The Theme of Individual Conscience versus the State in Sophocles(TM) Plays
The Theme of Individual Conscience versus the State in Sophocles’ Plays
In Sophocles' play "Antigone" he writes about the same themes as in "Oedipus Rex" and places different characters into almost the same horrible, chaotic situations. Sophocles writes strongly about his most important key theme, the exploration of human limits. He also touches on the themes of discovery of self, wisdom through suffering, and the struggle between individual conscience versus the state. Sophocles two plays, "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone", share many characteristics yet also contrast each other in many ways. He changes some of his themes in the two plays as well as some of the characters attitudes, mainly Creon. No matter how much the two plays differ from one another they have one thing that is the most common between the two, suffering. Sophocles depicts the suffering of each character throughout both of the plays. He also changes the opening scenes of the play to show the way the play will be laid out.
During the whole play of "Antigone" the key theme is individual conscience versus the state whereas in "Oedipus Rex" it is the undying search for truth and discovery of self. "Antigone" Sophocles depicts a political, conscience led woman who is in an unending struggle over right and wrong with her uncle, Creon, the King. All throughout "Oedipus Rex" Sophocles shows a powerful and righteous King who is on a determined search to find the truth and himself. The difference in key themes during these plays are significant. Sophocles took two different approaches towards these two plays. The structure in the way that these two plays are set up are also completely different. The themes that contrast in "Antigone" and "Oedipus Rex" are very different yet help bring the two plays to life. Besides these couple of themes that are different there are many themes that are shown in both plays.
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Many of the themes that Sophocles presents in "Oedipus Rex" are also seen throughout his play "Antigone". Such themes as: wisdom through suffering, hubris, human and divine justice, sacrifice and salvation, and the exploration of human limits play key roles in "Oedipus Rex" as well as "Antigone". Wisdom through suffering and the exploration of human limits are the most important themes that are shown in both plays. In "Oedipus Rex" the people of Thebes, mainly the chorus knew how high a human can climb yet in "Antigone" they imply that mortals have no boundaries. All throughout "Oedipus Rex" the justice that is served is by a divine power yet in "Antigone" the justice is mainly served by mortals. Even the themes that are the same contrast in one way or another.
The way Sophocles depicts the two main character of his two plays contrast enormously. Oedipus is depicted in a way that is very cosmic and divine whereas Sophocles shows Antigone at a very personal level. In "Oedipus Rex" Oedipus is always standing upon his high and mighty pedestal with all the people of Thebes looking up to him. In "Antigone" Antigone is always shown sneaking around and usually whispering every word she says. During the play "Oedipus Rex" Oedipus business was everyones business yet in "Antigone" everything that Antigone says or does is secretive. Although Oedipus was a King his conscience played a little role in his decision making. In "Antigone" Antigone's conscience plays a key role in all of her decisions and actions.
The role of Creon in the play "Antigone" completely contradicts the role he played in "Oedipus Rex". In "Oedipus Rex" Creon knows his limits and is careful not to cross into the field of the Gods yet in "Antigone" he is very hubristic in his moods and his actions. Sophocles tries to prove the point that a man's character can change quickly after being put into the hotseat. Creon shows that he doesn't have what it takes to be a good ruler. In "Oedipus Rex" Creon plays a very humble role yet in "Antigone" makes the same mistakes as Oedipus did. Creon stresses the quality of loyalty throughout his reign as King. He demands in a very begging way obedience from the elders of Thebes. In "Oedipus Rex" Creon is a wonderful man whois a great role model for humility yet in "Antigone" fails as a man. Sophocles shows Creon making the same dramatic mistakes that Oedipus did during his downfall. During "Oedipus Rex" Creon is concerned for his family more than for his state yet in "Antigone" one of his principles of governing is country over friends and family.
Creons emotions change dramatically along with his character. In "Oedipus Rex" Creon plays a very calm and subtle role yet in "Antigone" his anger plays a key role. Like Oedipus, Creon thinks that everyone is out to get him and everything is a big conspiracy against him. Creon also thinks that he has the right to judge who gets to live or and who gets to die a major sin against the Gods. Creon, threatens to torture the guard just like Oedipus threatened to torture the shepherd. In "Antigone" Creon's reign is surrounded by bribery, conspiracy, and corruption. In "Antigone" Creon finds himself in the same situation as Oedipus. Just like Oedipus Creon is unable to handle all the pressures around him and winds up alone with much acquired wisdom through suffering.
The two main scenes of Sophocles two plays are the opening scenes. The opening scenes in both of these plays set the structure for the rest of the play. In "Oedipus Rex" the opening scene shows Oedipus perched high above the people of Thebes on his pedestal. In "Antigone" the opening scene shows two sisters whispering to each other and having a very secretive conversation on the same balcony where Oedipus made all hi speeches. The opening scene of "Antigone" shows a litany of two sisters personal suffering. It is the mirror opposite of "Oedipus Rex". The privacy of the conversation plays a significant role during the beginning of the play. The opening scene of "Antigone" shows Antigone voicing her reaction to Creon's edict to her sister, Ismene. Sophocles shows an intrusion to Antigones grief and poses the question on whether or not the state has the right to intrude on personal matters between relatives. During this secret conversation Antigone tells her plan to bury their brother to her sister, Ismene. Ismene's reaction is one of fear and Antigone, always polarizing things, disowns her. In her disownment of her sister Antigone shows some of the same characteristics as Creon.
In the opening scene of "Oedipus Rex" Oedipus is shown making a speech to his fellow Thebens. He uses phrases such as my children and my altar to show his power. He states that Oedipus, his name, is the greatest feared which right away shows his hubris. Oedipus also states that whatever the people of Thebes may ask will be done and he will have pity on them. Throughout the opening scene of "Oedipus Rex" his hubris plays a very strong and key role. The opening scene of "Oedipus Rex" greatly contrats with the opening scene of "Antigone" in many ways. In "Oedipus Rex" Sophocles depicts a mighty king giving a speech to his people and in "Antigone" he intrudes on a secretive conversation between two sisters.
Sophocles wrote "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" from two different perspectives. The two plays are structured very differently. Sophocles shows the chorus to be a very important role in both plays. The roles that the chorus plays in "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" contrast. In "Oedipus Rex" the chorus begged Oedipus to think and knew their limits as mortals yet in "Antigone" they praise man in an ode and preach that man can conquer anything and he can climb as high as they want. The elders in the chorus help guide and at the same time help destroy Thebes.
The two plays "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" are two very different yet two very similar plays. Sophocles changes the characters moods as well as their settings. He shows the main characters, Oedipus and Antigone, from a different perspective and also changes the focus of the two opening scenes. The most important theme in both plays is the theme of wisdom through suffering. All of Sophocles characters gain wisdom and knowledge through their mistakes they make and the suffering they go through. "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" show the diversity of Greek literature. The way Sophocles writes these two plays is significant from the opening scenes throughout the structure of the plays. He proves that someone's character can change given more pressures and responsibilities and the only way a man learns is through his own suffering.
Sophocles plays bring out themes that have played a reoccurring role throughout the history of literature. In his plays "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" he shows these themes like no other writer ever did. "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone" are two very different plays with many similar key themes. These key themes play a very important role in the lives of the characters throughout these plays. These two plays bring Greek literature to life. Sophocles shows that no man is immortal and man only learns when terror and suffering hits them personally.