In Bernhard Frank’s literary criticism, “Sophocles’ Antigone”, he presents the reader with elements of questionable motive and incest, not readily seen by most. Frank essentially believes that Antigone’s obvious death wish comes from being the “ill-fated bride” (line 801) not of Haemon, but rather, of her deceased brother, Polyneices. Frank says that, “it is as the bride of her slain brother that Antigone may see herself” (Frank, pg1). Frank uses Antigone’s indifference to Haemon and excessive love of her brother as support for his argument.
Frank suggests that it would be reasonable to expect Antigone to want to live to become the bride of Haemon. He says it would also be reasonable to expect Antigone to wish for death if she were the intended bride for Polyneices. Frank goes even further with his incest theory in implying that Antigone has incestuous feelings for her sister, Ismene. He mentions that the chorus in the play compares Antigone to her father, “the violent daughter of a violent father” (line 430) and that Creon says, “if she triumphs / and goes unpunished, I am no man- she is” (lines 439-440). Franks believes that Oedipus had inappropriate affections for his daughters and that Antigone, like her father allegedly did, has an excessive love for Ismene. Frank points out, that in the end when Ismene offers her support, Antigone turns her down and taunts her as one may do a jilted lover. Frank feels that since Ismene has betrayed her, Antigone is all the more ready to join her brother in death.
This is a fairly well written article. Frank uses a few specific examples and quotes that make his argument understandable, possibly even believable. However, his is use of terms such as “may” and “could”, make the reader question his ownership of this theory. It appears that he is asking the reader to just consider his line of thinking, rather than really persuading the reader to believe as he does. So while Frank’s argument is certainly interesting, and will likely cause a reader to pause and consider his theory, it is not likely to win many over. He only offers a few examples of why he feels as he does, and these examples could easily be interpreted differently.
Antigone’s indifference to her betrothed is not necessarily indicative of her incestuous love of her brother, but only of her lack of real love for Haemon. Just because she was supposed to marry him, does not mean that she wanted to. She was ashamed and afraid of the curse put on her family, and wanted to escape that. Marrying her cousin/uncle was certainly not the way to end the family curse.
Antigone’s treatment of her sister Ismene, is not that of a jilted lover, as Frank suggests, but just the hurt and anger that her sister did not choose to help her in the first place. She didn’t want to share the glory that the gods would certainly bestow upon her with her undeserving sister. This was an instance of sibling rivalry, and Antigone was acting as a spoiled child, but not a jilted lover.
Frank’s argument that Antigone being like her father is evidence that she had incestuous feelings for her siblings is ridiculous. While Oedipus did commit incest with his mother, he did not know she was his mother when he married her. Antigone has known her siblings her entire life, and is very clear that she fears the family curse set in motion by her father, and wants to be out from under it. Antigone may be strong willed like her father, and may even have some masculine characteristics, for that time period (strong women today are not considered masculine), but that does not equal incest.
Frank’s theory is certainly interesting, worth considering and definitely basis for discussion. However, there just isn’t enough evidence to back him up, and the evidence he does have is circumstantial at best.
Frank, Bernhard. “Sophocles’ Antigone”. Explicator 56.4 (1998): 170. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. Sophocles. “Antigone”. Trans.
David Grene. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2010. Print. 1493.
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