Great Book: Antigone, by Jean Anouilh

This week is Greek Week and we are reviewing Sophocles' Oedipus plays, and Jean Anouilh's Antigone. And by we I am I.

Unlike March's Aristophanes trilogy, these are not funny and there are no crab people and they will probably never be adapted by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

To begin: Antigone, by Jean Anouilh. I read this in the original French in high school. I can see why my teacher selected it. It's got nice clean language, and Antigone's impassioned rejection of Creon's strictures is exactly the kind of teen rebellion we should have gone for. From what I remember we just thought she was stupid. The revolutionary spirit was long dead by 1992!

What I am wondering, after reading the introduction to this translation, was why my French teacher, a French native who was seventy years old if she was a day, never mentioned that this play was originally produced during the German occupation of France and was really about Hitler. What was she thinking? Did she think we wouldn't care?

Maybe she was right. Maybe we wouldn't have cared.

Anouilh's Antigone is a re-telling of the last of Sophocle's trilogy dealing with the royal family of Thebes and deals with only a thin slice of the Oedipal story.

Digression: I once filed papers for a very large company that had an employee whose first name was Antigone.

Antigone is a teenager. She's one of the children of the incestuous marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta, who are dead. Her two brothers are also dead. They killed each other instead of themselves which made for a nice change (killing each other or suicide being the two alternatives for members of this family) except that in the process they waged a really long war and got a lot of people killed.

Since everyone else was dead, Antigone's uncle Creon took the throne. He's got a son, Haemon, and a wife, Eurydice (but not the same chick who Orpheus crushed on, and they thought there wasn't enough intermarriage in the family so Haemon is engaged to marry Antigone, who is both his first cousin and his cousin once removed.

Antigone opens shortly after peace has been restored to Thebes. Creon has buried one of his nephews, but ordered that the body of the other be left outside the city walls to rot.

This is bad. Why? Well, here's another thing my high school French teach didn't bother explaining. If you're not buried properly, your spirit doesn't go to the underworld, but wanders around unhappy and lost forever.

Antigone, who loved her brother even if he was a total jerk, decides that Creon must be defied, as he is breaking the laws of the gods! She sneaks out and says the magic words over her brother's body and scatters dirt on his body.

She is caught, of course. But she has no regrets, will not bow her head to an illegal authority, etc. Creon says 'fine, then' and has her buried alive (I love those ancient Greeks). He changes his mind at the last minute, but it's too late. She's killed herself. Then Haemon kills himself. Then Eurydice kills herself. If Creon was any kind of sensitive individual he'd kill himself, too, or at least gouge his eyes out, but he's got to be the grown-up around Thebes once again, SOMEONE has to run the city, so he just continues to live his sterile, loveless life.

Creon tries to convince Antigone that her brother was not worth sacrificing herself for, but she rejects this reasoning; her rebellion is not on behalf of Polyneice. So why? She seems to rebelling for the sake of rebellion alone.

Her theme song would by 'My Generation' by the Who. She's intent on dying before she gets old.

No comments: