Analysis Of Antigone: The Unwritten Law

1044 Words 4 Pages
“What law, you ask, do I satisfy with what I say?”—The Unwritten Law

The title heroine’s famous defense speech in lines 995-1005 of Antigone has prompted the view that the play is extremely enigmatic. It is a passage that has been read with astonishment and demands detailed explanation. In her speech, Antigone provides what appears to be a reason for her burying her brother Polynices against the orders of her uncle and King, Creon. Antigone claims, however, that she would not have deliberately violated Creon’s command had this order prohibited her from burying her own child or husband. Her claim, therefore, is a mater of enigma in the play—one that is crucial to understanding the central stakes of the drama. Antigone’s assertion that she
…show more content…
She asserts that “if [she] had been the mother of children or if [her] husband died, [she] would never have taken this ordeal upon herself” (line 996-998). This “ordeal” of not being prepared to violate the law to bury her child or husband, but nevertheless, being prepared to do so for her brother is rather contradictory. We may, therefore, interpret that she is forsaking the belief of loyalty to her bloodline expressed earlier in the play, when she urges Ismene to “Decide. Will she share the labor [of burying their brother]” (line 50)? The commandment to “decide,” has a sense of urgency attached to it; it is a matter of high importance and ultimate priority. The burial of her brother, Antigone implies, should not be prohibited because of a man-made law. She believes, furthermore that they should both “share in the labor [of their brother’s burial].” Antigone’s regard to her brother’s burial as “labor” indicates that she acknowledges the task is of great effort; it is physically as well as mentally exerting and exhausting. Yet, she believes that the burial of her brother is of merit. Her loyalty to her bloodline, in this instance, takes precedence over any law. If this logic holds true, then it is extremely troubling for Antigone to assert that she would have not broken the law for a husband or child of hers. Given, the defense involves the irreplaceability of Polynices. Although she …show more content…
To think that in her defense speech Antigone could be providing a universal or generally recommended rationale for her actions, then, is to ignore the exceptional nature of her family form, and for any kinship relations within it. When Antigone argues for the irreplaceability of Polynices, then, she should not automatically be taken to be arguing for the general irreplaceability of a brother to a sister. Her family is, importantly, aberrant—according to Ismene when she recounts of her “[fathers] reputation in ruins, driven on the crimes he brought to light himself” (line 62-63). Thus, the monstrous nature of her family is the chief source of her suffering, as the play repeatedly makes clear. Antigone is not simply honoring her brother because he is her brother; she wishes to treat him as a dignified man. Most notably, she attempts to establish her brother as only her brother by symbolically refusing a family precedent, namely that of generating one’s own siblings. Antigone’s devotion to her brother must, crucially, be understood against the backdrop of her incestuous and doomed family; and her violable deed can be interpreted as a passionate attempt to restore the sibling relationship. In a sense then, Antigone’s insistence on preforming the burial rights for her brother as only her brother consecrates not

Related Documents