Antigone and Medea
In Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripdes’ Medea, the minor female characters Ismene and the Chorus determine the protagonists’ actions and fate. Ismene serves as the compassionate but rational and prudent counterpart to Antigone’s headstrong style of decision-making with no regard for consequence. In the beginning of the play, Antigone starts off on the wrong foot. She defies the order set by Creon to not bury Polynices, her brother.
She starts to perform the burial rituals on Polynices and resolves to honor her brother at all costs when Ismene laments that while she too loves her brother, her disposition does not allow her to defy the state. She feels like “[she] has no choice – [she] must obey the ones who stand in power” or they both will become outlaws (1345). Creon learns about Antigone’s oppositional behavior and sentences her to be buried alive, in spite of her betrothal to his son Haemon.
Ismene then declares she aided Antigone and begs to “die beside [Antigone]” and face the same fate as she, though Ismene did not participate in the crime (1357). Antigone refuses to let her be martyred for a cause she did not stand up for. While she is loyal and willing to die at her sister’s side, she does not make the same bold, defiant stand that Antigone does. However, before Creon gets the chance to kill Antigone, she commits suicide. Thus, it is apparent that Ismene serves as a foil for Antigone. She creates enough conflict to stir with Antigone’s feelings leading to her death.
In the case of Medea, the women of Corinth constitute the Chorus. The women are alternately horrified and enthralled by Medea: there is no question that she goes too far and commits the most horrible act possible for a mother, and for that, she earns the Chorus’ pity and condemnation. And yet, they do nothing to interfere. The women live vicariously through Medea. In taking her revenge, she avenges the crimes committed against all of womankind. Powerful and fearless, Medea refuses to be wronged by men, and the Chorus cannot help but admire her.