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Explain the purpose of the main characters, minor characters and the chorus in Antigone. (30 marks) Essay

All characters which feature in Sophocles’ play Antigone play an important role somehow; mainly conveying a certain moral or theme. The major characters portray the main themes such as loyalty, whilst some of the minor characters and the chorus explore the theme of prophecy and fate. Antigone is one of/the main character in the play named after herself. However it is debatable whether she is the main character due to the fact that the majority of the play revolves around Creon and his actions, and end in him being alone whilst Antigone has died.

Throughout the play she defines the loyalty to the Gods rather than civil obedience- and is the only character to do so. Immediately, Antigone is portrayed by Sophocles as a defiant and important character due to the fact that she is located outside the palace, a place where a Greek woman would not be found unescorted by a male presence.

An ancient Greek audience would automatically assume that Antigone and her sister Ismene who is also outside with her were poor, prostitutes or slaves, yet we quickly find out she is neither, leaving us with the first impressions that Antigone is willing to defy the rules and does not fit normal woman conventions in the ancient Greek era.

The fact that Creon is clearly astounded when he sees Antigone is responsible for the burial of Polynices against his will clearly shows to the reader that it is unusual for the average woman in ancient Greek society to break from the norms and defy the rules, which is supported by the fact that Athenian men believed that the best women were the ones that were heard the least. The quote “You bring this woman…?” (Line 375); which is said to the Sentry after bringing Antigone before Creon; shows that Creon is confused that it is a woman that has had the bravery to go against the laws he had set.

Antigone shows her loyalty to the gods when she speaks to Creon and tells him “I was not going to incur punishment from the gods, not in fear of the will of any man” (Line 423-424) which infers to the reader that she fears the gods much more than she fears any mortal man, and she will abide by the gods’ “unwritten, unassailable laws” rather than a mere mortals laws which he feels that people should abide by.

This shows a clear devotion to the gods as she is giving herself up and admits to the crimes against the state, yet is not taken back by the promise of death as she knows that what she has done is for the gods’ satisfaction. In addition, we see that Antigone is extremely loyal to her family and is willing to sacrifice her life for the good of her brother, as the ancient Greeks believed that if you did not receive the correct burial then you would roam the afterlife forever and never be in peace (it was also seen as very disrespectful towards the dead and the family of the dead).

We see this fierce loyalty that Antigone feels towards her family as she tells Ismene; just before she says she wants no part in burying the body; that “I will not be caught betraying him.” (Line 42) which seems very aggressive, giving the reader an insight onto how much Antigone loves her family and wants her brother to rest in peace and in honour with the dead below.

Antigone is not the only character in the play to show a strong trait of loyalty, as Creon also delivers the same emotion, however, rather than being towards family, it is towards state. We see this due to the fact that Antigone is his own niece and Polynices his own nephew, yet he is willing to dishonour Polynices by not giving him a burial ritual and leaving his corpse “for the birds and dogs to eat” (Line 191-192), and is willing to kill Antigone for disobeying the law.

Creon is also considered the most important character in Sophocles’ Antigone, mainly due to the fact that the gods retribution is directed upon him, meaning that he is left alone as his family are all dead, showing his importance as the play revolves around him in the end. Similarly to Antigone, Creon is shown as disobedient, yet to the gods and not the law. This is shown when Haemon, Creons son, tells him “You do not respect it when you trample on the gods’ honour” (line 691) which connotes the disobedience as he refuses to respect the gods by burying Polynices, keeping the body for himself.

Creon is seen to change as although he is viewed as a tyrannical leader, wanting all power from himself, he is seen to fall before the Chorus, represented by the chorus on line 1060, when he begs the Chorus “So what must i do? Tell me! I will obey.”, showing he now is willing to listen to the people, although we know it is too late for things to change for Creon.

Creons son, Haemon, changes much like his father, firstly agreeing with Creon and siding with him on not burying Polynices, yet begins to change his views and eventually rallies with the people who desire the burial of Antigones brother. The messenger tells Eurydice “Corpse lies embracing corpse. The poor man had won his rites of marriage in the house of Hades.”

(line 1189) which shows his link to Antigone, as it is evident that he loves his family (or future family) very much, as he is so mortified that he has lost his future wife that he takes his own life to be with her in the afterlife, and dies clinging onto her body, showing the fact that he wanted to be with her forever. Teiresias is also seen as extremely loyal to the Gods, much like Antigone as he openly insults the king when he tells Creon “For this the Destroyers who wait their time lie in wait for you, the Furies of Hades and of the gods, so that you will be seized by these same disasters.” telling him that he will face a painful death and afterlife, sparing no detail in order to portray the gods wrath.

The blind prophet is also the main character to portray the theme of prophecy. An example of this is when he tells Creon “two seeing through the eyes of one; this is how the blind must go, with a guide” which clearly shows the prophets abilities as it shows that he is in deep contact with the gods and although he is rendered blind he can see far into the future with the help of the gods. Another example of this is when Teiresias tells Creon “I will tell you, and you must obey the seer” which shows the wisdom of the prophet and he tells Creon what he must do to be happy.

Power is also shown be Teiresias as Creon tells him that “I am your target, and not immune even from you prophetic art.” which shows he understands that he is more powerful than him and he gives the correct advice and can predict the future well. “before you give one born off your loins as a corpse in exchange for corpses” is what he tells Creon, which shows prophetic values as Teiresias knows what is going to happen to Haemon before it happens, and he also knows that Antigones death is inevitable.

The Chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone also portray the theme of prophecy as they guide the audience by portraying their feelings and give hints to the audience on what will happen further on in the play. An example of this is when the Chorus says that Creon is a “breathing corpse” which is true, as at the end of the play Creon is left alone, in much emotional strain so he could be said to be a walking corpse, also due to the fact that he wishes himself dead.

The chorus also tell Creon “Lord, all this time my thoughts have been saying that this might be the work of the Gods.” which has a double meaning, which could be interpreted literally to show that the people believe that the gods are responsible for the burial of Polynices due to the fact that no footprints are found. Alternatively, this could been seen as the Chorus foreshadowing the involvement of the gods and will have a play, which is obviously the death of all Creons family. Finally, the Chorus foreshadow the death of Creons family, yet the preservation of his own life in the quote “Zeus, what human transgression can restrain your power?

All-conquering sleep cannot master it” which shows that he will not defeat the gods, and will be kept alive after all of his family are gone as a punishment for attempting to defy the gods and not burying the body. Overall, I believe that both the main and minor characters are very important in the development of themes and morals in the play as they show right and wrong, and the consequences that you may face if you disobey the gods, yet also clearly show the consequences of disobeying the law.

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