Powerplay involves the complex struggle and manipulation for authority and dominance between opposing ideologies. Several diverse forms of powerplay through human interaction are experienced, however power is a tortuous process to attain and retain due to its tangible and allusive nature. Sophocles’ Antigone delves into this convoluted interplay of powers through investigating the relationship between political and personal power. Not only does Antigone explore the consequences when divine power is challenged, but also when state law and male authority are challenged. Thus the text’s utilisation of powerplay through human interaction enhances its intricate nature.
Antigone’s act of defiance to Creon’s edict is due to her belief that man-made laws are inferior to the unwritten laws of God, whereas Creon views that an enemy of state is not deserving of an honourable burial. This powerplay is primarily a conflict of point of view between Creon and Antigone arising directly from their differing values, perspectives and personalities. Creon, who values to establish his reign of power after an acrimonious battle between the two brothers vying for political control, depicts a politic and pragmatic attitude. He believes that he is restoring stability and peace to his kingdom by establishing such an inhumane law. He also reinforces his view to “not give equal honour to good and bad” which portrays Creon nature to reward the loyalty and punish the rebellion. Furthermore, Creon contends that he must appear to be a powerful and tenable leader of Thebes. He explains to Haemon that letting Antigone go with impunity for defying his laws would make him a traitor as stated in ‘How if I tolerate a traitor at home, shall I rule those abroad?”. This is ironic as Creon himself develops into a traitor since he refuses to comply with divine law.
Antigone however values to abide higher law as she has the “duty to the dead” to bury them, keeping with divine law. She believes that as a sister, she has the duty to bury her family members regardless of the laws that are implemented against it. The citizen’s of Thebes create powerplay in support of her perception that divine law overrules Creon’s decree. For example, Haemon expresses that Antigone’s action is noble in “Know how the people mourn this maiden doomed for noblest deeds to die the worst of deaths”. Antigone moreover yearns for a noble death to compensate her history of misfortunes as she alliterates in “The weird of Oedipus, a world of woes!”. Her own initiative of a noble death is ironic as she is incapable of maintaining her composure and reveals her human frailties resulting in her suicidal. Through Creon’s and Antigone’s differing views on political power, their conflict of values and beliefs represents powerplay in the tragedy.
Sophocles conveys in Antigone the inherently destructive nature to the wielders of power signifying that those who play with power will ultimately lose all power. Creon rules by trepidation in a despotic manner and also by pride in his power, which will not allow him to acquiesce resulting in dire consequences. He firmly believes that his actions are moral contradicting the divine laws of the gods who honour the dead. Teiresias points out that Creon commits an atrocious sin by condemning a living human being to death inside a grave, as he keeps a rotting boy in daylight.
Creon’s actions against Antigone and Polyneices’ body demonstrate his attempts in inverting the order of nature, defying the gods through the assertion of his political power. Haemon challenges Creon’s parental power by confrontment on his rational decision of Antigone’s fate. He uses metaphoric language in “See how the trees beside a stream in flood sae, if they yield to force, each spray unharmed, but by resisting perish root and branch”, to compare Creon’s kingly authority to a tree representing how he governs his kingdom. Haemon advises that even though his decisions were for the good of the people, in the end his obstinate and unyielding nature towards Antigone will perish him. Creon’s ignorance to these confrontments is symbolic of his blindness to the catastrophic events he was creating, thus losing all power over controlling his fate.
Antigone creates powerplay in her confrontation with Creon as she attempts to use her power to prevail over his male and kingly authorities. Her determination and courage derives from her belief that she did not commit a crime. She declares that the laws of the state are not binding as they have been laid down by a man and men are not infallible. Antigone’s statement is a direct challenge to male dominance and Creon’s political power, showing her critical involvement in the powerplay. Creon shows the importance he places on male dominance in the lines of his opening speech “Better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of a man – never be rated inferior to a woman, never.” He sees anarchy as the inevitable consequence when feminie disobedience creates controversy with masculine political authority. He is determined to protect the order of civilisation by “defending the men who live by law, never letting women triumph”. Antigone’s fate is sealed as she loses all her feminie power when she is ultimately condemned to death. Antigone depicts the convoluted process to attain and maintain power due to its allusive nature, hence representing powerplay.
Creon believes that his kingly authority is supreme, prevailing every other moral code in his subjects’ lives. He governs on the conception that disobedience is treason and punishable by death. In order to sustain his political power he progresses from demarcating his concept of power to differentiating between the state’s advocate, who is to be ‘rewarded’ with burial, and denying burial to its assailant, despite that both are members of his family. Creon sees all humans as either a comrade, if they obey his authority and support state edicts, or rivals and traitors if the state is not their first priority. He states that “As long as I am King, no traitor is going to be honoured with the loyal man”. Creon has an obligation to protect the interests of the state and to protect his own interests as a sovereign. He follows an ancient tradition of battle in denying the enemy, Polyneices, a proper burial. However, in doing so, he not only acts inhumanely, but as Sophocles reiterated throughout the play, displeases the gods.
As the play progresses, Creon displays the conventional characteristics of the tyrant – constant suspicion of conspiracies against him, a contemptuous disregard for the opinions of his subjects and a trivial vanity that cannot accept criticism. To him religious duties are secondary to the supreme sovereignty of the state and to the standard of human and political ethics. It is Creon’s pride which deters him from realising his act of foolishness before the chain of tragic events. Irony is evident in Creon’s statement, the ‘heart, temper and mind of man’ are tested by ‘authority and rule’ and that ‘a king whose lips are sealed by fear, unwilling to seek advise’ is ‘no less damned than he who puts a friend above his country’. It is ironic as Creon acknowledges that it is imprudent to be obstinate and wilful, yet he does not recognise his tyrant characteristics due to his blindness. Creon’s fall at the end is ironic as he believed his prosperity were on the augment after his enthronement. However, he eventually concludes that even the most powerful king is powerless in the face of destiny. Powerplay is evident in Antigone as Creon rules with pride and arrogance in a tyrannical fashion, inhibiting him from capitulating ensuing on his detrimental fate.
Powerplay is represented in conflicting values, perspective and personalities as they struggle for authority and dominance. In Antigone, it can be seen that powerplay extends to all levels of human interactions through political, parental and male power. Sophocles not only reiterates the powers one person wields over another but also the consequences resulting from a controversy between opposing powers.