Thursday, August 16, 2012

Antigone- Who is the tragic hero?

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Who is the Tragic Hero?

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

Joseph Stalin

A play is considered to be a tragedy if a lot of people die and in the play Antigone almost all of the main characters were killed by the end. The only one left was Creon, the tragic hero. He lost all of his family, except for Ismene, and ultimately could have prevented that by just allowing Polyneices to be buried. In addition to his physical losses he also lost his respect and comfort since everyone he held dear to him had perished. So, Creon displayed all the criteria for a tragic hero an error in judgment (hamartia), a fall from grace, and in the end he gained wisdom because of his many mistakes.

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Creon exhibited many qualities, but none were as reoccurring as his stubbornness, which was his error in judgment. An excellent example is when the sentry first arrives bearing news of Polyneices mysterious burial. Creon, hearing the news, immediately accuses the sentry of taking bribes from the person who buried the brother of Antigone. He says, “Your very voice distresses me.”(Sophocles 17) after the sentry repeatedly denies that he doesn’t know the burier. This phrase, though short in length, expresses Creon’s unwillingness to change and in this case, listen to the sentry. Creon continues to ignore the sentry’s pleas, and then threatens him, saying, if he doesn’t come back with the burier he will be killed. Another prime example of Creon’s inflexibility was when he sees that the person who buried Polyneices was his own niece, Antigone. Since they are family, one would expect Creon to go easy on her punishment or overlook the crime entirely, but no, Creon further demonstrates his obstinacy by saying, “Who is the man here, she or I, if this crime goes unpunished?”(). So, Creon feels that in order to uphold his decree and dignity, he must make no exceptions and sentence Antigone to death. Also, by saying the word “man” he insinuates that he, being a male, is superior to Antigone since she’s a woman, and that if he were to give in to Antigone he would be inferior to her. Once again Creon is too stubborn to change his law even though he’s indirectly killing his niece. Another circumstance where Creon’s hamartia is found is when Haimon approaches him about Antigone’s punishment. Haimon tries to give advice to his father by telling him how all the townspeople are inspired by Antigone’s deed and that to kill her would be like killing a hero. Creon refuses to give in to Haimon’s advice saying that, “this boy, it seems, has sold out to woman”(). Creon’s hamartia, his stubbornness, is causing him to blame Haimon’s actions on his love for Antigone, but Haimon is really just trying to help his father. The final and possibly most profound example of Creon’s stubbornness is when Teiresias warns Creon of coming disaster. Teiresias, who essentially gave Creon the throne when Oedipus was exiled, is one of Creon’s most trusted servants and when he foretells of what will happen if Polyneices isn’t buried and Antigone dies, Creon believes he’s just after money. Creon, says in response to Teiresias’ prophecy, “No, Teiresias If your birds-if the great eagles of God himself should carry him stinking bit by bit to heaven I would not yield”(4). Creon refers to the burial of Polyneices, which he vehemently refuses to do, but later does after he hears what will happen if he doesn’t. Once again Creon’s stubbornness prevents him from thinking clearly. Teiresias has never prophesized incorrectly, yet sadly enough Creon can’t see that Teiresias is only doing his job of warning Creon of the upcoming disaster. Creon had good intentions at the beginning and he believed he was doing the right thing, but his hamartia, his stubbornness, blinded his judgment just like Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. Stubbornness was not his only criteria for being the tragic hero; he also had a fall from grace, which along with his hamartia caused the deaths of three family members.

A tragic hero needs to occupy a position of responsibility and high birth and Creon, being the King of Thebes, easily meets these requirements. Being a new king, Creon wants to show the villagers that he’s a strong king who won’t give in to crime. He even demonstrates this by saying, “I, as the next in blood, have succeeded to the full power of the throne”(Sophocles 15). His lack of compromise eventually factored into his fall from grace. Creon had several instances where he could have stopped his fall from grace and sort out his mistakes, but first of all, his downwards plummet began when he first talked to Antigone. At this point he could have pardoned Antigone and buried Polyneices but his pride and stubbornness caused him not to. His second line to Antigone is, “And yet you dared defy the law”(). This short line invokes a never-ending hostility between Antigone and Creon as both of them argue over who’s right and who’s wrong. So, that line was the beginning of Creon’s catastrophic plunge from grace. Creon, instead of listening to Antigone and compromising, diverts all his strength into obeying the rules he made, with no exceptions. The final nail in the coffin was when Antigone says, “Creon, what more do you want than my death?”() Creon quickly responds, “Nothing. That gives me everything!”() This is a great example of how far Creon is willing to go to maintain his power and respect. He’s now obsessed with making sure his law is followed to the end and his fall from grace continues until it hits rock bottom, the deaths of three family members. Creon after condemning Antigone to be buried alive in a stone cave almost kills Ismene, Antigone’s sister as well but is advised not to by Choragus. After the visit from Teiresias he quickly changes his mind and sets forth to release Antigone and bury Polyneices, but it’s too late, Antigone’s dead and Haimon too.

The final trait a tragic hero must demonstrate, and Creon does, is that they must gain wisdom by realizing their mistakes and errors. After Teiresias leaves, Creon finally realizes that he’s wrong and that he should have taken Haimon’s advice. Debating on what to do Creon says, “Oh it is hard to give in! But it is worse to risk everything for stubborn pride”(Sophocles 6). This line shows that Creon has confessed to himself that he is stubborn but also he realizes that it would be foolish to cause Antigone to die just because of his stubborn pride. This is the wisdom he has gained and he quickly decides to try and save Antigone’s life, but when he arrives at the cave he finds that she’s killed herself. Haimon’s also in the cave, and after failing to kill Creon, his own father, he kills himself. After this catastrophic event, Creon’s eyes seem to have been opened for he says; “My own blind heart has brought me from darkness to final darkness”(). Now, after the deaths of two family members, he understands why Haimon had begged him to let Antigone live and also how Teiresias had prophesized correctly. Finally, Eurydice kills herself, cursing Creon for the murder of their son, after hearing that Haimon had killed himself. Now Creon is truly a tragic hero, he is without any source of comfort, his wife, son, and niece all are dead and the townspeople’s respect for him is gone as well, when they heard that he had killed Antigone, a heroine in their eyes. Creon’s last line in the play demonstrates his immeasurable gain of both wisdom and sadness, “Lead me away. I have been rash and foolish. I have killed my son and my wife. I look for comfort; my comfort lies here dead. Whatever my hands have touched has come nothing. Fate has brought all my pride to a thought of dust”(40).

Creon displays all parts of the tragic hero criteria, his hamartia, his high place of power, his fall from grace, and his gain of wisdom. Each criterion, however different they may seem, intertwine with each other, his hamartia is part of the reason he falls from grace, and his fall from grace ultimately causes his gain of wisdom. And also his high position of responsibility invokes catharsis among the audience because they feel bad for what is happening to a seemingly innocent man. Catharsis can occur in many other genres but is most often found in tragedies since the audience can feel what pains the character is going through. Perhaps, death would have been a welcome reward for Creon rather than living without comfort.

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