A few days ago, I caught an interview with Juliette Binoche on Radio 4’s Arts review program, ‘Front Row’. She was discussing her role in the already acclaimed production of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone‘, from ‘The Theban Plays‘. I was glad to hear that it had been resurrected once more, as plays with strong female parts are still rare. Also, it’s political content is extremely poignant.
Actually, that’s no great surprise. The political power of the play made it an instant classic. Not long after Sophocles’ death, Creon’s speeches were being utilised by the Orator Demosthenes as an ideal example of the loyalties of citizens, and Aristotle frequently quoted from the play in his treatise on ‘Politics‘. In the twentieth century, the play was reworked by both Jean Anouilh and Bertolt Brecht to reflect the atrocities carried out by the Nazis in Germany and across Europe.
Whilst these adaptations emphasized the moral right of Creon or Antigone over the other, I think we need to read something different from it. For Creon, the state is the highest power, while Antigone holds the bonds of family, and the will of the gods above all else. Both are convinced of their moral right and are equally unwieldy in their refusal to consider the viewpoint of the other. Also, despite how pure each sounds in their motivations, this is not entirely the case. Despite Creon’s statesmanship early on in the play, it becomes clear that he is ultimately self-seeking in wanting to crush Antigone for daring to defy him, exacting a perfect demonstration of how power corrupts. Antigone’s cause is also tarnished by her pride, and her utter refusal to listen to reason or consider another viewpoint. She is firmly set on her glorious path to martyrdom and she will not be shaken from it.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to hear that the outcome isn’t pretty – well, they don’t call it tragedy for nothing!The play is filled with vehement declarations and proclamations of what is right, what is just, what is moral, but alas, nobody’s listening, and that should give us pause.
For those of us who won’t manage to get to see it at the Barbican (until March 28) or further afield, the new adaptation of ‘Antigone’ will be screened on BBC4 later in the spring, as part of a whole season of BBC4 programming entitled ‘The Age of Heroes: Ancient Greece Uncovered‘ – Woohoo – I can’t wait! I love you BBC – Mwha!