The ancient Greek play Antigone, written around 442 BC by the famous dramatist Sophocles, has become one of the world’s classics and has been widely published, performed and adapted in many languages and formats across the world. It is a memorable play, characterized by a background of death and destruction, and the strong figures of Antigone and Creon, who are locked in opposition over what is to be done with the dead body of Antigone’s brother Polyneices. Major themes like the duty of a statesman (Creon) to protect his citizens against traitors, the duty of a woman (Antigone) to honor her relatives with a decent burial, and the duty of all to respect the gods are developed in the play. The various characters are depicted taking up positions which demonstrate a number of different heroic qualities.
In the opening scene Ismene appears to be timid and she hides behind her gender to avoid facing up to the conflict that is presented to her by Antigone: “We must remember that by birth we’re women,/and as such, we shouldn’t fight with men” Ismene realizes that she has a duty to bury her brother, but her approach is to back away from that and rely on the mercy of the gods and the dead: “So I’ll ask those underground for pardon”. Ismene is concerned above all with her image as a woman, and she is very aware of how her actions will make her appear to other people. She wants to be seen as a perfect woman, meek and obedient: “But I can’t act against the state....
Ismene cannot face up to life alone, and so she speaks out of weakness, and a desire to suffer death in order to spare herself still more suffering later. The lowly Guard is the character who most clearly operates solely in his own best interests. He is afraid of Creon, with good reason, because he knows that he has failed in his duty to watch over the corpse of Polyneices and could face very severe consequences, even death, if he does not make good his error. He has news for Creon, but makes sure that he communicates his concern about his own fate first: “Guard: I want to tell you first about myself./ I did not do it. And I didn’t see/the one who did. So it would be unjust/if I should come to grief.” (Antigone, lines 275- 277). This pleading makes him look like an unruly child, trying to explain away his conduct in front of an angry father. He also tries to spread the blame amongst his colleagues saying “Every one of us was responsible./but none of us was clearly in the wrong.” (Antigone, lines 301-302). He did not volunteer to be the bringer of bad news, but was chosen by “the luck of the draw” (Antigone, line 317) which shows that he is at the mercy of fate, and just following what he has to do, rather than making a moral decision about it. The first instinct that he has is to run away from his job and save his own life. He is not particularly loyal to his employer, but just wants to save his own skin. In the end he sees a chance to redeem himself, and keep his job, by offering up the woman he has caught in the act of burying the corpse. The way that he keeps changing his mind shows that he is willing to act opportunistically, based on whatever