‘The real tragic hero in Sophocles’ Antigone is Creon, not Antigone herself.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

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‘The real tragic hero in Sophocles’ Antigone is Creon, not Antigone herself.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

- Consider the words and actions of Creon and Antigone in Sophocles’ Antigone

- Include an analysis of the reasons for their suffering

- Use evidence from Sophocles’ Antigone

This essay question is taken from the OCR Classical Civilisation A-Level paper ‘Greek Tragedy in its context’ 2015.

The paper allocates 45 minutes to answer this question, however it is important to remember to take time to plan thoroughly. I would suggest spending 10-15 minutes considering the question and planning your answer before you begin to write. Taking time to plan is never time wasted, since it will allow you to write more quickly and efficiently, as well as creating a strong structure for your answer. It is also important that you take some time before the end of the exam to read over your answer.

Read the question and highlight the key words that have been used such as ‘tragic’ and ‘suffering’.

Think about what it means to be a ‘tragic hero’ as well as what both Antigone and Creon suffer over the course of the play.  

Consider key Greek terms used to describe the ‘tragic hero’: hamartia (a tragic flaw or error of judgment), peripateia (a reversal of fortune that comes about due to the hero’s error of judgment), hubris (excessive pride) and anagnorisis (the hero’s recognition that their reversal of fortune was brought about by their own actions.)

Think about how these Greek terms might be applied to either Antigone or Creon, since both are characters whose hubristic actions result in their reversal of fortune and suffering.

Creon’s refusal to grant Polynices burial rites results in Antigone’s defiance of his decree, resulting in his downfall. Antigone’s refusal to abide with the laws of the state, decreed by Creon, in favour of the unwritten laws of the gods in her burial of her brother similarly results in her destruction.

Think of specific examples of suffering from the text to support your answer. For instance, despite believing that he is acting in the best interest of Thebes, Creon’s actions as a leader result in the loss of both his son and wife to suicide as a result of Antigone’s death. Moreover, he is specifically told by Tiresias that his actions have resulted in the tragic action of the play. Antigone also suffers, since she is imprisoned and ultimately commits suicide for the burial of her brother. Further, she loses both of her brothers in a civil war prior to the dramatic action and ultimately is isolated in her defiance of Creon, since her sister, Ismene, is unable to help her.

Remember that it does not matter which of the characters you consider to be the “real tragic hero” of the play, but how you use Sophocles’ Antigone to justify your answers. 

Hannah B. GCSE Classical Civilisation tutor, A Level Classical Civili...

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