How Do Creon from “Antigone” by Sophocles and Bernarda from “House of Bernarda Alba” by Frederico Lorca Respond to Challenges to Their Power?
Creon, the King of Thebes, and Bernarda, who is the head of her household are the most powerful characters in their plays. Both characters want to have complete control over everything and everyone around them; however both suffer losses as a result of their attitudes and use of power. The main difference between Creon and Bernarda is how they react to these losses and to the challenges to their authority. It is this aspect which the essay will explore. The House of Bernarda has an interesting beginning because it tells us what other characters- namely Poncia and the servant- think of Bernarda.
It gives us a very clear and true representation of the kind of person Bernarda is. We discover that she is the mother and leader of the household who is made out to be a complete tyrant-“If Bernarda doesn’t see things shining here, she’ll put out what little hair I still have left. ” From what the servants say it seems that even when her husband was alive she was in control of the family, “Her poor husband’s earned himself a good rest! ” Her position is firmly established as head of the family.
Her power is shown by the fact that while both servants hate her they continue to do her bidding and remain fearful,”Damn her I’d like to stick a red-hot nail in her eyes! … But I’m still a good bitch, I bark when I’m told. ” Creon’s position is very different from Bernarda’s. He has very recently become King of Thebes, he is in fact still presenting to the people what kind of king he will be. He does this in his first monologue, “I now possess the throne and all its powers…
As I see, whoever assumes the awesome task of setting the city’s course, and refuses to adopt the soundest policies but fearing someone, keeps his lips locked tight, he’s utterly worthless. ” From the beginning he sets out to do as he said he would, to do what he thinks is best and not be swayed by other people’s point of view. But already at the opening of the play it is clear that there are those who oppose his will; Antigone is the most obvious character, although the leader of the chorus also appears slightly ill at ease with Creon’s first decree.
However, Creon is oblivious and expects complete loyalty, “Follow my orders closely then” , “See that you never side with those that break my orders. ” It is clear that his power is not as complete and secure as Bernarda’s. Bernarda’s power is shown to extend over people one would assume to be her equals; this is the case when the mourning women come to her house. They are clearly unsure of themselves; this is shown by the series of pauses that pervade their conversation. They wait for Bernarda to initiate the conversation and, when this fails, they make small talk that would be unable to offend her.
Even when Angustias, a 39 year old woman, is struck by her mother with a stick she doesn’t stand up for herself. Bernarda’s stick is a symbol of her power, whenever she is exerting her authority she bangs her stick or, if she is punishing someone, she uses her stick to beat them. In Antigone Creon’s power is challenged almost from the moment he has finished declaring his absolute rule over Thebes. He is told by a sentry that his first decree, the banning of Polynieces’ burial has been carried out in secret.
Despite this blunt challenge to Creon’s authority, Sophocles shows him to still be in a position of power; this is achieved through the sentry’s fear of Creon’s wrath. “If somebody gets the news to Creon first, what’s to save your neck? ” Creon is shocked by the fact someone would go against his wishes, “What man alive would dare-” . This shock is a manifestation of his arrogance; he assumes that whatever he wishes will happen. The play is in part a condemnation of man’s greed for power and this is reflected whenever Creon’s power is shown.
This idea would have been extremely relevant to Sophocles’ audience. During his life Athens, the city in which he presented his plays, was a democracy and Athenians would therefore have looked down on Creon and his love of complete control. As The House of Bernarda progresses, Bernarda’s daughters begin to resent her control over them, the first to attempt to free herself from her mother is Martirio. She tells her mother not to hit her, which provokes an angry repost from Bernarda,”I shall hit you as much as I like! She is unused to her daughters answering back and is unsettled by the experience, the attempted rebellion is however unsuccessful as Martirio remains under her mother’s power leaving when told and returning later with all thoughts of mutiny extinguished. Lorca makes it clear that Bernarda is still completely in control. He shows this by her dismissal of Poncia’s doubts about the effect of Pepe al Romano on the daughters and her use of Poncia’s dead mother’s dubious past to blackmail her into leaving the subject alone.
Bernarda clearly still feels that she is in control, “Fortunately my daughters respect me, they have never gone against my wishes. ” Bernarda’s conversation with her apparent friend, Prudencia, also serves the same purpose. Bernarda is portrayed as the senior person, for example when Prudencia first gets up to leave Bernarda makes her stay. Moreover, throughout the exchange Prudencia is complementary to her. Lorca evidently wants to show that Bernarda is still the domineering force in the play.
In Antigone, although Creon is questioned throughout the play about his decision to condemn Antigone to death, he remains in control if not to the same extent as Bernarda. He uses the same threatening style in his approach to power, “Now by heaven, I promise you, you’ll pay- taunting, insulting me! ” It is only after the prophet, Tiresias, tells him that he will lose a child due to his actions, which have angered the gods that he changes his mind. Towards the end of House of Bernarda Alba Adela is the person who finally successfully stands up to Bernarda, “An end to all your shouting! She shouts before breaking Bernarda’s stick in two. This act symbolises her freeing herself from her mother’s control. Unfortunately, she does not live long as a free woman, hanging herself when she falsely believes that Pepe al Romano has been shot. After her death Bernarda remains the same as she was before, she immediately takes control of the situation, “I want no weeping… Silence! Silence I said! Silence! ” This death brings the whole play full circle, with the death of Adela instead of the father being mourned.
In the end, Lorca shows that, despite everything that has happened to Bernarda, she remains the tyrannical presence over her daughters and those in her household that she was throughout the play. It could be argued that both Creon and Bernarda are victims of their culture. Creon comes from a culture where honour is regarded as one of the most important attributes, if not the most important for a man to have. Cowardice is an unforgivable crime. Because of this, Creon acts the way he does, he wants to be the traditional strong leader but instead becomes a crazed despot who abuses his position of divine representative of the Gods on Earth.
His actions result in the Gods punishing him and he loses what he cares most deeply about. Bernarda is similarly adversely affected, she tries to be respectable too much, she is described by Poncia as “The cleanest, most respectable, the most high and mighty. ” Her whole life is governed by the way other people view her and her family. This is what causes her to control everything around her to the extent that she does. To conclude, both Creon and Bernarda are surprised by the challenges to their power and both respond to these challenges with threats and actual violence.
Both characters have their authority questioned and their control is at least for a time removed from them. They are also similar from the point of view that culture has a large impact upon the way that they act, even if their development in each play is dissimilar. In the end it would appear that Bernarda has more power over others than Creon. He is still answerable to the Gods whereas she is the ultimate authority and for this reason is ultimately unaffected by challenges to her authority whilst Creon is ruined by Antigone and the other characters’ refusal to submit to his will.