MLK vs. Antigone
I didn’t say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that your can do is to have me killed. The political heroism in Antigone’s resistance is her refusal of state power. Antigone says no to all she finds vile, and in this sense she is more powerful than the ruler beholden to his throne. Despite all his trappings of power, Creon finds himself helpless, unable to act on his own.
He wants not to execute Antigone but cannot help ordering her death. Having said yes to state power, he is circumscribed by his own kingship, by very the throne that makes him the master of the land. He has surrendered himself entirely to the state and knows his circumscription all too well. Unlike Antigone, he has completely ceded his desires to take upon the mantle of governance. Creon is rendered loathsome, terrified of what his office requires of him and yet unable to act otherwise.
My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen! Antigone makes this delirious proclamation upon reading Creon’s weakness. In contrast to conventional readings of the Antigone legend, Anouilh’s Antigone does not defend her act of rebellion in the name of filial, religious, or even moral integrity. This insistence becomes especially clear in the course of her confrontation with Creon.
In asking why and in whose name Antigone has rebelled, Creon will progressively strip Antigone’s act of its external motivations. Antigone will have no “just cause,” no human reason for bringing herself to the point of death: her act is senseless and gratuitous. Instead, she acts in terms of her desire, a desire she clings to despite its madness. Ultimately Antigone’s insistence on her desire removes her from the human. She becomes a veritably tabooed body and exalts herself in her abjection. As with Oedipus, her expulsion from the human community would make her tragically beautiful. f Haemon reaches the point where he stops growing pale with fear when I grow pale, stops thinking that I must have been killed in an accident when I am five minutes late, stops feeling that he is alone on earth when I laugh and he doesn’t know why—if he too has to learn to say yes to everything—why, no, then, no! I do not love Haemon! Antigone recants her love for Haemon toward the end of her confrontation with Creon. Creon has unmasked her brothers as treacherous gangsters, making her act and death march entirely gratuitous.
Its political, moral, filial, and religious motivations appear entirely external. Thus Creon offers the dazed Antigone the promise of human happiness. This vision of human happiness provokes Antigone’s final, fatal explosion. She refuses to moderate herself: she will have everything as beautiful as it was when she was a child or die. Anouilh underscores the infantile quality of this desire: Antigone’s fiery love recalls the plight of a child who cannot handle the even momentary loss and separation of the beloved. Antigone insists on her desire in its primary form.
As for those three red-faced card players—they are the guards. One smells of garlic, another of beer; but they’re not a bad lot. They have wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them; they’re bothered by the little day-to- day worries that beset us all. At the same time—they are policemen: eternally innocent, no matter what crimes are committed; eternally indifferent, for nothing that happens can matter to them. They are quite prepared to arrest anybody at all, including Creon himself, should the order be given by a new leader.
In the prologue, the Chorus directly addresses the audience and appears self- conscious with regards to the spectacle: we are here tonight to take part in the story of Antigone. Unlike conventional melodrama, for example, we are not asked to suspend our disbelief or watch a spectacle that would seamlessly pass itself off as reality. Like its ancient predecessor, the Chorus prepares a ritual. In hits preparation, it introduces all of its players under the sign of fatality. They have come to play their roles and, if such is their fate, die. The Chorus is omniscient, narrating the characters’ very thoughts.