‘Antigone’ by Jean Anouilh
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“Antigone”, written in 1942 by the French playwright Anouilh, is based upon the original “Antigone” the third play in the trilogy of “The Theban Plays” written by Sophocles, of Ancient Greece, in around 450 BC. “Antigone” is based upon the age-old conflict between the requirements of human and divine law. Although Anouilh’s version of “Antigone” is significantly similar to its original by Sophocles, there are substantial differences between the two plays. There is the chorus depicted as one person who sets the scene, the many different characters who draw out different perspectives of Antigone’s persona and the introduction of the character of the nurse. During “Antigone”, contempt of death enables a weak maiden to conquer a powerful ruler, who, proud of his own wisdom, ventures in his unbounded arrogance to his pit his royal word against the duty to kin and human sentiment, and learns all to late by destruction, that fate, in due course, brings fit punishment.
Due to the fact that the play is based on conflict, the story of the play is revealed over the dispute about the burial of Antigone’s brother, Polynices, in which King Creon’s views are that of a political nature opposed to Antigone’s religious duties and opinions, whilst both retaining the belief that they are in the right. As the audience, we can only anticipate the most dramatic scene that will therefore be the confrontation between these two characters when Antigone is arrested, as their positions are conflicting. This essay is to analyse what effects the dramatic devices used by Anouilh have in the scenes leading up to Antigone’s arrest and I will endeavour to highlight those that do so.
The opening speech by the chorus sets the scene for the conflict in the play, the tension and suspense of “Antigone” is felt immediately. The chorus begins by opening with a description of all the characters of the play, setting the stage for the story of Antigone, telling us that Antigone feels that its her duty to bury her dead brother; as the Greek view of death was that a person’s soul could never come to rest unless their body had been buried, otherwise they would remain eternally on Earth. It is Creon’s contrasting views on Polynices’ welfare that makes the play so intriguing.
The chorus in the up-dated version of “Antigone” by Anouilh is singular, whereas in the original by Sophocles, the chorus was of a group of men who spoke in unison and order. The tactic of using just one person as the chorus makes the narration seem more human and realistic and the chorus plays the part of setting the scene for the story, narrating and maybe commenting on the events that might have just taken place. In the opening tableau, the chorus informs the audience of what will is going to happen, which is surprising, as the audience now know the fate of Antigone, due to Creon believing that he has to stand by his predetermined edict whilst Antigone feels that the state law is inadequate by comparison to the divine law and duty to her brother.
The fact that the chorus has notified the audience of Antigone’s fate it makes them focus more on the situation at present and introduces Antigone much more realistically and human. The chorus tells the story unemotionally and the contrast between what is being said and the way is looks, evokes emotion from the audience. The opening verse told so factually and unresponsively by the chorus alters the way that the audience perceives the play – it makes things inevitable and the audience anticipates the development of what they already know will happen rather than what may happen. This device creates tension very early on in the play continuing as a theme throughout leading up to the confrontational arrest of Antigone
This dramatic device of using a chorus, narrating each scene predetermining what will happen, used by Anouilh is extremely clever as it captures the audience – fascinating them as although they know what is going to happen due to the speeches from the chorus, the audience can only await the fate of Antigone. This tactic is clever in the aspect of that not only are the audience captivated, they are enjoying every moment building up to the final confrontation, desperate to see how the situation will unravel itself rather than anticipating what will happen next in the story. This dramatic device used by Anouilh plays a major part in creating suspense as the audience’s attention is drawn only to the chorus who tells the tale of Antigone simply and truthfully, intensifying the anxiety from the beginning of the play, playing on the audience’s emotions making it tragically dramatic.
The characters along with their personalities are described realistically displaying them as normal people, rather than the Kings and Princesses that they truly are. Similar to ordinary people, they are going through the everyday trials and tribulations of love, friendship, work and relationships, making the audience feel a closeness towards them from the beginning. Upon first impressions, Antigone appears vulnerable, almost childlike due to her distinctive description from the chorus in the opening scene, initially indicating this from the way that she sits, deep in thought, her hands clasped around her knees describing her as “the thin little creature sitting by herself, staring straight ahead, seeing nothing, is Antigone. She is thinking”. Creon, in contrast, is an intimidating well-built man, living up to the part as king, a strong and powerful leader claiming that “His face is lined. He is tired. He practises the difficult art of a leader of men”, and on slightly closer inspection, it is apparent that he seems to be carrying the world on his shoulders.
