Character Development of Creon and Antigone through Dialogue
In Greek theatre the success of a tragedy was determined a set of distinct principles unique to the Greek outlined by Aristotle. Since Geek drama is based on famous mythical lore, the element of surprise in a play is minimal, ignorable, unlike contemporary drama with their heart-wrenching plot twists. As a result, the success of the play was largely determined by the plot development of the tragedy. While Aristotle stated that a successful work must have a holesome plot, ranking the plot as the most important criterion, the role of character development in the Sophoclean tragedies is remarkably significant because not only does it advance the plot, it is also a crucial element for the audience to experience the catharses emphasized by ancient Greek drama. In the case of Antigone, Sophocles was able to masterfully formulate his characters in the play which contributed greatly to the play’s reputation as a famous tragedy. While there are many ways a character can be developed, Sophocles portrays the characters through dialogues in Antigone. For example, Antigone and Creon ully establish their personalities and occasionally reveal their changes in character through their specific word choice and tones in their dialogue (with each other). In her initial argument with Creon, Antigone exposes her inner self without hesitation. As the heroine of the play, Antigone is required to be unshakeable in her belief because the consequence of breaking a law with a penalty of death sentence demands an iron will. Sophocles successfully presents Antigone as a self-righteous figure by careful diction. The first impression of Antigone under accusation is one of outright defiance. When Creon asks her whether he performed the burial right on Polynices, her response is concise and composed with three simple words, “I did it. ” (Sophocles 81) While three words may not attract great attention, this statement is well executed in context. As a criminal caught offending the law, she does not and cannot scream insults and make exclamations because aggression upon accusation weakens the legitimacy of any further justifications. In order to establish her innocence, she has to remain calm and accept her accusation before proceeding to argue any case. This is very significant as her first direct opposition to Creon.
In her justification of her accused crime, Antigone contrasts human and Gods to ridicule the idea of state law over divine traditions. Her words are very convincing because she surveys the insignificance of mortals using words that refer to the eternity of the gods. “A mere mortal” (82) has no place to twist the “unshakable traditions” (82) of the Gods who “live forever, from the first of time” (82) compared to the mere “today [and] yesterday” (82) of a man’s life. Sophocles continues to elaborate on her assertive nature with the use of rhetorical questions throughout her argument with her uncle.
With rhetorical questions, Antigone easily directs the thoughts of the audience to agree with her, to a certain extent, manipulating the audience. When she asks “what greater glory could I win than to give my own brother decent burial,” (84) she doesn’t pose a question but rather to show the audience that it is, in fact, her greatest glory because she has done the right thing in honoring the gods. Burial rites are sacred regardless of conflicts of the living because the dead have nothing to do with the living. She refers to this ritual outlined by the Greek religion as one of the fundamental spect of respecting the gods through a rhetorical question. The answer resonates with the audience and aids the plot development of the play as well. It indicates that Antigone is not merely finding excuses for her wrongdoing but she sides with the truth. Her words and tone maintained throughout her confrontation with Creon establishes herself as a logical and convincing character. Unfortunately, Antigone’s persistency falls short before the execution seen through her departing line. Her final words with Creon reveal her to be fragile and emotional. It is a very short lament but it speaks volume.
Upon realizing that she is taking a look at the Sun for the last time of her life and speaking her last words, she utters that “it’s come. It’s here. ” These words are more powerful than any other sentences in terms of emotion. In four words, the lamentation and resignation of Antigone facing her unjust fate are pure and concentrated. “The toughest iron… crack and shatter first of all” (83) and “even the bravest [of men] will cut and run, / once they see Death coming for their lives,” (90) so her simple resignation earns her tremendous respect and sympathy from the audience. Furthermore, the lack of exclamation in her final line dvocates the helplessness of an innocent young woman fulfilling her duty, which happened to be against the state law. This is the point which Aristotle would define as Katharsis, the most emotionally intense part of the play. The final change in character is effectively portrayed in her dialogue with Creon. Similar to Antigone, the dogmatic and condescending personality of Creon is outlined in his dialogue with Antigone shown through word choices and general tone of his arguments. Antagonistic, Creon demands that the whole of Thebes obey his laws at all time, at all cost. When he accuses Antigone and charges her ith the death sentence, he confirms his own dogmatism and egoism. While Antigone makes a strong case for her justification of burying Polynices, Creon replies with less intelligence. In response to the accusation of placing himself above the gods, he begins with “the stiffest stubborn wills/fall the hardest” (83) and proceeds to state “there’s no room for pride, not in a slave, / not with the lord and master standing by. ” (83) Throughout his long speech, not a single word supports any logical and objective argument. He automatically assumes a superior attitude and resorts to derogatory erms frequently. He describes Antigone as a stubborn, rebellious, and proud slave publicly displaying insolence. These extremely negative terms come up multiple times in a short interval. For example, proud and pride a mere line apart while insolence is dictated twice over three lines. Disregarding his less-than-noble insults, his aggression upon accusation undermines his credibility as a capable ruler. The emotional outburst ridicules Creon as the king of Thebes. In fact, he acts just like a toddler when he swears that he will bring Antigone “the most barbaric death. ” (83) His arrogance is eflected through the sweeping generalization that he makes to defend his position as the argument advances. When Antigone points out that the chorus have their lips locked in fear, Creon replies that she is the only one “of all the people in Thebes, / see things that way. ” He committed two grievous mistakes in his argument. First of all, the strongest counterargument would be allowing the chorus to speak their mind. Instead, he decides to speak for them, shutting their lips before they themselves could even open their lips. To make things all the worse, Creon decides that she “alone of all people in Thebes, / see things that way. This sweeping generalization indicates his mental blindness, an unwillingness to view things on a slightly different angle. It is also babyish to argue with “never” and “you alone of all people” which is what he does repeatedly. Creon utilizes this dictatorial word choice multiple times to emphasize that once a traitor, always a traitor. However, unfortunately, two never does not make it twice as strong, only absurd. Contrary to Antigone, Creon’s change in character is not evident in his dialogue with Antigone because Creon could not realize his mistake well after the dire consequences hit.
Although there are many alternative ways to develop characters, Sophocles primarily establishes the characters through diction reflected in dialogue. He was deliberate in his play, considering every word and punctuation in the characters’ speeches to craft all the calculated effects to ensure the success of the tragedy. In terms of the second most important element of a tragedy in Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, Antigone is a largely successful play in that the character developments advance the plot by manipulating the audience through rhetorical questions and words that either praise fantastically or condemn ferociously.