Antigone by Anouilh is a modern perspective on Antigone by Sophocles. The play is written in the backdrop of occupied France during the Second World War. Anouilh, the author, rewrites the play by Sophocles giving it a modern twist and relevance based on the current state of events. The play portrays a heroine who is forced to choose between making her own choices and following tradition and custom (Honig 102). However, Antigone, the heroine, decides to create her own destiny that leads to her demise. “Have you asked yourself if it is Ismene you ought to have married?” (Anouilh 17). The play can be interpreted in one of two ways. Firstly, it promotes the dictates of existential philosophy own an absurd world without purpose, and the individual gives themselves purpose. This perspective celebrates thus action taken by Antigone. Alternatively, Antigone’s act may be considered ill-advised and selfish by putting oneself above the greater good of the others. Antigone by Anouilh is an emotive play that questions individualism versus the greater good.
Antigone by Anouilh is a replica of Antigone by Sophocles set in occupied France during world war two. Plots of the two plays are similar with the tragedy that befalls the heroin in both plays. “Antigone held herself by the code of her rope” (Anouilh 51). During world war two in France, existentialism philosophy by Sartre was a popular philosophy. Anouilh’s play equally adopts the existential principles that the philosophy propounded. In particular, an existential philosophy advocated for the individual free will and ability to determine their future (Crowell 90). The individual in the philosophy gave life its purpose since life was an absurd world with no predetermined purposes. For this reason, existentialist believed that individual will was paramount and the person had the responsibility to live out their life passionately overcoming whatever existential obstacles they came across.
The plot of Antigone is tragic owing to her won resolute to give life her self-ordained purpose. In the play, Antigone is a princess with a prince for a fiancé who chose her despite her sister being more beautiful. As it seems, Antigone has it all, a life of luxury and comfort. However, she is obsessed with giving Polynice a burial. Polynice was declared a traitor by King Creon and denied the satisfaction of burial. However, Antigone takes the personal responsibility of burying Polynice in secret in contravention of the king’s declaration (Anouilh, 6). When she is arrested and brought before the Creon as the person that broke the king edict, she is reminded of her duty as a princess to respect the countries laws. Antigone’s selfless and indecent mind are examples of the existentialist philosophy that Sartre and Anouilh both propounded. She refuses to be herded and thinks for herself fight an action she believes to be an injustice. Antigone responds, “I owed to him. Those who are not buried wonder and find no rest” (Anouilh 29). Antigone’s motivations are not driven by her religious belief but her own person conscious (Benardete 31). Her choice, highlight the challenges of the Second World War. The Nazi regime was responsible for a number of atrocities through the second Reich. Many of the German soldiers did not support some of the actions that the Nazi regime employed. However, they followed through blindly. Antigone by Anouilh is a critic of herd mentality and the desire to be accepted into society as one life purpose. Anouilh asserts that one life purpose is the one that is defined based on consciousness.
Existentialist philosophy is, however, not universally accepted in particular to its individual-centric approach to life. Existential philosophy comes off as a self-centered approach to life. It ignores other forms of relations in life that define one’s relations, and responsibilities in life. For instance, a sense of community is of importance in many cultures (Honing 32). Creon states, “Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law” (Anouilh 29). The social contract is founded on the principle of giving up some individual rights for the benefit of the society. These sentiments are upheld by the utilitarian philosophy that presupposes ultimate happiness which includes self-sacrifice. As such, the purpose of life under such philosophical viewpoints goes beyond the person and includes other parties or ideas.
In Antigone, the main character’s actions betray a sense of community and unity in purpose. Antigone decides to follow through her decision to bury Polynice despite her duty to her country. She betrays this duty and takes the initiative that is detrimental to the wellbeing of the masses. In this case, the choices and actions of Antigone may be construed as selfish and self-centered. In some instance, the benefits of the many outweigh the rights of the few. By undertaking to bury Polynice, despite the dedicates of the king, Antigone puts herself and her family in a compromising situation. Creon, her uncle attempts to pardon her for burying Polynice the first time by reminding Antigone of her duty. In his speech, he states “You thought that because you come from a royal family, because you are my nice and because you were to marry my son I should have dared killed you” (Anouilh 31). However, she asserts that she would bury Polynice if released. Creon is forced to follow the law for her to maintain respect among his subjects.
To sum up, Antigone’s perspective on life, free will and determinism tackles fundamental questions of the purpose of life. Further, she depicts an “individual free will and determines the greater good of the many” (Crowell 23). Through the play, the purpose of life is questioned. However, the play adopts an extremist position in promoting existentialism, by illustrating Antigone sticking to her position. Still, the play highlights the negative consequences the individualism may bring when exercised in contradiction to the will of the many. As such, a balance has to be struck between individual purpose and ones duty to society and the well-being of others. Antigone however, proves that there are no easy choices.
- Anouilh, Jean Antigone: A tragedy: London, Methuen Drama, 2015
- Benardete, Seth. “Sacred Transgressions: A Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone.” (2014).
- Crowell, Steven, “Existentialism” Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 10 January 2017, from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/ existentialism
- Honig, Bonnie. Antigone, interrupted. Cambridge University Press, 2013.