In his play Antigone, Sophocles portrays the character of Creon in a multitude of ways but particularly as proud and uncompromising. Because he is ruler of Thebes, many of his actions drive and shape the course of the drama. Significantly, it is also through the voice of Creon that readers can view how women are supposed to function in Theban society: subservient to their male counterparts. Sophocles uses Antigone as the antithesis to this patriarchal view. She is depicted as strikingly similar to Creon in her pride and unwillingness to compromise her beliefs, and as she directly defies Creon she simultaneously defies the accepted role of women in this society. Her unwavering personality eventually leads her to die graciously by her own hand, rather than by Creon’s. This, combined with Creon’s shift from strong and proud to meek and self-loathing, show that Antigone can be read from a feminist perspective—with Antigone’s self-imposed death as the ultimate defiance of Creon and Thebes’s status quo of male superiority.
Over the course of Antigone, Creon’s overbearing sense of pride and belief that women should accept their inferior role in society become clear. For example, when Creon originally finds out that someone had defied his edict by giving the traitor, Polyneices, a proper burial, he displays utter disbelief that somebody could have defied him. Creon states, “Who? Who dared?”(313), and immediately jumps to a conclusion, shouting to a guard: “You did this! For money!”(322). Furthermore, Creon, filled with pride, does not even consider the notion that a woman could have completed the simple act, pronouncing, “[. . .] certain men in this city, as they would have it, have scarcely been able to stand up under my commands. [. . .] Those are the men that did this [. . .]” (365-371). In addition, when Creon discovers that indeed a woman went against his word, he is infuriated and insulted that an individual that is below him in society, a woman, could have had the audacity to go against his edict. Creon states, “I’m no man—she is a man, she’s the king—if she gets away with this” (589-591). This line illustrates that in Thebes society women should not be in positions of power, that they are defined as the lesser sex in society. Creon continually refers to and champions this idea throughout the drama.
As the play continues, Creon overtly states his view of the suitability of a subservient woman and the negativity of any deviation from that role on a variety of occasions. At one point Creon proudly states, “I’m alive though, and no woman will rule me” (646), further illustrating the negativity of a woman having superiority, in any regard, to man. Creon demonstrates this belief again when he says, “If we must fall, better to fall to a real man and not be called worse than women” (823-824). Readers can also witness how this belief was accepted by society at the time through the chorus leader, who is representative of the masses, and his acceptance of it as he says, “In my belief, unless time has robbed me of discernment, you are speaking intelligently on this subject” (825-828). These lines show that this view of male superiority, clearly, is widely accepted as the status quo in Thebes.
As Creon’s condescending views on women are being established, readers are also introduced to Antigone – the antithesis of such a patriarchal view. Antigone’s strong willed manner and proud defiance of Creon demonstrate to readers that she is plainly not an example of how a typical woman in Creon’s society should function. Antigone openly states her belief in her own personal strength in the opening scene when she says to her sister, “Then weakness will be your plea. I am different” (100-101). This proud statement of her strength comes across as very similar to Creon’s, who, as king, is a symbol of power and masculinity, two terms that would never be used to describe a woman in this society.
Along with her self-stated strength, from the beginning of the play readers can also view Antigone’s unwillingness to compromise her belief that Polyneices, her brother, deserves a proper burial—a burial that she will give him—even though Creon’s law guarantees death to anyone who dares to do so. Antigone makes it clear that she acknowledges the consequence of violating Creon’s edict, yet she still insists on her principle when she says, “I will bury him myself. If I die doing that, good [. . .]” (88-90). Antigone again recognizes her defiance of Creon based on her inability to go against her beliefs by saying, “I did it. I deny nothing. [. . .] I was thoroughly aware I would die before you proclaimed it” (541-566). Even as Antigone is making her final procession to the tomb where Creon has sent her to eventually die, she remains unwavering, stating, “Polyneices, I buried you too. And today, this [death] is my reward. But I was right to honor you, and men who understand will agree” (1056-1059). The fact that Antigone still stays true to her original motivations, even as she is on her way to die for it, shows the personal strength that she possesses. This depiction of Antigone as a strong woman, steadfast in her convictions and unafraid of a man and ruler, even in the face of death, clearly sets her in direct contrast to Creon’s patriarchal outlook on a woman’s inferior place in his society.
In addition to her strong refusal to compromise her views, Antigone’s pride also demonstrates her defiance of the accepted role of submission that women should play in society. For example, when Antigone defies Creon and buries her brother, her sister, out of fear of Creon, says she will remain quiet about the matter. However, Antigone does not want her to do so, saying, “No, shout it, proclaim it. I’ll hate you more for keeping silence” (108-109). This line demonstrates that Antigone is not only unafraid of the consequences she may suffer, but that she is proud of her actions, and prefers people to know what she did. Creon, in another scene, adds to this sentiment by stating that she was “bragging about it” (587), which further illustrates the fact that Antigone’s pride trumps all else, even the threat of death.
