This idea of gaining strength in femininity falls in line with the twentieth century’s changing attitudes to women, with strong female figures breaking through for equality in a male-dominated society. Overall, Antigone as a character gives a message that ‘in certain heroic natures unmerited suffering and death can be met with a greatness of soul which, because it is purely human, brings honor to us all’ (Knox, in Sophocles, 1984, p. 53). However, despite her being shown as heroic in nature, in the play characters are more complex than simply protagonist and antagonist.
This multi-dimensional view of them makes them in a way more human than simple good and evil. As Webster states, the character ‘must have as complete a character as possible; the audience must see or hear him in the greatest possible number of different circumstances’ (Webster, 1969, p. 83). This depth of character means that it is easy for a practitioner or writer interpreting the play to put the audience in a position of seeing different aspects of the character, and see their humanity and identify with aspects of the character (as mentioned with Brecht above).
The simple way in which the plays are presented also contributes to their success in translation, adaptation, and performance. In translations such as Fagles’, there are no stage directions, as if Sophocles’ intended for the plays to be read and studied rather than performed. In Greek theatre overall, plays are written in this format, and action and gruesome death is described in messenger speech instead of being shown on stage. This ‘bare-bones’ style of presentation means the plays give much directorial freedom, with the director able to interpret the play in a multitude of interesting and innovative ways if they so desire.
Also, the Greek language of the original work means that when it comes to translation, the exact wording of the manuscript may differ, offering opportunity for many different versions of the same text. The popularity of Antigone, alongside other Greek tragedies, can be examined and explained from a Freudian perspective, that ‘tragedy pleases because of the formal control it provides’ (Holland, in Nuttall, 1996, p. 54). When watching a tragedy, the audience will feel empathy with characters, but after the performance will return to their life.
Similar, for example, to the adrenaline rush but without risk gained when watching a horror film, it is a case of being moved emotionally without having to deal with the permanent resonance of loss, grief and tragedy in a person’s own life. As Huxley describles, tragedy is ‘something that is separated from the whole truth … is chemically pure’ (Huxley, 1931). He continues to explain that this chemical purity means tragedy has an immediate and powerful effect, and gives audiences a sense of catharsis. In its simplest essence, theatre is a form of entertainment and escapism, and tragedies offer exactly this.
Antigone’s complexity of characters and political resonance, and the ability to adapt it to create different messages and represent different ideals makes it easy to see why it is considered one of the greatest classic tragedy plays of not just the Ancient Greek era, but all time.
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London: Calder and Boyars. Huxley, A. (1931). Tragedy and the Whole Truth. In Music at Night. unknown. Nuttall, A. (1996). Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure? Oxford: Clarendon Press. Segal, C. (1966). Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of Antigone. In T. Woodward (Ed. ), Sophocles, A Collection of Critical Essays (pp. 62-85). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc. Sophocles. (1984). The Three Theban Plays. (R. Fagles, Trans. ) Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Classics. Webster, T. (1969). An Introduction to Sophocles (2nd Edition ed. ). London: Methuen & Co. Wiles, D. (2000). Greek Theatre Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.