Explore the Theme of Kingship and Ruling in Sophocles’ Antigone.

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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In Sophocles’ Antigone, the audience experiences a catharsis wherein sympathy and fear is evoked for Creon, a tragic hero whose Kingship was spoilt by corruption, human fallibility and pride. Throughout the play, Creon has demonstrated how even rulers with a strong moral stance can still fail in their attempts to do good, unfortunately due to exceeding the limits of their humanity. To begin, the tragedy that befalls Creon as a man devoted to his country and to his religion seems to feel undeserved.

Creon declares “whoever places a friend above the good of his own country, he is nothing” as an expression of his loyalty to his State; the dramatic element is accentuated through the term “nothing” which reverberates off the script in an echo that demands the viewer’s reverence and attention. In this way, Creon’s stance on leadership is magnanimous because Creon no longer works on the order of his family’s needs but on the order of the Gods and his state.

To highlight this, we see the chorus exclaim: “the king of the realm is coming… whatever the gods are sending now… / what new plan will he launch” The significance of this “realm” is interpreted as something divine yet disconnected from humanity, so as to highlight Creon as merely a servant to the Gods. In this sense, Creon is a character that is empathized with for his respect towards the Gods, thus his actions can be attributed to the will of the Gods. “Exactly when did you last see the gods celebrating traitors? Inconceivable! exclaims Creon, whose actions are characterised by a morality modeled after their will. A modern audience will interpret the duty of the King to come as a direct order from the Gods, therefore whatever law Creon enacts, and whatever cause he chooses to pursue, would have been the Gods’ law. The question thus arises: was Creon’s tragedy truly of his own doing? The authority of the King diminishes when put into perspective with the Gods, and the audience can view how even a man of superior rank can still be thwarted by the almighty powers of God.

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This, as a result, can reinforce a feeling of fear, or caution for those watching. However, one question seems to question the purity of his intentions: “Am I to rule this land for others—or myself? ” Although, contextually speaking, this question was meant to demonstrate his loyalty to the state, it does include dark, subtle undertones that could reveal Creon’s hidden intention. The hyphen in the ending of the question “—or myself? ” seems to delay the response and give a slight hesitance to Creon’s speech.

The question stands: does Creon make decision because he believes it is best for his country? Or does he rule because the influence of power has enabled him to act upon his own bias? Creon’s kingship creates an extension of itself with Haemon, whose “flesh and blood” describes how profoundly connected Haemon is to his father. The tie between Creon and Haemon explores how kingship challenges both the emotional and human relationship between father and son. Perhaps he invests so much of himself into the idea of “father and son, the same blood” that a part of him equally dies with his son.

Haemon has been included into Creon’s life as an indispensable structure, a piece inseparable piece from the framework of Creon himself. In fact, Creon cries to the “harbor of Death” asking “why me? why are you killing me? ”, thereby portraying how the blood link that connects both father and son is interwoven in their lives so that one life is married to the other. Creon describes himself as a “shattered” man after the death of his son, thereby illuminating his vulnerability as a flawed human being.

As such, the audience, witnessing his fall, can experience a heightened catharsis knowing a man of such supremacy can crumple so easily and in such a wretched fashion. It is implied that Creon himself has the power to shape Haemon’s destiny and his duty as a person by “produc[ing] good sons—a household full of them, dutiful and attentive”. Creon describes his son to be “bred and reared” for a specific purpose. Both terms “produce” and “bred” create the effect of a human fabricated at certain specifications.

This puts Creon in a state of authority not only over the mores his son must live by, but the way his son is formed as a human being, which is eerily reminiscent of the divine authorities and the power of the fates to write out a person’s destiny. In a sense, Creon compares the greatness of his sovereignty to that of the Gods, thus portraying how his power is a prerequisite to his hubris. Moreover, Creon establishes dominance over other men using his title as King, naturally elevating him beyond the rank of mortal men.

To demonstrate his frightening autocracy, Antigone claims that “[the chorus] would praise me too/ if their lips weren’t locked in fear”. This fear of Creon is further bolstered by powerful oratory, which Creon uses as a tool in commanding his people’s patriotism and emotions. The expressive visual imagery characterized of Creon’s speech can turn a traitor into a fiend who “thirsted to drink his kinsmen’s blood. ” The impact of the words “thirsted” and “blood” stress this graphic image of death and blight, which Creon manipulates to kindle hate and passion in his people against Creon’s enemies.

