The Greek Tragedy Antigone
Antigone vs. Ismene In the Greek tragedy Antigone, the playwright Sophocles developed his characters with strongly contrasting personalities. The sisters Antigone and Ismene are foils to each other, in that they are characters with completely opposite personalities. Antigone is strong, stubborn, and stands up for what she believes in, while Ismene is weak, obedient to the law, and very passive. Throughout the play, Antigone and Ismene display their opposing beliefs and personalities. When introduced in the prologue, the conflict of Polyneices’ burial reveals the difference between Antigone’s strengths and Ismene’s weaknesses.
The prologue also distinguishes their contrasting values concerning the laws of the gods and the laws of humans. Creon’s law forbidding the burial of her brother uncovers Antigone’s courageous, powerful characteristics, and also unmasks her strong belief in the laws of the gods. After hearing of the law, Antigone tells her sister “Ismene, I am going to bury him. Will you come? /… Creon is not strong enough to stand in my way”. (Prologue 31-35). Antigone is well aware of the punishment for defying Creon’s law, but is still willing to suffer the consequences.
She believes that divine law overpowers human law, and is not afraid to express her opinion. Another scene of the play in which Antigone displays her strong and brave personality is Scene 2. After the Sentry leads Antigone to Creon, he asks “Had you heard my proclamation touching this matter? ”(Scene II 54). Antigone sarcastically responds by saying “It was public. Could I help hearing it? ” (Scene II 55). The tone of voice Antigone uses in this scene suggests that she is not intimidated by Creon. Antigone’s courage triumphs for not only disobeying the king’s law, but also for speaking to him in the manner she did.
Antigone Unlike her sister, Ismene lets her gender and fear of punishment get in her way, causing her to be weak and obedient to the law. When Antigone asks Ismene to help bury their brother, she immediately responds: “Bury him! You have just said the new law forbids it. / … But think of the danger! Think of what Creon will do! ” (Prologue 32-34). Ismene does not dare think of going against Creon’s law, which shows that she is weak. Ismene’s response to Antigone shows that she knows her place in the world as a woman, and knows that she should not express her thoughts.
Ismene’s weakness is shown again in Scene 2 when she tries to take part of the credit for the crime. “… I am here / To join you, to take my share of the punishment. /… What do I care for life when you are dead? ” (Scene II 133-140). At first, Ismene was too submissive to help Antigone defend their brother and risk her life to give him a proper burial. Later, Ismene realizes that she has no purpose of living if her sister is gone, so she tries to take part of the credit for the crime and offers her own life to keep from being alone.
In conclusion, there is a distinct difference between Antigone and Ismene as characters, which makes them keen examples of character foils. The two sisters are very diverse in nature, which is shown through their beliefs in human law and divine law. Throughout the play, Antigone shows she is strong and capable of standing up for what she believes in, while Ismene is weak and brought down by her gender and obedience to the law. Antigone also shows she is brave and courageous for standing up to the king, which greatly contrasts with Ismene’s passive personality.