What has drawn so many writers and dramatists to the story of Oedipus or Antigone?
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What has drawn so many writers and dramatists to the story of Oedipus or Antigone? Sophocles' Antigone, written circa 441BC, deals with the protagonist Antigone's fight to give her brother, Polyneices, the proper burial that had been denied him by the king, Creon. It is considered among the great Greek tragedies of the time, and is still translated in modern times. When Greece was succeeded by Rome as the great city of the West, the Romans were more concerned with power and commerce rather than culture, therefore Greek drama was pushed aside by the majority, except a small number of Roman playwrights (Bowra, 1970, p. 154), such as Seneca. However, around 16 centuries after the birth of Christ, a collection of the plays were put into print, heralding the return of Greek drama, which is now present in countless different ways in our culture. As Knox explains in his preface to the plays, Sophocles was known to be one of nine generals campaigning against the revolt of Samos at the time the play is assumed to have been written (Sophocles, 1984, p. 35). His knowledge of politics is clearly reflected in his writing, and Antigone is no exception, as it is greatly concerned with the political issues of the polis (state). Political problems will always have great relevance in society, and Antigone has been used by many practitioners in the twentieth century 'to articulate new visions of how the individual relates to the state' (Wiles, 2000, p.
427), as it resonated with his own political ideas. Brecht also believed that an audience should be made to think about what is being shown on the stage, rather than sympathise or empathise with the characters. Although Antigone is a victim of oppression and meets a tragic end, there is also a perspective of Creon's impossible position. This gave Brecht the opportunity to make sure the audience did not sympathise with the heroine, but instead consider the situation both characters are in, an analogy for real life situations of tyranny and oppression. He also 'used the choral form of Greek tragedy as a device for creating critical distance' (Wiles, 2000) to further emphasise the audience's external position. Antigone as a play also presents two different representations of women, and the character contrasts between Antigone and her sister Ismene are evident. As described by Webster (1969, p. 88), the play is built on character contrasts, for example Antigone standing for idealism vs. Ismene's realist attitude. In the opening scene, Ismene is shown to be against Antigone's plan to bury Polyneices herself. She speaks of how, as women, they are not in a position to rebel against the state: 'We must be sensible. Remember, we are women, we're not born to contend with men. Then too, we're underlings, ruled by much stronger hands [...] I have no choice, I must obey' (Sophocles, 1984, p.
Also, the Greek language of the original work means that when it comes to translation, the exact wording of the manuscript may differ, offering opportunity for many different versions of the same text. The popularity of Antigone, alongside other Greek tragedies, can be examined and explained from a Freudian perspective, that 'tragedy pleases because of the formal control it provides' (Holland, in Nuttall, 1996, p.54). When watching a tragedy, the audience will feel empathy with characters, but after the performance will return to their life. Similar, for example, to the adrenaline rush but without risk gained when watching a horror film, it is a case of being moved emotionally without having to deal with the permanent resonance of loss, grief and tragedy in a person's own life. As Huxley describles, tragedy is 'something that is separated from the whole truth ... [tragedy] is chemically pure' (Huxley, 1931). He continues to explain that this chemical purity means tragedy has an immediate and powerful effect, and gives audiences a sense of catharsis. In its simplest essence, theatre is a form of entertainment and escapism, and tragedies offer exactly this. Antigone's complexity of characters and political resonance, and the ability to adapt it to create different messages and represent different ideals makes it easy to see why it is considered one of the greatest classic tragedy plays of not just the Ancient Greek era, but all time.
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