Of all four plays presented in this June’s offering of THE THEBAN CHRONICLES, Antigone is perhaps the most recognized – it is the play we have all read in school at one time or another, and we suffered through dry literary dissections of the role of government and religion in a civil society, and the chaos that ensues when man’s law transgresses the gods’ laws. I remember writing my first college essay on the nature of power and the difficulty of pinpointing a definition of the word on which Sophocles’ characters could all agree. Without diminishing the importance of this text as literature, I must confess that I laughed out loud re-reading the etymological findings of my 18-year-old self. What a drab world it would be without theater!
Antigone is a compelling story, not a study. Here is this young woman, probably about age 15, who has lost everything. Her family is disgraced; her mother, father and two brothers have died in extreme circumstances. She has just returned from a year living in exile with her father while her younger sister Ismene (more of a bad-ass than we usually give her credit for) has been riding back and forth between the wanderers and the battlefields of Thebes with news for Oedipus. And when everything has finally hit the fan, Antigone has a choice to put the past behind her, marry her betrothed and become queen of Thebes. Of all the crossroads that these Theban characters face, Antigone’s decision is perhaps the purest, strongest, most selfless, stubborn, and self-aware. Oedipus doesn’t know that Jocasta is his mother when he marries her, nor that Laius is his father when he slays him; Eteocles is a second son motivated by the shining scepter suddenly within his reach; Polyneices acts out of the entitled indignation of having lost the throne he had been groomed to inherit; Creon is a coward who fools even himself with his harsh philosophy of leadership, but who can’t bring himself to pull the trigger when the time comes; Ismene is too afraid to do anything at all, and all the other women simply commit suicide when the going gets too tough (sorry, did I spoil the ending?). Antigone embraces her fate with eyes wide open, knowing full well she will sacrifice her life for what she believes is right. She speaks her mind and stares down both king and executioner.
(If only we had such female characters in the modern American Theater!)
I hope you’ll join the Theater Pub on Tuesday, June 29 to enjoy the final chapter of this compelling story – then stay and have a drink with us before you head back to the lecture hall.