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Irony in Antigone: King Creon Essay

In the tragedy Antigone, Sophocles pens a tale about a stalwart and distrustful king, Creon, and his misuse of the power he possesses. In the play he disregards the law of the gods to fit his whims, something that the heroine of the play, Antigone, wholeheartedly disagrees with; she disobeys his order to leave her dead brother, Polynices, unburied and sentences herself to death in the process. Antigone is engaged to Creon’s son, Haemon, who does not agree with his father’s actions in regard to the burial of Antigone’s traitorous brother.

The disagreement between father and son leads to Haemon’s suicide; ironically, Creon thinks it is his life that will be taken and not his son’s. Creon and Haemon argue about Antigone’s impending fate; their disagreement on the subject prompts a threat from Haemon: “No. Don’t ever hope for that. She’ll not die with me just standing there. And as for you— your eyes will never see my face again. So let your rage charge on among your friends Who want to stand by you in this (870-875) Haemon declares that Antigone will not die without reaction from himself; Creon will never see Haemon again because if Antigone is killed Haemon plans to join her in death: by his own hand. Haemon then says that Creon’s rage will force Haemon’s own hand to do something that Creon will regret. Creon does not understand that Haemon is threatening his own life; instead, he believes that his own life is being threatened, and his reactions to Haemon’s words are lined with fear, ignorance, and irony.

The irony of the situation is that Creon is so blinded by his own ego that he thinks his own life is in danger, when it is actually his son’s that is. Creon only realizes the error of his assumptions and actions after Haemon commits suicide. More irony arises with the death of Haemon; he has joined Antigone in death to have what Creon denied them while living: each other. At the close of the play Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife, have all committed suicide because of Creon’s actions.

Creon is suspicious through the entire play; in the beginning he accuses Antigone and Ismene of plotting to steal his throne, saying: “You there—you snake lurking in my house, sucking out my life’s blood so secretly. I’d no idea I was nurturing two pests, who aimed to rise against my throne. Come here. (607-610)” These words are directed towards Ismene more so than Antigone because Creon already suspects her of wrongdoing. He is surprised to see Ismene lurking in the shadows as she eavesdrops on the judgment of Antigone; upon seeing Ismene, Creon is convinced that she has conspired with Antigone to steal his life and throne.

In short, he is aware of one pest, Antigone, but does not consider Ismene as a pest until she is discovered eavesdropping. After Ismene is discovered Creon calls her over to be judged alongside Antigone. This is the first sign of Creon’s extreme suspicion that the reader sees; not only does he accuse Antigone and Ismene of conspiring to steal his kingship, but he accuses them of trying to take his life as well. Creon’s suspicion of his impending death is ironic because at the end of the play both Antigone and Haemon take their own lives instead of Creon’s.

Creon does not realize the damage he has caused until it is too late to fix; the time for rectification of the situation has passed and he feels deep anguish at the loss of his son. He never imagines that Haemon spoke of killing himself when they had their exchange of words earlier in the play; when next to Haemon’s corpse Creon says: Aaiii—mistakes made by a foolish mind, cruel mistakes that bring on death. You see us here, all in one family— the killer and the killed. Oh the profanity of what I planned. Alas, my son, you died so young—a death before your time. Aaiii . . . aaiii . . . ou’re dead . . . gone—not your own foolishness but mine. (1406-1414)

Creon explains with grief that he now realizes his actions caused the death of Haemon; his mistakes are cruel and Haemon is gone not of his own foolishness, but of Creon’s. Further irony shows after Creon discovers that his wife, Eurydice, is also dead; he asks for death by double-edged sword, when earlier he was extremely fearful about his own death and vehement about not dying. He says, “ Aaaii . . . My fear now makes me tremble. Why won’t someone now strike out at me, pierce my heart with a double bladed sword? How miserable I am . . . aaiii . . . how full of misery and pain . . . (1453-1457). ”

Creon begs for the death that he is unreasonably obsessed with earlier in the play; it takes the fulfillment of Haemon’s threats to make Creon seek death, and is most definitely ironic in comparison to his attitude towards death earlier in the play. Ironically, Creon now feels the misery of Antigone and Haemon, which he caused; he pierces each of their hearts respectively when he denies Antigone proper burial of her brother, Polynices, and when he denies Haemon his bride, Antigone.

Creon’s final words are: Then take this foolish man away from here. I killed you, my son, without intending to, and you, as well, my wife. How useless I am, I don’t know where to look or find support. Everything I touch goes wrong, and on my head fate climbs up with its overwhelming load. (1485-1490) Once filled with immense confidence and arrogance, Creon now feels helpless and useless; ironically, he feels hopeless and distraught not because of anyone trying to steal his power or take his life, but because of his own distrustful actions and ignorant thoughts that cause his world to unravel before his very eyes.


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