Greek literature defines the protagonist as the character or person who realizes their mistakes or faults. This definition has led to much confusion over who should be the protagonist in the play Antigone. This is because Antigone fits the first description of the hero, while Creon fits the second. The play also presents Antigone and Creon as antagonists, which makes both of them tragic heroes of the story.
In the play, both Antigone and Creon fight for something, they believe. Antigone fights for the proper burial of her dear brother and her aim is to bring justice to her brother and appease the gods (Sophocles 17). Creon, on the other hand, fights for the adherence of his laws. He stands by what he believes; just like Antigone stands by her beliefs (Sophocles 17). They are both proud and stubborn, and none wants to give in to the desires of the other. Both characters develop the key themes in the play. This makes the play to revolve around the two, and all other events involve either Antigone or Creon.
Antigone and Creon have a lot in common. They are neither evil nor good in any extreme manner, just like any other ordinary person. They were both born into a higher social class than most people, and they both have a terrible defect in their characters. Although the play derives its mane from the character Antigone, it does not necessarily make her the protagonist. She fulfills the role of the protagonist in the traditional sense. The plot of the play centers on her actions and beliefs. Her pride and stubbornness leads to her untimely death (this stubborn nature is common in protagonists).
Creon, on the other hand, also has many characteristics that qualify him for the role of hero in this story. The tragic hero should be accountable for his own downfall, experience a misfortune that is greater than they deserve, and they should also come to a certain realization about themselves. Creon fits this description perfectly. He recognized his mistakes and tries to rectify them. He is also extremely proud and stubborn and refuses to let Antigone win the fight. When the gods made his mistake known to him, he tries to correct it by releasing Antigone (Sophocles 24). Unfortunately, it was already too late. Antigone, on the other hand, never realizes her mistakes. She continues to fight Creon up to the point of death, which is characteristic of the antagonist. This makes Creon the protagonist, although not in the conventional sense.
Creon fits perfectly in the role of the tragic hero. He is neither evil nor good. His main goal was not to kill Antigone, but to ensure that his laws get followed; he did not want Antigone’s actions to lead to more people disregarding his laws. He wanted the people of Thebes to see him as a man who stands by his word. He makes an error in judgment, and this error becomes tragic. Creon is extremely proud and arrogant, and these traits can be seen when he claims that his voice is the one voice that gives orders in that city. This major flaw in his character brought this tragedy on him; he refuses to change his mind and punishes Antigone, which in the long run leads to his downfall. Although the punishment given to Antigone by Creon seems too harsh, the unfortunate events that follow are more than his fair share. In his efforts to keep the peace in his country and avoid rebellions, he ends up suffering to a greater degree than is deserving of his mistakes.
Antigone, on the other hand, is also neither evil nor good in any extreme manner. Her goodness can be seen in her love and loyalty for her brother Polyneices. Although she disobeys the laws created by a man, she is keen to obey the laws of the gods. Her evil nature comes up in how disrespectfully she addresses the king. She says to him that he drank the sunlight, but its beauty is now closed up by a handful of dust and a passionate word (Sophocles 34). Her pride and arrogance lead to her tragic end; she refuses to apologize to Creon for her crime and is more willing to die than beg for his mercy (Sophocles 34). She refuses to conform to his reasoning and is willing to bear the consequences of her actions. She is aware of the consequences of her actions even before she buries her brother, but this does not prevent her from pursuing her course. She proceeds with her plan even when her sister Ismene refuses to assist her. Antigone refuses to be oppressed by a male-dominated society and takes a stand as one who gives a voice to women. She stands by what she believes even to the point of death, which is characteristic of the antagonist.
Creon allows his self-pride, and arrogance to dictate his every decision. When he heard that Antigone had defied his orders and buried her brother, he declared that he would humble her over- stubborn spirit. He compared her to a stiff iron that had been baked in fire to the point of hardness and could easily be broken. He considers her actions to be a clear indicator of insolence and declares that if Antigone wins, then she, and not Creon, is indeed the man. He considered her actions as a personal insult to his position and could not understand how this girl could defy the king. He was determined to punish her evil deed which he also considered hateful, so that nobody would glorify her crime.
He later on also declares to his son Haemon that he will never marry Antigone while she lives. He tells him that it is better for them to fall out of power by the hand of a man, but not by a woman. Here, he is referring to the possible negative effect that could result from failing to punish Antigone’s outright rebellion. He is too proud to allow himself to be seen as having lost to a woman, and will go to any lengths to protect his pride. He refuses to listen to his son’s reason. Haemon believes that Antigone is innocent of any grievous crime and does not support his father’s idea of justice (Sophocles 45). Creon later realizes his mistakes and tries to undo them by releasing her. This is seen when he says that his mind misgives and asks to go to Antigone’s tomb to release her.
Unfortunately, it was too late, and she had already committed suicide. His regret is seen when he asks to be led away, and he blames himself for the untimely death of his dear son Haemon and the loss of his wife. These losses leave Creon in a lot of pain. He worked extremely hard in protecting order in his kingdom, and this came with a price: his beloved family. The chorus views this as punishment for his pride, which is hoped to give wisdom.
Sophocles. Sophocles' Antigone. Trans. Diane Rayor. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Print.