Jean Anouilh, French playwright of the 20-thcentury came to a decision to rethink and rewrite Sophocles’ tragedy Antigoneduring the World War II. For a writer who lived during the Germanoccupation, the image of Antigone became both the embodiment of higher moralityand a symbol of the struggle against despotism. Both Sophocles and Jean Anouilhput the most important problems for their time in their work. In Sophocles’ tragedy,the key is the juxtaposition of the divine laws, which carry the highestjustice, and laws written by people.
Throughout the play, Sophocles debunks theidea that man is the measure of all things and the supreme power that has everyright to neglect eternal laws. He condemns the arbitrariness of a man whoimagines himself capable of deciding the fate of people like a god. Creon paysfor the fact that he justified his cruelty with the interests of the state andplaced his will above everything else. Being a universal material, a myth candescribe different situations, feelings, and stories in an allegorical way.Sophocles show the triumph of the traditional and eternal laws, which wereestablished above over the willfulness and arbitrariness of the human mind.
Jean Anouilh took the same myth as a basisbut the attention was focused not on the laws of the divine, but on the laws ofthe moral, which he, like Sophocles, opposed to the laws of the state. TheFrench playwright does not accidentally examine in detail the character ofAntigone, trying to understand the reason for her heroic deed. After all, beingyoung, in love, full of vitality, consciously go to death is not so easy. Heractions tend to instill courage of French people to oppose the Nazi oppressors.Concerning the genre of tragedy, Aristotleclaimed that, at first, it was humorous, since it originated from the satirechorus, and only later it became serious.
The Greek tragedy is the reproductionof myth on the stage with its struggle between generations of gods or heroes. Itgives perfect examples of finished, organic works of art, and the things thathappen on the stage deeply shock the audience causing the strongest internalconflicts and resolving them in the feeling of catharsis.In poetics, Aristotle described hamartia as afatal error of a character that leads to his or her certain death. One of theexamples of hamartia can be found in Anouilh’s Antigone.
In the episode of the argumentconcerning whether to bury Polynices or not, Creon makes the decision tolet the body of Polynices rot to remind the uncontrolled people about the powerof the ruler. Such a decision is inconvenient for him because he would ratherbury the body for hygienic reasons. However, it is the issue of hygiene but thestubbornness of both characters that leads the plot into peripeteia.Jean Anouilh raises thequestion of true freedom. Perhaps this is the most important question for himin the episode of the myth of Antigone. “I didn’t say yes. I can say no toanything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. But because you saidyes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and yourguards—all that your can do is to have me killed!” exclaims Antigone.
It is thestruggle for eternal moral principles that makes a person free. Such freedom issharply contrasted with the imaginary freedom of Creon. He himself is aware ofhis dependence on the law: he cannot save Antigone, because he is afraid of thepeople’s anger, because he fell into dependence on the opinions of others.Power, which gives the right to manage people, turned Creon into a slave of thecrowd. This tyrant is haunted by constant fear, and he is alone in this fear.
Both playwrights revealthe deepest conflicts of contemporary societies. The millennia which share thetime of writing Antigone by Sophocles and Antigone by Jean Anouilh, cause adifferent interpretation of the same myth and a different interpretation of theimages. But the desire of writers to reveal and understand the eternal problemsof mankind remains unchanged.