Although a ruler is meant to serve the state and protect it, Creon uses his rhetoric to advance his own beliefs—a decision characterized by greed. What is debatable about where Creon’s sense of leadership is whether he is doing this as an act of greed or an act of what he believes is correct for the state. Leading on from power, the audience understands that Creon’s arrogance comes from the notion that his power ennobles him beyond the ranks of mere humanity. They see him gain much more authority as a saint, savior or being closely linked to God.

His sentries all address him as “My lord” and Creon is able to issue death sentences to reinforce his superiority. Creon uses terms that are definitive of a person’s fate, despite the fact that he has no control over their fate in any substantial way: “Not a word of hope—your doom is sealed. ” The precise diction of “doom” recalls the notion of a terrible fate that stretches beyond the mere human life, and forwards into the dark murkiness of afterlife. To pronounce it as “sealed” is to imply it is fixed; Creon uses this to strike fear in the heart of Antigone, yet it also presupposes that our fates, once written, are unchangeable.

The dramatic irony that comes with Creon proclaiming this as his fate is being written heightens the tragic ending of the play—the Katastasis. Creon’s arrogance could be seen as a shift in character from what the audience knows of Creon in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Creon once proclaimed, “if you think crude, mindless stubbornness such a gift, you’ve lost your sense of balance” as a display of humility and rationality. Before his reign as King of Thebes, Creon understood the natural traits found in a good leader involved a sense of poise and understanding of one’s own limits.

Yet, once he had possessed “the throne and all its powers”, there was a change in character. “All its powers” incorporates the idea of excess and abundance, which is characterised as hubris, therefore the audience might feel a sense of fear for the upcoming and inevitable demise that may come for Creon. Naturally, when this power is questioned, Creon’s insecurities begin to appear and after some time, become more pronounced and irrational. Creon expresses his shame and his exasperation of Antigone’s defiance through the terms “laughing, / mocking us to our face with what she’d done”.

These words hint to a sense of stigma that comes with a woman defying the rules set out for her by the authorities that govern her. Drawing from the cultural context of Sophocles’ play, women were mainly viewed as inferior beings—often they were weak or even dangerous, which makes the defiance against the state and Creon’s edict more grave and scandalous. Creon portrays his fear of being diminished by a woman through his cry: “I am not the man, not now: she is the man / if this victory goes to her and she goes free. / Never! ” because essentially, her freedom would mean his defeat, which in the end would blemish, or even completely fracture, his stature as an omnipotent ruler. Moreover, Creon becomes erratic as he is faced with his flaws as a human being. When he is first notified of his errors by a sentry: “Oh it’s terrible when the one who does the judging / judges things all wrong”, he retaliates in a unnecessarily cruel manner: “you just be clever about your judgments— / … you’ll swear your dirty money brought you pain. Personally, his cruelty can be interpreted as a defensive insult inflicted to shield himself from the truth of his humanity. This interpretation is supported by the way Creon storms off by “turning sharply”, as his actions seem to portray a sense of flinching (characterized by “sharply”) annoyance. This same effect is particularly seen in Creon’s dialogue with Tiresias after he is told of his fate. Creon’s language becomes more infused with anger and insecurity, making him appear weaker: “you shoot your arrows at my head like archers at the target—” He seems to refute his own guilt, and justify imself as a person of superiority: “are you aware you’re speaking to the king? ”, which makes him appear untouchable. Creon’s spite is felt through his sharp intonation of “Spit it out! ” and “lust for injustice! ” His reaction to his fate up until his concession is characterized by defensiveness and verbal insults, which can highlight how much of his power and glory he is afraid of losing, Creon becomes frightened by the prospect wherein he would have to concede to his hamartia and undeniable fallibility as a human.

The main purpose of these effects is to illuminate Creon’s very human flaws: his insecurities, his paranoia of being thwarted by a woman of lesser importance, and his irritable temper. These flaws consequently form the nature of his demise and conclude the circle of his journey as the Tragic Hero. Essentially, his kingship has brought upon him his downfall because power is inseparable from vanity, and vanity became the hamartia of the Creon’s character.

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Explore the Theme of Kingship and Ruling in Sophocles’ Antigone.. (2017, Jan 20). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/explore-the-theme-of-kingship-and-ruling-in-sophocles-antigone/

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