Explore the ways in which pride is used as a theme in Antigone. Consider the dramatic techniques used by Sophocles and show how his choices of language, structure and style shape the meaning.

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Pride is used as a theme in Antigone throughout the play, and in many ways it is the central theme. Despite the fact that the eponymous character Antigone can be viewed as the tragic heroine, it makes far more sense that the tragic hero be Creon, the king, who has a fatal flaw of hubris. Hubris in classical Athenian tragedy often incorporates violent characteristics and the desire to humiliate others to assert authority, and this description is apt for Creon. However, hubris is not the only form of pride that is evident in the play. There are also associations between pride and honour, and its antithesis of shame, as well as folly. Yet pride can also be linked to duty and love, and pride in oneself as opposed to pride in others. Pride is such a strong and deep emotion that it is prevalent in Ancient Greek theatre and tragedy in particular, and Sophocles is able to present a clear socio-political message in his play by using it as a theme, and presenting it in different ways through the characters of Creon, Antigone, Haemon and Ismene, as well as the Chorus who represent the community.

            Pride in one’s own honour is very prominent in the play, in Antigone and Haemon in particular. Antigone shows this early on in the play, where in her pride she refuses to obey the laws of the state, and rails against them to bury her dead brother, Polyneices. She even admits that her actions are perhaps “folly”, but she believes them to be right and that they will “please // The dead”.  The use of the word “folly” is important as it recurs several times in the play. Also, her desire to “please // The dead” emphasises the religious and spiritual aspect of Greek theatre. Just how the Gods will punish Creon for his hubris, they will be pleased by Antigone who respects those who have died. This is where she differs from Creon who does not realise the potentially negative aspects of his actions, and sees himself in such divine right until the end where he admits his “folly”. Antigone also exhibits pride in her honour from her chosen method of death, as she commits suicide which was seen as noble. Not only this, but she robs Creon of the victory over her, as he at first wanted to stone her to death, then wanted her to starve and she took both of these from him by taking her own life. Her death is tragic, but also cathartic for the audience as there is pathos. Similarly this can be seen with Haemon, who “leaned upon the blade” of “his own” sword. This is significant as falling on one’s sword was an extremely noble death, and it was Haemon’s pride in his honour that, like Antigone, he would rather defy his father and live in the underworld with Antigone, which is what the Greeks believed would happen. The similarities between their two deaths unite them, just as they had planned to be united in marriage, so structurally this is Sophocles again generating pathos and a sense of resolution for these two characters. Therefore it can be seen how pride in one’s own honour is presented by Sophocles through language, character and structure.

Pride as hubris is the most prominent aspect of pride in the play, as it is the tragic flaw that encompasses Creon and inevitably leads to his downfall at the end of the play. The structure of the play begins with Creon as king and exerting his authority by decreeing that “none // Shall give [Polyneices] funeral honours or lament him”. This introduces the idea of hubris. He is drunk with the power of his kingship to the extent that he is willing to condemn Polyneices’ soul to wander rather than be buried so that he can go to the Underworld. Creon creates this law because he thinks he has a divine “right” to do so on “the throne” with “royal power”, and this makes him punishable by the Gods as no law created by him can equal divine right. Creon craves power, and ironically states that “love of gain // Has often lured a man to his destruction”, and this foreshadows the end of the play. Seeing Creon abuse his authority this early on in the play makes it all the more cathartic when he loses everything at the end, as he brings about the deaths of Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice, but he also loses his hubris. Also at the beginning the Chorus tell Creon “none are so foolish as to long for death”, and by the end he “prayed for death”. Hence Sophocles’ structure of the play and his use of foreshadowing and irony at the opening to maximise the catharsis at the end shapes the meaning of the play to show how pride can be a fatal flaw and how the Gods can punish you for it. This is especially crucial since the Greeks were highly religious and the role of fate in their lives was important to them.


            There is also evidence of the pride of the people and this is presented through the Chorus in the Strophes and Antistrophes within the play. The people believe that Creon deserves to suffer for his folly to the extent that by the end of the play when he has nothing left and “prayed for death”, they tell him that “Proud words of the arrogant man, in the end // Meet punishment, great as his pride was great”. These are lines from the final speech of the play, and there is repetition in the speech of “wisdom” and “great” as well as references to the Gods and to “pride”. These are clearly the elements of the play that Sophocles wanted the audience to take with them, as they will be most prominent in the minds of the audience as they close the play. They Chorus, before the closing speech, tell classical tales of Danae, Bacchus and Zeus which all point to the conclusion that pride will result in punishment by the Gods. Structurally, Sophocles is foreshadowing the end of the play whilst reinforcing the socio-political message behind it, which is that pride, especially as hubris, is a negative deadly sin and will not go unnoticed by the Gods or by the people, which is the message put forward in the closing speech. The people are so proud in their decree that the Gods will be done, that they deny Creon his one release. He has lost his son, his wife and his people’s respect and admitted his wrongs, and yet they wish to torment him further until he dies after being “schooled in wisdom”. The people are governed by their dedication to the Gods, and they think in turn that this gives them a right over Creon. Saying this, the audience does still experience catharsis with this ending, and are glad that Creon will receive his comeuppance, but they are able now to feel pity for him within the irony that he shall be taught and “schooled” in wisdom now after he has lost everything and not when he could prevent it. Therefore it can be seen how Sophocles uses the pride of the Chorus and hence the pride of the Gods to emphasise the socio-political message of the play within the Strophes, Antistrophes and epilogue to the play.

            In conclusion, pride is used as a theme in many different ways, but the most important are its exposure as hubris, particularly in Creon; as honour and nobility for Antigone and Haemon; and as divine right as in the case of the Gods and the Chorus who represent the community and enact the beliefs of the Gods. Structurally and linguistically, Sophocles uses foreshadowing, irony and repetition in order to present a strong and powerful socio-political message which he aimed to transmit to the audience at a theatre competition. The play centres around the idea of fate and the role of the Gods in our lives, as Antigone’s noble acts were done in the hope of pleasing the dead and hence not violating divine law, and Creon’s ignoble acts were punishable by the dead for violation of divine law, and the people act as the Gods on Earth.      

Emma H. IB Chemistry tutor, GCSE Chemistry tutor, IB Physics tutor, G...

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