Although the play Antigone was written over two thousand years ago, it is frequently staged worldwide because it features themes relevant to a modern audience. The play features elements of human behavior, characteristics, and nature that remain unchanged over time, hence appealing to a contemporary audience because viewers can identify with themes throughout the play. The relevance of today’s audience explains the adaptations in film, stage, and musical compositions in modern entertainment spaces as society confronts similar contemporary incidents and themes like gender equality, love, sibling rivalry, and democracy. Therefore like many other tragedies of its time, Antigone confronts ethical dilemmas in Athenian society but is still relevant to modern audiences.
Sibling rivalry is an arching theme in Antigone’s setting and contemporary society. Sibling rivalry describes ongoing conflicts, envy, and competition between children raised within the same family and may happen between blood-related siblings, foster or adopted siblings, and stepsiblings. However, sisters Ismene and Antigone are the polar opposite of one another. Ismene is depicted as the ideal child who is obedient, complacent, possesses a pleasing personality, and is well-mannered.
In contrast, Antigone is presented as the odd daughter who is unwilling to fit into the social expectations of girls. Antigone is precisely depicted as an argumentative and unruly female, unlike Ismene, who is obliging. The sister’s physical difference is another factor that pits them against one another. While Antigone is slender, Ismene is a curvy girl and attractive who relishes her femininity and generally meets the beauty standards of Athenian society.
Ismene’s beauty is evident when the Chorus states, “LO! at the portal stands the fair Ismene; Tears in her lovely eyes; a cloud of grief Sits on her brow, wetting her beauteous cheek (460-462). Antigone, not only envy’s her sister’s ability to attract suitors but also steals her clothes and makeup to capture Haemon’s heart and look like Ismene.
The same sibling rivalry is seen between brothers Polyneices and Eteocles, whose fight for their father’s throne leads to their death. Like in Athenian society, sibling rivalry in today’s family happens when members of a household differ and may sometimes result in bigger family wrangles, making Antigone relatable in this aspect.
Gender inequality is another prevalent theme both in the play and modern society. Antigone presents a skewed power imbalance between women and men, meaning each group had its place in society. In one of their disagreements, Ismene tells Antigone, “What from our disobedience can we hope, But misery and ruin? Poor, weak women, Helpless, nor formed by nature to contend With powerful man; we are his subjects too (55-58). Moreover, Creole’s words, “We will not yield To a weak woman: if we must submit, At least we will be conquered by a man (613-615), depicts a male superiority complex.
Both situations reveal a society that aligns femininity with subordination and weakness, while masculinity aligns with dominance and strength. In addition, the Theban Chorus of Elders that advises Creon on the community’s matters excludes women and female perspectives and is entirely made up of elderly Theban men. The conspicuously separate realms into which the play places men and women prompt the audience to read Antigone through the gender essentialism and inequality lenses.
Although we have made remarkable steps in women’s suffrage, global analysis of gender equality, progress, and women’s rights shows that girls and women remain disproportionately affected by socioeconomic factors like education, employment, and leadership. Overall, gender inequality and relationships between men and women are questions relevant to both settings, including public affairs, at home, and in workplaces.
The struggle for democracy is a significant leitmotif throughout the play. Democracy refers to a system of governance that depends on the people’s will and is the rule of the majority. Generally, the play involves several struggles linked to democracy, like dictatorial leadership, resistance, consequences for disobedience, a citizen’s role, and a leader’s role, among others. Antigone, the protagonist, is at odds with King Creon, her uncle, and defies his orders so that she can give her brother a decent burial. Creon is a tyrannical leader who believes his orders must not be disobeyed, especially by a female subject. Thus, he favors blind obedience to authority and cannot stand criticism.
Hence, Creon punishes Antigone by banishing her even if other subjects, particularly Haimon and other city residents, consider her actions heroic and honorable. Haimon tells Creon, “Your afflicted people United mourn the unhappy virgin’s fate Unmerited, most wretched of her sex, to die for deeds of such distinguished virtue… (628-631).
Antigone’s circumstances present the play as a struggle for fair leadership and democracy in an administration that is intolerant of anyone who challenges the political system. Democracy is a universal theme because people worldwide commit to fighting for economic and social equality and eliminating inefficient, corrupt, and dishonest leaders. Efforts for democratic states today include constitutional amendments to protect the rights of every citizen regardless of demographic differences.
Most efforts in the fight for democracy throughout history have been to eliminate dictatorship and the kind of total authoritarianism Creon prefers, which contradicts the notion of Greek democracy and the foundation of modern political institutions and thought. The audience can therefore draw parallels between the search for democracy in Antigone and the current struggle for political rights and civil liberties across the globe as people continue fighting for equal opportunities and treatment of all people regardless of individual characteristics.
In conclusion, Sophocles’ play resonates well with today’s audience due to the major leitmotifs relevant to today’s society. The tragedy extensively explores the theme of gender roles and inequality, democracy, and sibling rivalry, all of which pervade society today, hence a Greek tragedy that struggles with philosophical debates regarding social issues.
Overall, the play presents five fundamental human conflicts between individuals and families, between genders, between leaders and subjects, between an individual and society, and between generations. This relevance inspires many works of art, from film to musicals in modern entertainment, all of which increase the film’s reliability.
Antigone is, therefore, a timeless play, an important play that can be contextualized for modern times to help the audience reflect on critical issues such as political and moral law, justice and fairness, family wrangles, and leadership to determine how many milestones modern society has covered in addressing social years over the 2000 years.
Griffith, Mark, ed. Sophocles: Antigone. Cambridge University Press, 1999.