In Antigone, Creon, the king of Thebes is an autocratic leader that in spite of his irrational orders, his actions, and beliefs go undisputed based on his credibility as King. In the beginning of the play, Creon is portrayed as caring and protective but eventually shows his true colors as he is faced with disobedience and lack of respect from Antigone; to which he does not hesitate to punish.
Due to his overbearing pride of ambition, he cannot stop but prove his superior power to those who disobey, no matter how honorable Antigone’s actions may had been. As he begins to commit selfish acts, and unreasonable decisions, he begins to suffer the wrath of the Gods due to his severe ambition and pride. Eventually, he realizes the tragedy that is happening around him as punishment from the Gods and ends up being dethrone and describing himself in his words, as “I am Nothing, I have no life.” (Sophocles 161)
In other words, Creon establishes a sense of characteristics that lead up to inevitable horrendous outcomes in the play. The events that take place in the play lead up towards the motives that contribute to the Creon’s behavior and decision that he further makes, and especially contributes to the consequences he further faces. It helps the readers understand the significance of the King in this play, especially as a tragic hero.
For one thing, in the beginning of the play we are presented with a unique characteristic from Creon that establishes a sense of authority and power yet caring and has chosen to protect those who are with him in his kingdom. Creon was respected as he had an enormous amount of power and in the beginning of the play, he demonstrates himself as a noble king, one who protects the kingdom and adore the people who belong to it.
As it states, “As God above is my witness, who sees all, When I see danger threatening my people, whatever it may be, I shall declare it.” (Sophocles 131) This textual evidence only permits the audience to believe the King’s humble and charismatic acts towards his kingdom and his people, he represents a leader. As the audience discover his humble credibility, the readers soon discover his ambition to punish those who disobey his word as king, which causes fear and disrespect towards the king.
Only when he discovers, Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, committing an honorable yet outrageous decision to bury her brother who was forbidden of a proper burial and soon was labeled as an “enemy of the Thebes” (Sophocles 131) by Creon. Instead of understanding her motive and preventing such punishment towards Antigone, he simply did not hesitate and instead of letting the gods punish the wrong, Creon decided to take actions into his hands, deciding Antigone’s fate; to which was death by stoning. This action shows a sense of unjust and unfairness, to which shows a lack in his understanding and value as King. He was blinded by power and authority, he did not see the honorable act that has been acted upon.
In addition, Creon is given a chance to redeem himself to which was a simple test from the gods, to hear out his only son, Haemon, and his only wife Antigone was committed to death by his father. Haemon speaks to his father with respect, and a sense of understanding to why his father had made his decision upon, it states, “Father, there is nothing I can prize above your happiness and well-being.” (Sophocles 145) but he does not avoid mentioning the honorable act Antigone had committed by stating, “For this poor girl, doomed to the cruelest death, And most unjust, that ever women suffered For an honorable action”, “Has she not rather earned a crown of gold? – such is the secret talk about the town.” (Sophocles 145)
Haemon is simply not the only one who thinks of Antigone’s actions to be justifiable but the people of Thebes, who believe the King is in the wrong of commending her to death, to which they won’t participate in. Given a chance to understand his only son and the people of Thebes, he avoids such actions, avoiding the word of the people to which he serves. This act towards his son and his people, shows his sense of selfishness and only identifies the power and dignity of the state entirely with himself.
It states, “The people of Thebes, since when do I take orders from the people of Thebes?” and, “No. I am a king and responsible only to myself.” (Sophocles 146) These quotes only show his selfishness and his characteristics of only caring for himself despite his family and the people of Thebes. He was given a chance to redeem himself, but had avoided all signs from the gods. As it states from his son, “So, father, pause, and put aside your anger. I think, for what my young opinion’s worth, That, good as it is to have an infallible wisdom, since this is rarely found, the next best thing Is to be willing to listen to wise advice.” (Sophocles 146)
Despite his son’s reason, Creon continues unbothered. As he is convinced he had the final word. “And what is more, by all the gods in heaven. I’ll make you sorry for your impudence. Bring out that she-devil, and let her die- Now, with her bridegroom by to see I done.” (Sophocles 147) This only proves more that he is selfish and unjust and does not care of the consequences of never seeing his son again as he says, “That sight I’ll never see. Nor from this hour Shall you see me again. Let those that will Be witness of your wickedness and folly.” (Sophocles 147)
Soon after, instead of killing Antigone off in spite of his son, she was then forced inside a cave to live her days in loneliness. He did not want to upset his son, but his pride forbidden him to set her free. To which her death would not be in Creon’s hands that he believes he was not in the wrong. As it states, “Leave her and let her die, if she dies she must, or live within her dungeon. Though on earth Her life is ended from this day, her blood Will not be in our hands.” (Sophocles 146)
Later on, a blind prophet Teiresias, who sees prophesies that have never been proven wrong, comes by to announce an important message to the king who only brings distraught to him. “-two debts to pay: One for the life that you have sent to death, the life you abominably entombed; one for the dead still lying above ground, unburied, un-honored, un-blest by the gods below.” (Sophocles 154) This quote from the play, shows Creon a warning, a debt he had to pay for banishing the lives he had no control over; the refusal to bury Polynices, and the punishment of Antigone.
These two acts only brought the curses down on Creon from the gods. This scene, Creon could not avoid the feeling of fear and regret towards his actions. As it states, “It is true enough; and my heart is torn in two. It is hard to give away, and hard to stand and abide the coming curse. Both ways are hard.” (Sophocles 155) These quotes show even thought his pride his delaying his decision to listen to the prophet, the power of the gods and especially the curse that will come with it frightens him as he cannot disobey.
After ordering from the removal of Antigone’s from the cave, it was all too late-Antigone committed suicide by hanging herself, that soon led with Haemon’s gruesome sadness that soon he ended up stabbing himself, and soon he ended up dying next to his wife. Furthermore, after the Queen found out what his son had committed, so she stabs herself, and cursed Creon’s name as she died. These leads of tragic events, only persuaded the audience that the gods did not fail to teach Creon the lesson of the consequences of excessive pride and ego.
Creon’s tragic flaw was over barring power and ambition which eventually leads to his downfall as King that leads to an awareness of the evil he had committed. After the tragedy, the audience only has a sense of pity for Creon, as he was blinded by power, unaware of his inevitable fate, making him a tragic hero. The ending of Antigone, was focused on Creon, as he was left with only guilt and sadness due to the Gods wrath. It was both appropriate and inappropriate that it ended like it did, Creon was selfish and manipulative, but it did not have to end with him feeling like, “nothing.” He was only doing what he believed was “right”.
- Sophocles. The Theban Plays. Translated by E. F. Watling, Penguin Books, 1947.