A Teacher Review of Antigone with Teaching Activities & Discussion Ideas
Sophocles wrote Antigone thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. People still read it today. There's no need to question its literary merit. The following topics make good discussion when reading Antigone:
The Role of Fate: The house of Thebes has been cursed, but could the tragedy have been avoided. Perhaps if Antigone had not been so stubborn and Creon not so proud, Thebes may have remained.
The Role of Women: Antigone's courageness is magnified by contrasting the traditional role of women in Thebean society, as portrayed by her sister Ismene, and the role Antigone plays in bringing down King Creon.
The Role of Government: King Creon claims he is the government and his word is law. His son Haimon claims government belongs to the people.
Natural Rights: Antigone appeals to a higher power to justify her actions, a premise used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and other European philosophers before him.
Conscientious Objectors: Antigone's defiance of King Creon's unfair law reminds modern readers of others who broke the law for reasons of conscience: Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Activists, The Founding Fathers of the United States, Women's Rights Activists such as Susan B. Anthony, and many more.
Suicide: Half the characters kill themselves. You might as well talk about it.
Teaching Antigone involves teaching the following literary devices:
Dramatic Irony: Everybody except Creon knows that Creon has caused the curse to continue on Thebes. In addition, the audience knows that Antigone, a woman, has committed a crime, that Creon is convinced a man has committed.
Verbal Irony: Antigone's and Haimon's speech to the king drips with verbal irony.
Situational Irony: The king finally realizes his mistake but can do nothing about it.
Elements of Tragedy: The plot follows Aristotle's explanation of Tragedy.
Tragic Hero: Some say the tragic hero is Antigone; most say it's Creon.
Foreshadowing: The sense of impending doom is inescapable.
Mood: It's a depressing play. That's why they call it a tragedy.
Individual vs. Society Conflict: Can one seemingly insignificant individual make a difference? Sure, but she dies for it.
Figurative Language: Teaching metaphors has never been this much fun. Check out the argument between Haimon and Creon and the one between the soothsayer and Creon.
Most students enjoy the play on its own merits. These activities will help with the rest:
- Have students research 10 historical figures who broke the law for reasons of conscience. Instruct them to make a chart: column 1, list an historical figure who broke the law for reasons of conscience; column 2, describe the law that was broken with necessary background information; column 3, explain the cause or the reason for breaking the law; column 4, explain the results. For a detailed description of this assignment in conjunction with Black History Month, follow the link. You may choose to require MLA documentation or a bibliography.
- Have students dress up in robes and act out a scene. For some reason, reading plays while wearing robes makes them more interesting.
- Some of the best scenes involve arguments and insults (Antigone v. Ismene; Creon v. Antigone; Haimon v. Creon; Creon v. Soothsayer). Have students translate the arguments into modern English or have them create dialogue between two characters in a different setting.
- Take a field trip to Greece.