Once Antigone is introduced to the audience, you are made to feel that you have known her all of your life. You do not know that she has broken the edict laid down by Creon to begin with, but she seems to be acting out of character, giving an initial indication that she had done something out of the ordinary, coming across extremely romantic and idealistic. In her opening conversation with her nurse, she seems to be in a daydream, almost reminiscing about her most recent experience that morning. As she talks, she seems unusually aware of her surroundings being especially appreciative of the smallest things that she may not have noticed before. She talks of her morning being “like a postcard; all pink and green and yellow”, and the beauty of the garden being “still asleep” and “how lovely the garden looked when not yet thinking of men”. The nurse doesn’t seem to register Antigone’s daydream, continuing to scold her for leaving her room in the middle of the night.
Then, when the nurse starts to quiz Antigone about where she has been and what she has been doing that morning, Antigone can only answer with idyllic responses with no relevance to what she may have been asked, seemingly in a trance. Her behaviour is obviously completely out of the ordinary, and not surprisingly, the nurse picks up on this, and begins to worry about Antigone. The nurse continues her inquisition, and Antigone, still overwhelmed about the events that took place earlier that morning, answers simply a yes or no, infuriating her nurse even more and becomes exasperated and so asks “you’d tell me why your bed was empty when I went along to tuck you in, wouldn’t you?”. The language Antigone uses during this conversation with her nurse displays her age, showing up the younger aspects of her personality.
Although Antigone is engaged, she is portrayed as vulnerable needing to have the character of the nurse picking up after her, and this is especially noticeable when her nurse starts crying from frustration due to Antigone’s antics – Antigone admits to feeling like a child again by saying to her nurse “When you cry like that, I become a little girl again; and I mustn’t be a little girl today”. From this discussion, you can instantly recognise Antigone’s characteristics and by comparing the nurse to Antigone, you can see their differences – the nurse is practical and conservative whilst Antigone seems to be impulsive and at liberty. This is an obvious dramatic device used by Anouilh because by introducing a character with a contrasting personality, it shows up flaws and certain aspects of Antigone’s personality that may not have been made apparent.
Just at this point in the play, Antigone’s older sister, Ismene, enters, the nurse leaves and offers an opportunity for the sisters to talk about the burial of their brother and how they would be put to death if caught. Ismene reminds Antigone of the seriousness of the edict, the risk of defying it and how the whole ordeal seems horribly terrifying, trying to dissuade her little sister by saying “I thought about it all night long. Antigone, you’re mad”. Antigone states that they are bound to die, acting impulsively, whereas Ismene reacts much more maturely, considering the consequences of her actions before making any decisions. Ismene remarks on Antigone’s restlessness and that once an idea was in her head, nothing would be able to deter her from it, making it evident that Antigone and Ismene have distinctly different personalities and perspectives on life – Ismene is able to see both points of view where concerning the edict, whereas Antigone can only see her own point of view, which in her opinion is right, displaying an aspect of stubbornness, risking to die for what she believes in.
Ismene leaves, and once she is gone, Antigone realises that her only fate is death, making it questionable for the audience to whether or not she had already buried Polynices body. She acts insecure and precarious, prophesising her fate and talks finally about certain issues to her nurse, for example, about the well being of her dog, knowing that she may not be able to continue looking after it and says to her nurse “My dog Puff … promise me that you will never scold her again”. The nurse seems confused, but seems to think that Antigone is playing a game with her and so agrees to all of Antigone’s pleas and leaves her in peace.
Antigone’s fiancé, Haemon, enters soon after the nurse’s departure and Antigone starts by blurting out some puzzling comments about the future – she starts talking in a conditional sense and tells him that “I wanted you to know I would have been proud to be your wife”. The night before, she went to Haemon with the intention of seducing him by taking Ismene’s perfume, clothes and make-up but was laughed away by Haemon due to her appearance, and as a virgin, she indicates that she is aware of what she will miss of being his wife when she dies, although to the audience it is not apparent that she has done something to deserve the death penalty. Haemon begins to worry about Antigone due to her premonitions of the future, her strange manor has alerted him into thinking that something is definitely wrong and her strange actions build up the tension on the topic of whether she will go through with the burial of her brother. Haemon leaves feeling confused just as Ismene enters concerned that her sister may go ahead with the burial of Polynices. The suspense heightens when Antigone admits to Ismene that she has in fact, already buried the body.
