Theories on Tragedy in Antigone
Many dramatic theorists have documented their opinions of Sophocles' tragic play
Antigone. They have presented their interpretations as to the motives and moral
character of Antigone and Creon. I will attempt to encapsulate the basic logic behind the
arguments of the critics Brian Vickers, A.C. Bradley (who interprets Hegel), and H. D. F.
Kitto, and venture my own humble opinion as to their validity.
Brian Vickers clearly favors the character of Antigone. He challenges Hegel and
Hegel's view that both Creon and Antigone were essentially right in their beliefs. Vickers
sums up Hegel's theories in a single diagram (Vickers 526), showing Creon and Antigone
as forces in antithetical opposition. I believe that Hegel's theories of tragedy, as explained
by A.C. Bradley, encompass much more than a simple diagram. Hegel thought that Creon
and Antigone represented these forces, but not necessarily that they were diametrically
opposed. Hegel thought that the tragedy of Antigone was that the beliefs of Antigone and
Creon forced them into opposition, because their beliefs were valid and just, though they
did not go about practicing their beliefs in a valid and just manner.
Vickers presents the notion that Sophocles himself favored the character of
Antigone, since Sophocles never criticized her. With this I must disagree; there were
many aspects of Antigone's character that Sophocles would not have included had he
viewed her as above reproach. For instance, she is dreadfully overbearing and righteous.
While Sophocles clearly showed he could paint the picture of a sympathetic character if
he so chose in Oedipus the King, I believe that he deliberately made Antigone, frankly, a
much more bitchy character than Oedipus.
Oedipus displays sympathy and is emotive in ways that Antigone simply isn't, and
that makes Oedipus the King much more tragic than Antigone. Here, Oedipus
demonstrates his compassionate nature when he tells the plague-stricken citizens of
Thebes how he feels for their distress (Sophocles 48):
Poor children! You may be sure I know
All that you longed for in your coming here.
I know that you are deathly sick; and yet,
Sick as you are, not one is as sick as I.
Each of you suffers in himself alone
His anguish, not another's; but my spirit
Groans for the city, for myself, for you.
Oedipus will not be deterred in his search for the truth, no matter who tries to
persuade him to abandon the quest (Sophocles 64):
Oedipus: Do you know anything about him, Lady? Is he the man
we summoned? Is that the man this shepherd means?
Jocasta: Why think of him? Forget this herdsman. Forget it
all. This talk is a waste of time.
Oedipus: How can you...