do most of the instructing of the audience in this regard. This essay will explore the role of women in the drama, the attitude toward women therein, the involvement of women in plot development, and other aspects of women in Antigone.
In the essay, “Sophocles’ Invention of the Third Actor Widened the Scope of Drama,” H.D.F. Kitto describes the new type of atmosphere which the Prologue brings to Antigone because of the two women characters who open the drama: “. . . so here the private, personal and feminine atmosphere contrasts sharply with the full light of publicity in which the action is played out. It is an admirable preparation for the jubilant hymn of triumph that follows it” (66).The women in Sophocles’ Antigone give more than an atmosphere to the drama; they influence it in many more significant ways.
Robert D. Murray Jr. in “Sophocles Moral Themes” says that “to the contemporaries of Sophocles, a poet was expected to express a view of life, even a “message.” Had he not done so, he would have failed his audiences. Had they thought he had not done so, he would not have won prizes in the Theatre of Dionysius” (43). In Antigone the reader finds a heroine, rather than a hero, expressing the message of the tragedy – through her stubborn adherence to the laws of the gods, and through her death.
In Sophocles: The Theban Plays E. F. Watling comments on Sophocles’ heroine in Antigone and how it comes about that she defies Creon’s decree against burial of Polynices: “A woman, for whom political expediency takes second place, by a long way, to compassion and piety, has defied the order and is condemned to death” (13). Thus it is seen that Antigone has been given an exalted status in the drama by Sophocles, superior to King Creon who is motivated merely by “political expediency.” The audience is fully aware that the gods are on the side of Antigone even as the play begins due to the tradition of dramatic irony in Sophocles’ plays: Thomas Woodard in the Introduction to Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays states: “Tradition pays homage to “Sophoclean irony” (a rival of “Socratic irony”), which implies a twofold dramatic situation, known to be twofold by the audience in spite of the fatal delusion of a character. . . . “(7). Creon is deluded, but the audience knows the full story of Antigone’s proper attitude of piety and humility in her relationship with the gods. Consequently, in the estimation of the audience, Antigone is on a pedestal from the...