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Compare and Contrast the Part That the City or State (polis) Plays in Antigone and Oedipus the King.

Essay by review  •  December 7, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,565 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,223 Views

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In both Antigone and Oedipus the King the city plays an important part with the majority of the action in both plays taking place in public in front of a chorus of Theban citizens. Personal conflict/crises take place in public, and when personal events take place off stage, they are relied to the chorus (and the audience) through messengers. The city also helps to move the plot of the plays along, as well providing dramatic tension. In addition the city helps to give us greater understanding of the characters of Oedipus and Creon, as the rulers of Thebes in Oedipus the King and Antigone respectively.

At the beginning of Oedipus the King, Thebes is facing destruction from a plague which is spreading throughout the city. Oedipus, in a bid to save the city, has sent Creon to Delphi to consult with the Oracle on how to save the city. When Creon reports back that the city can only be saved when the murderer of King Lauis is found and punished for his crime, Oedipus does everything within his power to see that this happens. Thus the importance of the city is established early on as it is Oedipus' desire to save the city and her citizens that lead to the eventual revelations of his true heritage and crime.

In contrast to this, at the beginning of Antigone, Thebes has just been brought back from the brink of destruction, having defeated the army of Argos, lead by Polynices. The city in Antigone helps to retain dramatic tension of the play, as the two central characters, Creon and Antigone clash over the obligations to the city against an individual's obligations to their family, and in extension to divine law. Creon's first speech in Antigone makes it clear that he believes that obligations of the city take precedence over the needs/obligations of one's family and friends, "And whoever places a friend above the good of his own country he is nothing" (Antigone lines 203-204). His first act as king is to decree that Polynices' body "must be left unburied" (line 229), and if anyone disobeys the punishment is "stoning to death inside the city walls" (line 43). The fact that he has decreed that the stoning will take place within the city walls is significant, has this will show the citizens of Thebes the consequences of disobeying his laws. In opposition to this is Antigone who believes that is her duty to see that her brother is given the proper burial rites as decreed by divine law, (for example lines 499-524 "It wasn't Zeus, not in least who made this proclamationÐ'..."). Thus the city takes on a separate role, as Creon uses it to justify his behaviour.

Whilst this conflict between family and city does not appear to exist in Oedipus the King, Oedipus actions at the end of the play seem to suggest that he agrees with Creon's believe that the needs of the city must come first. Having been revealed as the murderer of King Lauis, Oedipus chooses to go into exile, leaving his family behind in Thebes, thus saving the city from the plague. Oedipus chooses the city over his family, he tells Creon to, "Drive me out of Thebes in exile" (line 1667). However it can also be argued that Oedipus views the city as an extension of his own family. At the beginning of the play he refers to the people of Thebes as "my children" (lines 1 and 69), and even the Priest calls the people of Thebes Oedipus' "great family" (line 23). His sacrifice reinforces the claim he made to Creon at the beginning of the play; "I grieve for these my people far more than I fear for my own life" (Oedipus the King lines 105-106). The lines between family and city blur in Oedipus the King and whilst it appears on the surface he is putting the city first, as Creon believes one should, he is actually acting on behalf of his extended family. In Antigone the gap between city and family is not breeched as Creon views the city has his own, "The city is the king's" (line 825). Ironically at the end of Antigone the city is once again facing an uncertain future, has Creon, having placed the laws of the city over the divine laws supported by Antigone, has brought the wraith of the gods down on Thebes.

With the exception of the very first scene in Antigone between Antigone and Ismene, the action of both plays takes place within the public domain. This means that personal revelations and crises that the characters endure are made in public. For example Oedipus learns of his true heritage from the Corinthian Messenger and Shepherd in front of the citizens of Thebes (Oedipus the King lines 1084-1310, "Wait, who is this woman, makes you so afraidÐ'..."). Creon's downfall in Antigone is done in public, (1420-1470, ""Oh no, a second loss to break the heartÐ'..."). Even when the action of the plays moves off stage to behind the closed palace doors, the events are revealed in the public domain, for example the suicide of Jocasta and blinding of Oedipus (Oedipus the King, lines1364-1429 ) and the suicides of Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice (Antigone lines 1312 Ð'- 1373 and 1410-1412). This reinforces the importance of the city within the context of the plays, as nothing personal can remain secret and private.

The city is represented by the chorus which comprises of Theban citizens in both plays. The chorus enter the stage almost at the beginning of the plays (line 169) in Oedipus the King and line 117 in Antigone) and do not leave until the very end of each

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