Antigone's Monologue Expresses Defiance

Strong Protagonist in Sophocles' Tragedy

Vivien Leigh performs onstage as Antigone in 1949 alongside George Ralph as Creon

Hulton Deutsch / Contributor

Sophocles created a powerful dramatic soliloquy for his strong female protagonist, Antigone, in the play named after her. This monologue lets the performer interpret classic language and phrasing while expressing a range of emotions. The tragedy "Antigone," written around BCE 441, is part of the Theban trilogy that includes the story of Oedipus. Antigone is a strong and stubborn main character who prioritizes her duty and obligations to her family above her safety and security. She defies the laws enacted by her uncle, the king, maintaining that her actions obey the laws of the gods.

Context

After the death of their father/brother, the banished and disgraced King Oedipus (who married his mother, hence the complicated relationship), sisters Ismene and Antigone watch their brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, battle for control of Thebes. Though both perish, one is buried a hero while the other is deemed a traitor to his people. He is left to rot on the battlefield, and no one is to touch his remains.

In this scene, Antigone's uncle King Creon has ascended to the throne upon the deaths of the two brothers. He has just learned that Antigone has defied his laws by providing a proper burial for her disgraced brother.

Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus,
And she who sits enthroned with gods below,
Justice, enacted not these human laws.
Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
Could'st by a breath annul and override
The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
They were not born today nor yesterday;
They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang.
I was not like, who feared no mortal's frown,
To disobey these laws and so provoke
The wrath of Heaven. I knew that I must die,
E'en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death
Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
Is full of misery. Thus my lot appears
Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
To leave my mother's son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit.

Interpretation

In one of the most dramatic female monologues of ancient Greece, Antigone defies King Creon because she believes in higher morality, that of the gods. She contends that the laws of heaven overrule the laws of man. The theme of civil disobedience still strikes a chord in modern times.

Is it better to do what is right by natural law and face the consequences of the legal system? Or is Antigone being foolishly stubborn and butting heads with her uncle? The bold and rebellious, defiant Antigone is convinced that her actions are the best expression of loyalty and love for her family. Still, her actions defy other members of her family and the laws and traditions she is bound to uphold.