Posted in History, Media

They’re Reading Greek Tragedy Online – Sophocles’ Antigone

Antigone has to be one of my favourite Greek tragedies, and a lot of that is down to Paul Woodruffs translation, so having him there on this week’s show and hearing his thoughts behind the play and how he went about translating it was extremely interesting, especially when taken into account with James Collins commentary as well. The main reason I love Antigone though, is because to me, it defines so much of what the Age of Heroes was – the constant battle for justice and the conflict between the laws of the Gods and the laws of Man, Thebes itself being a great metaphor for the age because no  matter what happens, no one wins. There is no happy ending. There is no riding off into the sunset and playing happy families. It’s brutal, it’s bloodthirsty and those you love will die. 

Although the play is called ‘Antigone’, the importance of Creon, Ismene and Haemon cannot be sidelined because it’s not just Antigone’s story – it’s the story of two sisters who have lost their brothers, a dutiful son trying to stop his father from punishing his bride to be with death, and a father, and ruler, who is doing everything he can to keep his city safe, no matter how much he knows it will hurt his approval ratings. It’s the epitome of family drama and although extreme in its circumstances is something we can all relate to in some sense of the word. 

One of the main themes discussed towards the end of the show though, was the ‘certainty’ of the characters in question, and in this instance I very much agree with Evvy’s reading of Ismene. I’ve never seen her character as ‘certain’ in her stance, if anything she is the complete opposite. She’s trying to make sense of this batshit crazy world and trying to find that neutral standpoint – yes, the rights of the dead are extremely important to the gods, but so is not killing your brother – at what point do the laws of the Gods take precedence over the laws of Man, and how is mankind meant to judge that? In this case do we follow the laws of the Gods like Antigone wishes and complete the burial rights, or do they follow the laws and orders set down by Creon and not perform the rights? She is trying to do the right thing, but has no idea what the ‘right thing’ to do is. She can’t disobey Creon’s ruling, but she also wishes to respect the laws of the gods – she’s stuck in the middle. It’s this uncertainty, I think, that leads her to wanting to die by Antigone’s side – she couldn’t break the rulings, but she’s not going to stand by and watch her sister die alone for doing what she thought was right.

The performances throughout the show were outstanding as always, and Creon (Tim Delap) had me in tears towards the end. The raw emotion that all of these performances seemed to encompass made the play that much more engaging. So often Ismene is seen as weak and timid, Antigone as trying to undermine Creon’s power and Creon as your stereotypical tyrant, but this translation and performance brought so much more depth to all of characters, it made comprehension of the motivations behind each of them so much easier. As Paul O’Mahony said, Creon shows his insecurities, Woodruff highlights the fact that Creon does listen to the chorus and speaks of ‘taking it in turns’ to rule – that’s not stereotypical tyrannical behaviour. Tabitha’s reading was that Antigone is not trying to undermine his power, but questioning whether Creon has the power to make this decision as it goes against the laws of the Gods she has chosen to follow. And there is nothing weak about the performance Evvy gave as Ismene, she had a backbone, and it’s great to see others reading the character that way.

I’m going to leave this here for today, pain and heat exhaustion are not making analysis easy and my sister in law currently has my copy of Woodruffs translation, I may pick this one up again in a few weeks and take a deeper look when I have it back though. 

Before I go, I want to say a quick sorry for not getting this out over the weekend as initially planned – the joys of living with chronic pain is that sometimes plans go to shit and there’s generally naff all you can do about it other than riding it out, so thank you all for bearing with me this weekend.

And I will be back next weekend (fingers crossed) with a write up of this week’s episode, covering Sophocles’ Elektra! Watching this Wednesday night is gonna be a great way to spend my birthday evening as I’ve not actually read this one!

Once again, a massive thanks to Out Of Chaos Theatre and the Centre of Hellenic Studies – as well as Joel and special guests Paul Woodruff and James Collins for a great show.

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