Halfway through the play, the Chorus highlights the stillness at the heart of tragedy. What is the significance of the stillness in the play?
Stillness appears as a key metaphor in the Chorus's comments on the nature of tragedy. First the Chorus evokes this stillness in its theatrical mode. This stillness is apiece with the spring-like tension and sense of suspense in tragedy that it evokes earlier. Tragedy's stillness appears in the moment before the execution, the moment at the beginning of a play before the consummation of a love affair. This tension only finds release in the terrible, ecstatic shout. Note this conjunction of sex and death. The stillness of sex and death is precisely where the play's two lovers will ultimately end, lain together in the tomb that figures also as their "bridal bed."
Strangely, the Chorus then invokes a filmic metaphor. Tragic stillness is the silence within the spectator when the crowd acclaims the victor. This stillness within perhaps recalls the "hollow space" imagined by Antigone earlier. This inner silence turns the outer world into "no more than a picture," a film without a sound track. This dissociation of sound from the image of the world is a dissociation of the spectator from that world as well. Again, two disjunctions are at work here: that of the sound from the image and the spectator from the world-become image. The Chorus shifts from a theatrical to filmic metaphor here because these experiences of disjunction are inherent to—though covered over in—the cinematic apparatus. The spectator is then identified with the already vanquished victor, who is similarly alone in a desert of silence, similarly disjoined from the world. This disjunction from the world is the plight of the tragic hero and spectator who identifies himself with him.
Most of Antigone's commentators cast the play as an anti-fascist allegory of events of the French Resistance. How might one consider the play in such terms? What are some of the limits of this reading?
Written in the heat of World War II, Antigone is generally received as an allegory on the Nazi occupation and the heroism of resistance. According to this reading, Creon would figure as the collaborationist ruler, Marshall Pétain or otherwise, forced into the most loathsome practices in having said yes to state power. Though Creon has broken the back of the resistance in Thebes, Antigone would figure as the lone resistant who subverts state authority nevertheless. Moreover, as the cowardly Ismene's ultimate recantation suggests, her resistance is dangerous contagious. Creon's yes forces him to condemn Antigone to death in spite all his wishes. He must kill her because the throne demands it of him; he has submitted his will to the law. Creon must condemn his niece. Anouilh also conjures the specter of the howling mob that calls for Antigone's blood, the mob that Creon rules and remains subject to.
Despite these provocative correspondences between the play and the text of politics, numerous differences persist between Antigone and political allegory. In contrast to conventional readings of the Antigone legend, Anouilh's Antigone does not defend her act of rebellion in the name of filial, religious, or even moral integrity. This insistence becomes especially clear in the course of her confrontation with Creon. In asking why and in whose name Antigone has rebelled, Creon will progressively strip Antigone's act of its external motivations. Antigone will have no "just cause," or no human reason for bringing herself to the point of death. Instead, she acts in terms of her desire, a desire she clings to despite its madness. Just as she always played with water, ate from all the plates at once, or went swimming at dawn, she will bury Polynices. Refusing to understand those around her, she will follow her desire to her demise. Ultimately Antigone's insistence on her desire removes her from the human community. Antigone does not act in the name of political resistance but in that of her desire. As the Chorus says, her act and arrest finally enable her to be herself.
What is the function of the Guardsmen? Consider their dialogue, their interaction with the "major" players, the Chorus' comments on them, and so on.
As noted above, the Guardsmen are doubles for the rank-and-file fascist collaborators or collabos of his day. Their indifference makes them brutal and dangerous. The most poignant staging of his indifference is undoubtedly that in Antigone's cell. The pathos of the scene inheres in Antigone's appeals to the last face she will see, a face that is blind, brutal, and indifferent. The First Guard, as small-minded as ever, responds unfeelingly to her pleas, rambling about the trivialities of his job. As with the discussion of the party during Antigone's arrest, Anouilh would thus contrast his heroine's high tragedy with the banalities that occupy the guardsmen. The Guards also stand in for the inappropriate spectator, the audience-member who remains inured to the tragic. Thus they make two ironic appearances at the beginning and end of the play, playing cards on the palace steps. As the Chorus remarks in the epilogue, they remain untouched by the tragedy—"it's no skin off their noses." The indifferent members of the rank-and-file would thus stand in an almost edifying contrast to the audience that has undergone, or should have undergone, its catharsis.
The Chorus sees the sentry who had resolved never to return approaching, now escorting Antigone. The sentry tells the Chorus that Antigone is the culprit in the illegal burial of Polynices and calls for Creon. When Creon enters, the sentry tells him that after he and the other sentries dug up the rotting body, a sudden dust storm blinded them. When the storm passed, they saw Antigone, who cursed them and began to bury the body again. The sentries seized her and interrogated her, and she denied nothing. When Creon asks her himself, Antigone again freely admits her culpability. Creon dismisses the sentry and asks Antigone if she knew of his edict forbidding her brother’s burial. Antigone declares that she knew the edict but argues that in breaking it she defied neither the gods nor justice, only the decree of an unjust man.
The Leader of the Chorus likens Antigone’s passionate wildness to her father’s. Creon, calling for the guards to bring Ismene, condemns both sisters to death. Antigone tells Creon that his moralizing speeches repel her, and that to die for having buried her brother honorably will bring her great glory. She tells him that all of Thebes supports her but fears to speak out against the king. Creon asks Antigone if she didn’t consider Polynices’ burial an insult to her other brother, Eteocles, for the two fought as enemies. Antigone insists that both deserved proper burials, regardless of their political affiliations. She says that her nature compels her to act according to love and not to bear grudges. Creon rebuffs her, saying he will never allow a woman to tell him what to do.
Ismene emerges from the palace, weeping, and says that she will share the guilt with her sister. Antigone refuses to let her do this, arguing that she acted alone and insulting Ismene for her cowardice. Creon declares both sisters mad, and again condemns them to death. Ismene attempts to save Antigone by appealing to Creon’s love for his son, Haemon, who is betrothed to Antigone. But Creon stands firm, as the idea of seeing his son married to a traitor repulses him. Creon orders his guards to bind the sisters and take them away.
The Chorus sings an ode lamenting the fortunes of the house of Oedipus, which once again stands mired in death and sorrow. The Chorus prays to Zeus, guardian of kinship ties, whose law prevails above all others.
Antigone and Creon’s direct confrontation further clarifies the nature of their disagreement. Antigone attacks Creon’s edicts on the grounds that his interpretation of justice and the will of Zeus is invalid. She may be correct in her assessment, but in saying so she assumes the power to independently interpret justice and the will of the gods, just as Creon did. Her accusations are wild and reckless, and she seems to be trying to seize glory like the bravados the chorus condemned in their first ode.
Nevertheless, our sympathies are most likely tipping toward Antigone in this encounter. Just before the argument between Antigone and Creon, the sentry gives a vivid and disgusting description of the disinterment of Polynices’ corpse. Polynices’ rotting body is the physical evidence, or perhaps a symbol, of the injustice of Creon’s decree and of the ruin it will bring about in Thebes. The description of the degradation of the corpse prepares the audience to be sympathetic to Antigone’s arguments, even as she flies in the face of law with a pride that easily matches Creon’s. Antigone draws a distinction between divine law and human law, between the “great unwritten, unshakable traditions” and the edicts of individual rulers such as Creon (502–503).