Sophocles two plays, namely the AD 6717-658 Oedipus the King as well as the 658-693 Antigone, are dominated by elements of conflict – both external and internal. The external conflict involves two persons with opposing viewpoints being engaged in a physical or philosophical confrontation. On the other hand, the internal cases of conflict occur when certain individuals in the 2 plays encounter dilemmas regarding doing things that their consciences counsel against. Further, the playwright describes various characters handling the conflicting situations in a variety of ways.
For example, some characters just choose to give in, become complicit, and do the things that their consciences advise against. A notable example of this phenomenon in Oedipus the King is Queen Jocasta’s action of bowing to King Laius’ (her husband’s) pressure and thus giving away the young Oedipus to be disposed off. Likewise, in Antigone, Ismene depicts the same behavior of allowing outside pressure to adversely influence her conscience-led aspirations. To this end, Ismene refuses to join efforts with Antigone – her defiant sister – in burying Polyneices – the 2 sisters’ departed brother.
Conversely, the 2 plays contain cases whereby physical person-to-person conflicts arise. For instance, in Antigone, Creon – Thebe’s ruler – holds viewpoints that conflict with those of Haemon – Creon’s son. To illustrate, when Creon detains and intends to murder Antigone – Haemon’s fiance – son and father are at loggerheads. The situation deteriorates to the extent of father and son insulting one another. Haemon angrily leaves, promising that he will never come back.
Similarly, in Oedipus the King, King Oedipus becomes conflicted with prophet Tiresias because Tiresias is experiencing an internal sort of conflict. The prophet is aware that telling King Oedipus the truth about who killed King Laius would yield no good results. On the other hand, King Oedipus is very intent on ascertaining the true identity of Lauis’ killer, not knowing that Oedipus himself killed Laius. The conflict between the 2 personalities pushes them to exchange harsh words. This conflict is resolved when Tiresias utters the definitive paradox that Laius was indeed killed by his (Laius’) son.
All in all, through the two plays – Antigone and Oedipus the King, playwright Sophocles describes both external and external cases of conflict, with the conflicts being resolved to the detriment of a certain individual. To begin with, Queen Jocasta’s conflict regarding either disposing off or saving the life of Oedipus – her son – ends with the infant son being disadvantaged when he is disposed off. The hopeless Oedipus passes from the hands of Jocasta, to a servant, to a lowly shepherd and eventually to a King’s palace.
Through such transition, the baby encounters various hardships. Firstly, he risks being killed and then spends some time out in the open fields where he is exposed to the elements. Further, it is notable that the shepherd who eventually passes Oedipus on to King Polybus has no means of keeping and raising the condemned child. Jocasta’s indecisiveness when she faces the internal conflict of either saving or killing Oedipus thus causes the son immense problems. In this case, Sophocles describes a conflict being resolved to the detriment of a particular personality – Oedipus.
In a similar version, in Antigone, Sophocles describes Antigone’s conflict as resulting in a string of misfortunes. After Creon the King unjustly orders that Polyneices should be ignored regarding proper burial, with Eteocles being accorded a fitting send-off, Antigone – Polyneices’ sister – becomes mentally conflicted. Antigone immediately detects Creon’s partiality in ordering for this obviously discriminative treatment. She thus cannot demonstrate complicity by adhering to Creon’s unjust edict. The determined girl therefore opts to secretly accord Polyneices a proper burial.
By doing this, Antigone risks being put to death as indicated by Creon’s directive. She however gallantly carries on with her plan and even boldly defending her decisions before the King. Related to Antigone’s mental conflict is Ismene’s dilemma whereby she has to choose to either stand by Antigone or obey Creon’s controversial decree. By adhering to the directives that Creon has issued, Ismene will in effect be betraying Polyneices – her brother. Conversely, by deciding to join Antigone in properly burying Polyneices, Ismene will be showing sisterly responsibility to her departed brother as well as to Antigone.
In addition, Ismene risks being put to death as per Creon’s orders should she go by Antigone’s bold decision. Eventually, Ismene shies away and avoids going by Antigone’s plans. On her part, Antigone boldly accords Polyneices a proper send-off, thus attracting Creon’s wrath. Ultimately, the 2 sisters find themselves behind bars, with Ismene being a sort of martyr since she did not participate in Antigone’s defiant actions. It is at this point that Antigone faces another conflict when Ismene offers to suffer the consequences of Antigone’s actions.
Antigone is aware that it would be unjust to allow Ismene suffer the same fate as Antigone. Although outside pressure eventually forces Creon to let the 2 girls walk free, the conflict that Ismene and Antigone face is resolved with disastrous results. Further, the decision that Antigone makes because of being mentally conflicted serves to make Creon’s son – Haemon – to also become conflicted. To illustrate, after Creon puts Antigone in prison, intending to kill the girl, Haemon intervenes, trying to persuade Creon to let the girl walk away. Haemon does this because he is an intimate friend to Antigone.
He thus cannot allow his father to kill Antigone owing to the love that Haemon has for Antigone. It is worth noting that Haemon is in a tight spot when he approaches Creon, persuading the King to let Antigone go away. This is because Haemon risks being branded a traitor or someone who demonstrates insubordination towards the King. On the other hand, should Haemon decide to keep quiet, allowing the King to do as he wills with Antigone, Haemon will demonstrate lack of commitment towards Antigone. Son and father thus confront each other because they hold varying viewpoints about the incarceration of Antigone.
Again, Sophocles describes a person-to-person conflict being resolved in a negative way. After Haemon and Creon hurl insults at each other, Haemon walks away, promising that he will never come back. True to his words, Haemon commits suicide. Likewise, through the Oedipus the King play, Sophocles describes the shepherd who witnessed King Laius’ murder as well as Oedipus as being conflicted both externally and internally. For instance, King Oedipus desires to know every detail of his (Oedipus’) childhood. On the other hand, the shepherd is aware that should he become aware of his past, Oedipus will only experience pain.
The shepherd thus only gives certain details of Oedipus childhood after which he begs to be allowed to stop the narration. By doing this, the shepherd seeks to shield Oedipus from the pain that will inevitably result when the King learns of his (the King’s) past. Such good intentions are however misunderstood by Oedipus as the shepherd’s demonstration of insubordination. Consequently, Oedipus threatens the shepherd with death should he hold back any information from the King. The shepherd is thus deeply conflicted. He is very sure that when Oedipus learns the truth about Oedipus’ lineage, the King will surely be gravely hurt.
Out of fear for his life, the shepherd finally explains all the details about Oedipus life. Consequently, the King becomes distraught. Further, the Queen commits suicide, after which Oedipus gorges out both his eyes and goes into self-imposed exile. Once more, Sophocles describes the conflict between the shepherd and King Oedipus as being resolved in a bad manner as it results in the deaths of Queen Jocasta and the self-imposed exile of King Oedipus. In conclusion, though his 2 plays – Oedipus the King and Antigone – playwright Sophocles describes numerous instances whereby various characters are conflicted either externally or internally.
One notable case of mental conflict in Antigone is the instance when Antigone has to choose to either remain loyal to Polyneices – her brother – or obey Creon’s dictatorial decree. Conversely, the instance when Creon and Haemon exchange bitter words denotes external conflict. On the other hand, in Oedipus the King, Jocasta’s indecision regarding whether to dispose off or save Oedipus represents internal conflict. The shepherd and Oedipus’ confrontation demonstrates external conflict. Further, all the conflicts that are presented in both Oedipus the King as well as in Antigone are resolved in ways that harm certain characters.
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