This inherent pride, an attribute that clearly helped Antigone defy her ruler and secure an imminent death, also allows Antigone to graciously accept her death, as evidenced by her statements leading up to it; and instead of dying quietly at the hands of her ruler’s edict, Antigone hangs herself—a final demonstration of her unwillingness to bend to anyone else, and, in consequence, a final defiance of the submissive social role of women as well. Antigone’s procession to the tomb Creon plans to enclose her in is not solemn or quiet; instead Antigone walks proudly and graciously accepts her fate. The chorus states Antigone’s graceful procession saying, “You go with fame and in glory to the hidden place of the dead. [. . .] You descend to the kingdom of Death alive, of your own accord” (972-977). This line again illustrates that Antigone is accepting of the fate she has secured herself and plans to die with the same pride that she has lived with thus far.
Antigone once more shows her pride by openly stating her acceptance of her imminent death for not conceding her belief about her brother’s burial, stating, “But my fate is my own, to die; and there is no one I love who sighs over me”( 1029-1030). Creon’s reaction to Antigone’s words demonstrates his frustration that Antigone still refuses to submit to him or show any sign of humility in the face of death, something that clearly challenges the assigned social role of women at this time. Creon replies, “Singing and sighing! If it were any use to talk before you die no one would ever stop. Take her away. Hurry!”(1031-1034). Creon’s words exemplify his anger and frustration that, rather than humbly accepting defeat at the hands of her ruler, Antigone is still speaking with the same conviction and pride that she has shown through the play to this point, which is, once again, not compliant with her social role as a woman, championed by Creon, in Thebes.
The physical act of Antigone’s suicide is also highly significant in her portrayal as the antithesis to Creon’s view on how women should function in society. The mere fact that Antigone chose to kill herself, “hanged by the neck, a noose made from her own linen robe” (1416-1417), acts as a final defiance of Creon, and as a result, his patriarchal views as well. Antigone refused to die by Creon’s words—he demanded that she be enclosed in a tomb to die a slow death—and instead, she died just as she had lived, through herself and herself only. By viewing Antigone’s suicide as a final assertion of her self-power and, as a result, as a resistance to the established role of women at this time, the event can be read on a positive feminist note. Antigone died with the independence and will-power she lived with, and never compromised to Creon even as she breathed her last.
To further prove Antigone as an “archetypal feminist,” the demise of Creon, a man with a personality just as strong as hers, illustrates her success in defying the submissive social role she was assigned as a woman. For example, through the course of the play, Creon, like Antigone, is filled with pride and refuses to compromise his beliefs or go against his word, as he sees such actions as sign of weakness. Creon demonstrates this view stating things such as, “Or how much worse losing your judgment is?”(1215), and “Just understand: I’m not for sale. I have principles” (1237-1238) in response to Teiresias’s pleads for him to reverse his edict. Again, he states his unwillingness to compromise his views saying, “It’s terrible to give in,” (1272). These lines of Creon’s refusal to back down, similar to Antigone’s own views, set up his huge collapse at the end of the play, however. Creon’s decision to go against his word and reverse his edict when he learns that his kingdom will be plagued if he does not illustrates that even a strong willed and proud man is capable of breaking, and serves to further highlight the unique strength that Antigone, destined to be a complacent and inferior woman in Creon’s world, possessed and died with.
By the end of the play, Creon is devoid of any sense of pride and strength he originally possessed, and the play concludes for him on an opposite note that it did for Antigone. While Antigone died graciously and through her own accord, never losing sight of her original motivations and beliefs, Creon folds and compromises, and by the play’s end, after watching his family members die, he shamefully wishes to see his own life taken as well. Creon’s downfall is captured in the words of a messenger who states, “Once, in my opinion, Creon was enviable. [. . .] But now has lost everything” (1133-1138). Furthermore, Creon’s loss of strength and pride are further demonstrated in his begging for his own death as he states, “Why don’t you hack me down? Has someone got a sword? I and grief are blended. I am grief. [. . .] I’m nobody. I’m nothing. [. . .] I don’t want to see another day” (1500-1519). This emotional and self-loathing side of Creon is a massive deviation from his powerful and proud representation throughout the course of the play, and is significant in the portrayal of Antigone because it helps to additionally show that her strength has far surpassed his. Even when he explicitly stated that women are below men in society, Antigone’s death by her own hand, compared to Creon’s slow and cowardly demise, demonstrates that Antigone had successfully challenged and discredited the idea that women should submit to their male counterparts in society.
Through Sophocles’s establishment of the conflict between Creon and Antigone, two very similar characters within this play, readers can simultaneously view a conflict between a patriarchal view of the function of women in society and an individual who clearly defies it. The juxtaposition of the strength and pride of these two characters illustrates the disparity between the two at Antigone’s conclusion. Creon’s eventual demise and ultimate transition from a character filled with pride to a character filled with self-loathing, compared to Antigone’s self-imposed death and her ability to remain unwavering and die with the pride she lived with, demonstrate to readers that Antigone can be read as a play where the status quo, a particularly negative one for women, can indeed be defeated by an individual’s ability to remain true to herself, and in doing so, defy it. This defiance takes the negative outlook on a woman’s role in society, and, in turn, creates a largely positive one, one that demonstrates to readers that simply defying the status quo can sometimes be enough to personally defeat it altogether.