daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta
sister of Antigone
of old Theban citizens and their leader
king of Thebes, uncle of Antigone and Ismene
son of Creon and Eurydice
wife of Creon
Guards, attendants, and a boy
Time and Scene:
The royal house of Thebes. It is still night, and the invading armies of Argos have just been driven from the city. Fighting on opposite sides, the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, have killed each other in combat. Their uncle, Creon, is now king of Thebes
Enter Antigone, slipping through the central doors of the palace. She motions to her sister, Ismene, who follows her cautiously toward an altar at the center of the stage.
My own flesh and blood–dear sister, dead Ismene,
how many griefs our father Oedipus handed down!
Do you know one, I ask you, one grief
that Zeus will not perfect for the two of us
while we still live and breathe? There’s nothing,
no pain–our lives are pain–no private shame,
no public disgrace, nothing I haven’t seen
in your griefs and mine. And now this:
an emergency decree, they say, the Commander
has just now declared for all of Thebes.
What, haven’t you heard? Don’t you see?
The doom reserved for enemies
marches on the ones we love the most.
Not I, I haven’t heard a word, Antigone.
Nothing of loved ones,
no joy or pain has come my way, not since
the two of us were robbed of our two brothers,
both gone in a day, a double blow–
not since the armies of Argos vanished,
just this very night. I know nothing more,
whether our luck’s improved or ruin’s still to come.
I thought so. That’s why I brought you out here,
past the gates, so you could hear in private.
What’s the matter? Trouble, clearly…
you sound so dark, so grim.
Why not? Our own brother’s burial!
Hasn’t Creon graced one with all the rites,
disgraced the other? Eteocles, they say,
has been given full military honors,
rightly so–Creon has laid him in the earth
and he goes with glory down among the dead.
But the body of Polynices, who died miserably–
why, a city-wide proclamation, rumor has it,
forbids anyone to bury him, even mourn him.
He’s to be left unwept, unburied, a lovely treasure
for birds that scan the field and feast to their heart’s content.
Such, I hear, is the martial law our good Creon
lays down for you and me–yes, me, I tell you–
and he’s coming here to alert the uninformed
in no uncertain terms,
and he won’t treat the matter lightly. Whoever
disobeys in the least will die, his doom is sealed:
stoning to death inside the city walls!
There you have it. You’ll soon show what you are,
worth of your breeding, Ismene, a coward–
for all your royal blood.
My poor sister, if things have come to this,
who am I to make or mend them, tell me,
what good am I to you?
Will you share the labor, share the work?
What work, what’s the risk? What do you mean?
Raising her hands.
Will you lift up his body with these bare hands
and lower it with me?
What? You’d bury him–
when a law forbids the city?
He is my brother and–deny it as you will–
your brother too.
No one will ever convict me for a traitor.
So desperate, and Creon has expressly–
he has no right to keep me from my own.
Oh my sister, think–
think how our own father died, hated,
his reputation in ruins, driven on
by the crimes he brought to light himself
to gouge out his eyes with his own hands–
then mother…his mother and wife, both in one,
mutilating her life in the twisted noose–
and last, our two brothers dead in a single day,
both shedding their own blood, poor suffering boys,
battling out their common destiny hand-to-hand.
No look at the two of us, left so alone…
think what a death we’ll die, the worst of all
if we violate the laws and override
the fixed decree of the throne, its power–
we must be sensible. Remember we are women,
we’re not born to contend with men. Then too,
we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands,
so we must submit in this, and things still worse.
I, for one, I’ll beg the dead to forgive me–
I’m forced, I have no choice–I must obey
the ones who stand in power. Why rush to extremes?
It’s madness, madness.
I won’t insist,
no, even if you should have a change of heart,
I’d never welcome you in the labor, not with me.
So, do as you like, whatever suits you best–
I will bury him myself.
And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory.
I will lie with the one I love and loved by him–
an outrage sacred to the gods! I have longer
to please the dead than please the living here:
in the kingdom down below I’ll lie forever.
Do as you like, dishonor the laws
the gods hold in honor.
I’d do them no dishonor…
but defy the city? I have no strength for that.
You have your excuses. I am on my way,
I will raise a mound for him, for my dear brother.
Oh Antigone, you’re so rash–I’m so afraid for you!
Don’t fear for me. Set your own life in order.
Then don’t, at least, blurt this out to anyone.
Keep it a secret. I’ll join you in that, I promise.
Dear God, shout it from the rooftops. I’ll hate you
all the more for silence–tell the world!
So fiery–and it ought to chill your heart.
I know I please where I must please the most.
Yes, if you can, but you’re in love with impossibility.
Very well then, once my strength gives out
I will be done at last.
You’re wrong from the start,
you’re off on a hopeless quest.
If you say so, you will make me hate you,
and the hatred of the dead, by all rights,
will haunt you night and day.
But leave me to my own absurdity, leave me
to suffer this–dreadful thing. I will suffer
nothing as great as death without glory. Exit to the side
Then go if you must, but rest assured,
wild, irrational as you are, my sister,
you are truly dear to the ones who love you. Withdrawing to the palace