The ancient Greek play Antigone, written by Sophocles in 441 BC, is one of the most important and influential texts ever written, responsible for introducing the concept of natural laws (which was later mentioned in the Declaration of Independence), and being still significant in our modern society. Natural laws are defined on page 21 of Sophocles’ play as: “laws [that] weren’t made now or yesterday. They live for all time, and no one knows when they came into the light.” The Greek tragedy takes place in Thebes, and it tells the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus.
The play explores important and somewhat out of the ordinary themes for the time it was released, such as the relationship between written and unwritten laws, women’s power and role in society, and the challenge of state authorities. Sophocles’ original story has many modern readings, one done by the French dramatist Jean Anouilh, in 1944. When comparing Anouilh’s and Sophocles’ editions of Antigone, some differences are clear, such as the values followed by Antigone and Creon, and morality and men’s unyielding authority.
Jean Anouilh created a free translation of the original play by Sophocles, which tried to breakthrough the barriers of time and space, providing a new perspective in the ancient story for the society then. The characters, in Anouilh’s edition, are more humanized, showing more complicated feelings and emotions toward each other. One example of this “humanization” of Sophocles’ characters is the meeting that happens between Haemon and Antigone in Anouilh’s movie.
The moment that the couple meets shows the vulnerability and emotions behind the heroic and brave Antigone, exploring her true feelings toward her fiance. Creon, in Anouilh’s rendition, is also more emotional. He, not like Sophocles described, is willing to lie and kill to save Antigone, and even begs her to let him help her, his niece. It gives the tyrant leader a family-oriented ideal, and changes our original perception of the king. Another example would be the addition of the Nurse, a character who exists solely to act as a friend and trustworthy person to Antigone, which also shows Antigone’s need for affection, not depicted in Sophocles’ original play.
Antigone is an important figure in both Anouilh’s and Sophocles’ versions, however, the character has differing ideas and personalities throughout the stories. In the original rendition, Antigone is a strong, cold, powerful woman who has a carefully planned strategy to bury her brother and is not afraid to die and suffer the consequences of defying the authority. She has many lines in which she proves her fearlessness, such as “because you choose life, and I choose death,” directed at Creon (26). Antigone acts strategically and follows the so called “natural laws,” the argument she uses to justify her actions of burying her brother regardless of Creon’s orders. She has less fire and more coldness guiding her actions, sure of herself, and confident that she will get a fair verdict with Hades and Persephone.
In Anouilh’s edition, there is a clear difference between Antigone and Ismene, her sister, something not emphasized in the original version. Antigone is the abnormal, the one who disrespects rules and goes against authority in an irrational way, described as the “Tense, sallow, willful girl” (13), while Ismene is the pretty, behaved girl, described as “The beautiful Ismene… She’s certainly more beautiful than Antigone” (14). This abrupt description creates an unnecessary description between the two sisters. Also, Antigone has a different drive behind her actions.
Since the beginning, it seems like the character, without the idea of the natural laws, only wants to defy the authority and bury her brother. She is more passionate than subtle, acting on impulses and not thinking it through. The dialogue between Antigone and the Guard in the end of Anouilh’s play illustrates this idea, when Antigone was surprised about how she was going to die, asking questions such as: “Do you think it hurts to die?” and “How are they going to put me death?” (67).
Creon also has significant differences in the two forms of the story. Sophocles described Creon as a tyrant multiple times throughout his book, representing his immature personality, unprepared to rule Thebes. When Creon and Haemon are arguing, Creon states: “So you think the people should tell me what orders to give? So I should rule this country for someone other than myself?”, which illustrates Creon’s expectations of his governing, believing that Thebes is his property and the citizens are thee to serve him (34). In the book, even after receiving advice from a lot of different people, Creon keeps Antigone’s death verdict, regardless of the consequences. The phrase “Talk, talk, talk! Why don’t you ever want to listen?” exemplify the king’s actions in the play.
On the other hand, Jean Anouilh has a distinct view of the character. On the 1944 version of Antigone, the king is overall softer, not only towards his niece, but also towards his leadership of Thebes. He is portrayed as an aristocrat, someone who is more of a bourgeois than a leader: “I’ll tell you something about Creon. Now and then, when he goes to bed weary with the day’s work, he wonders whether this business of being a leader of men is worth the trouble” (15). Perhaps the scene with the most vivid differences between the two authors’ editions of Antigone is the argument of Creon and Antigone in Anouilh’s play. In the dialogue, Creon is clearly showing mercy towards his niece, which is something unexpected of the tyrant king. He states that “there is still a chance that I can save you [Antigone]; but only if you keep this to yourself and give up your crazy purpose” (47), and that “I want to save you, Antigone”, exposing his sentimental side.
Another clear difference between the two renditions of the Greek story is the idea of men’s unyielding authority. In the book, Creon and Haemon have an interesting dialogue in which Creon states many sexist phrases, such as “as long as I live, I will not be pulled by a woman” (24), “If she is not punished for taking the upper hand, then I am not a man, she would be a man!” (22), and “And there must be no surrender to a woman, no! If we fall, better a man should take us down. Never say that a woman bested us!” (31), illustrating not only his prejudice against women, but also his fear of being defeated by the one of the opposite sex.
In the French author’s edition, however, this scene was differently written. Creon is trying to justify himself to his son, and explain that he did everything he could to save Antigone. Creon, in the modern play, tried to keep Antigone alive so she could marry Haemon, but she would not change her mind, and took the death sentence in the end. The dialogue does not contain sexist lines as the original version does, and therefore represents a new era in the play-writing world. Another aspect of difference between the two versions of Antigone, is the emphasis on the love between Haemon and Antigone on Anouilh’s edition. The couple is clearly in love, illustrated by Haemon’s lines such as “Live! For what? A life without Antigone? Not without Antigone. I love Antigone” (62). This and other lines by Creon’s son represent Haemon’s vulnerability and sentiments toward Antigone, a woman, and is not afraid to announce and show it.
Overall, the two editions of the play Antigone are similar in the general plot, but differ in the character development, and story development. Regardless of the edition, Antigone talks about surprisingly relevant subjects in today’s society, and it is possible for us, modern readers, to identify compatible personalities in the contemporary U.S. (and world) politics, such as Creon and Trump, Antigone (Anouilh) and Alexandria Cortez, and Antigone (Sophocles) and Nancy Pelosi. The idea of natural laws is firstly explained in Sophocles’ edition of Antigone, later in the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. and is still relevant in subjects such as women running for president.
The differences between the two editions represent the different ideals and norms of the periods in which each of the versions were written, 441 BC and 1994, and what the authors wished to accomplish with their editions. Sophocles, as a pre-socratic philosopher, attempted to employ logic, scientific thinking to natural phenomenon, and determined that the universe is governed by natural laws, which is the reasoning behind Antigone. Jean Anouilh, on the other hand, tried to come up with a timeless rendition of the ancient story, breaking up barriers and modernizing ideas and ideals presented on the original play to the society he lived in.