The scene changes to Creon’s palace, where the guard who witnessed the burial has been sent as a messenger to inform Creon of what has happened, obviously worried about the King’s reaction and although he eventually tells the King of the burial, he makes it long-winded, building up greater suspense for the audience whilst they envision Creon’s reaction. The guard carries the story on in a trivial way, changing the tone of the play, ceasing its flow, creating even greater tension as he attempts to lift the atmosphere by joking when there is a matter of life or death to be dealt with and as a contrast to his humour, the seriousness of what he is saying, heighten the tension surrounding the edict. Creon wearily accepts the news conceding the political obligation to follow his edict through although the traitor is his own niece, Antigone. It is apparent that Creon is obsessed with his power and feels that he has to portray himself as in control, although inside his head, it may be a completely different matter.
Creon leaves the scene, leaving the chorus to enter with another speech concerning Antigone’s fate and welfare. He begins to talk about tragedy, linking the scenario of the story to a theme of tragedy using the metaphor “the spring is wound up tight, it will uncoil itself. That is what is so convenient in tragedy, the least little turn of the wrist will do the job.” By this, the chorus is saying that the spring already has a lot of tension to be released, and the smallest thing could set it off, the tension of the play concerning the inevitability of death. The chorus makes you wait, heightening the tension in the atmosphere, the speech focuses on tragedy and inevitability, both of which topics are main themes of the play. The imagery used to talk about all of the clues that lead to tragedy, comparing it with melodrama, all relate to what has already happened. As it had been predetermined, Antigone has been caught and from the chorus’s speech, they explain how tragedy seems to be “calm”, reflecting the calm nature of Antigone.
The dramatic devices used by Anouilh leading up to the arrest of Antigone are extremely effective and leave the audience anticipating Antigone’s next move. The dramatic devices he uses are that of the chorus, the tableau and the uses of other character’s personalities to reveal disguised aspects of Antigone’s own personality
The tableau opens the play, being told by the chorus, setting the scene for Antigone to start speaking. The tableau gives an inside view of the characters backgrounds and personalities to the audience, making them recognise them as typical everyday people rather than that of the high positions they hold and feel like they have known these people their whole lives. This technique is very effective as they audience become drawn into the story, being taken away from where they are, captivated by a story set in Ancient Greece. The characters are described competently, recapitulating each characters personality and appearance.
The chorus stands detached from the characters of the play, and informs the audience of the situations that the characters may be in, the troubles they may be facing and what they are thinking which is an effective dramatic device as the audience gain a greater knowledge of these people which they couldn’t have achieved without the chorus from just by observing their appearance. The use of the tableau and the chorus at the beginning of the play create tension immediately hooking the audience, captivating them so that they anticipate what will happen next. The chorus talks during the tableau whilst all of the characters are frozen. Antigone is sat centre stage and the way she sits, deep in thought, curled up tightly draws out the childish aspects of her persona, proving her vulnerability when faced with a dilemma.
Another dramatic device used by Anouilh is that of the contrasting personalities of those characters who surround Antigone. By using conflicting natures of Antigone’s friends and family, it brings out aspects of her personality that may not have been recognised beforehand. This tactic is extremely useful foe the audience as they gain a greater understanding of the girl that is Antigone. When compared with her sister, Antigone appears impulsive and chaotic in comparison to the calm, logical and beautiful Ismene, when compared to Haemon, Antigone seems neurotic and insecure whereas he is represented as stable and comforting and again, when compared with her anxious nurse, Antigone appears slightly selfish. These characters surrounding Antigone draw out different, contrasting guises and without them, she could appear to be something she is not.
In conclusion, the dramatic devices used by Anouilh set the scene perfectly, captivating the audience, intriguing them further with the powerfully delivered tableau, the insightful views of the chorus and the opposing personalities to Antigone create a heightened atmosphere of suspense.