The Necessity of Structure & Form in Literature & Art: Antigone by Sophocles

Structure and form play important roles for literature, namely for transmitting of the key message of the author to the audience. Generally structure is defined as the combination of integral parts and organization of them in the correct order. There are different methods for organizing of the materials in literature in order to form certain structure for the ready work. The famous tragedy Antigone was written by Sophocles in around 442 BCE and most of the researchers agree that this play was produced as a part of the trilogy of his Theban plays, before the other two – Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. This is a story of the burial by Antigone of her brother Polynices and the tragic events, following her civil disobedience. In most of ancient Greek plays the structure of the story was formed in a chronological order. Antigone is also built on the basis of chronological progression and there are a lot of sections, where characters discuss some events from the past. Sophocles applied stichotomythia with the aim to create tension and present this conflict of attitudes and positions, described in the play.

The forms and structure of Antigone by Sophocles contribute to revealing of the message of the author, presenting the controversy of the duality of the moral choice between state and personal duty. This is the story of human downfall because of stubbornness and arrogance, it presents a complex moral conflict of the civil and individual duties in the society.

Ancient Greece was a deeply religious country and the theater was closely related to the religious acts. The writers of ancient Greece focused upon the combinations of descriptions of human affairs and hymns to gods. Aristotle studied the ancient plays and assumed that the content and structure of the plays has serious impact upon the community, becoming parts of their lives. The basic themes, covered in plays, were related to honor, destiny, ambition, family and political conflicts, moral behaviors. Greek tragedies have serious moral functions and the aim of them according to Aristotle was to “effect through fear and pity the purgation of those passions. (Aristotle 1971). In other words the tragedies were to have such structure and form, which would maximally help to perform the function of entertainment and purification of the audience. The best characters of the tragedies were to be neither purely good nor bad. Instead the characters had to be presented as complex mixtures of qualities, evoking controversial emotions and feelings by the audience and involving the viewers into moral considerations. The characters of the play by Sophocles Antigone and Creon meet the above mentioned demands. Usually the Greek tragedies were performed during the two important Dionysian Festivals. The playwrights and poets were to compete with each other, offering a certain number of plays to the audience.

Antigone could be characterized by a number of weighty differences from other Greek tragedies. Most of the Greek tragedies were associated first of all with Dionysus, and the lyric and the choric parts were essential for the composition of the tragedy. The Chorus consisted of men and women and the total number of them was fifteen. They did not participate in the action itself, neither did they have any effect upon its flow. They performed their function of lyrical expression and informed about the current actions, either by offering commentaries or giving moral lessons derived from them. The Chorus of Antigone was made up of Theban elders. “In these tragedies there were no acts and scenes, the acts or rather the various stages in the evolution of the plot beind indicated by the Choral songs or, as they were technically called, Stasima. All that part of the play which preceded the entrance of the Chorus was called the Prologos.” (Rayor 2011). When the Chorus comes from the sides of the Orchestra, it sings the so-called song thymele and it is also known as Parodos. The dialogue between the Parodos and the next time of the Chorus appearance is called the first Epeisodion. Then comes the first Stasimon and then Epeisodia and Stasoma succeed each other till the concluding moment of the play. The last episode is called Exodus and during it the Chorus and the actors leave the stage. The basic scene of Antigone is the open space in front of the royal palace at Thebes. All other events, taking place somewhere else, are informed by the messengers. The conflict is informed to the audience from the opening dialogue already, forcing them to choose between the morality of official state legislation and the choice of heart and private interests.

During the Prologos of Antigone the two sisters are introduced to the audience. Immediately there are evident contrasts between their characters, as Antigone is strong and resolute, she is dominated by the only idea to act in accordance to her own affection and piety. This character generally confronts usual female image in ancient Greece, as women were not supposed to take any decisions and be active in political sphere. Their roles were limited to taking care of their families and their children. Ismene is a good example of the “correct” Greek woman of those times. She is timid and gentle and she tries to persuade her sister to stop fighting for her position and adhere to the state laws and Creon’s order.

During the Parodos the Chorus tells about the siege of Thebes and unpatriotic behavior of Polyneices , underlining the guilt of him. The first Episodion is devoted to introduction of Creon, who is strong and even tyrannical leader of the state. He gives the order to bury only Eteocles and not to bury Polyneices, as he is sure that this is the best decision, suiting the state regulations. In this episode Creon is also informed about the fact that someone has tried to bury Polyneices. Creon’s rage is the best way to show his character. In the First Stasimon the Chorus underlines the wit of that man, who is ready to follow the bounds of law. In the Second Episodion Antigone is brought to Creon and she informs that she knows about the order not to bury Polyneices, but does not want to obey it. She justifies her behavior via referring to the divine laws, which are more preferable in comparison to human laws. Creon takes the decision to punish Antigone for disobeying with her death. The second Stasimon informs about the power of destiny of Antigone, as well as Creon himself.          

The third Epeisodian tells about Haemon, the son of Creaon, who loves Antigone and wants to save her and his father. The conflict between Haemon and Creon is the second significant conflict in Antigone. Haemon wants his father to be wise and reconsider his decision about Antigone’s death. Creon refuses and reacts with anger “Shall I, grown grey with age, be taught indeed–and by this boy?” (Sophocles 1984).The third Stasimon is mostly beautiful lyrics, devoted to the power of love. The fourth Epeisodion is tragic as Antigone commit suicide, without letting Creon to fulfill his prescribed punishment for her. The fifth Epeisodion is the concluding in the tragedy and it is the most critical. The prophet Teiresias arrives to Creon in order to inform him about the coming danger in case Creon does not bury Polyneices. Exodus is the final structural part of Antigone. It brings more tragic flow to the play, as after the death of Antigone, Haemon dies also and he is followed by his mother. Creon remains alone without his family and with needless power.

Aristotle studied the peculiarities of literature in his work Poetics and he came to the conclusion that art is the reproduction of the reality, the imitation of it. There is a great variety of modes and genres of imitation and the tragedy is the imitation of happy and sad moments in life. Antigone by Sophocles corresponds to the theoretical perspective of tragedy, as offered by Aristotle. “The play is written and spoken in a elaborate language, rico, watch out, rhetorical, ornamental, which it tends to harmony, the rhythm and singing. The performance of all the characters is what advances the action, not the story. No external narrator who tells the story. And through compassion we feel for Antigone and Hemón; and fear or anger that makes us Creon, Sófocles logra producirnos la catharsis.” (Rayor 2011). Aristotle underlined the meaning of the correct organization and structure for the literary work to be of great success. Creon, as one of the major characters of the play, follows one of the patterns, worked out by Aristotle for the character and action scheme – he executes the order and waits for the consequences to bring his personal recognition.

Overall, Antigone by Sophocles is one of the outstanding examples of ancient tragedies, presenting controversial and remarkable characters and sustainable plot with great historical reference to Greece polis and ancient society and morality. The form and structure of this literary work play their important role for reflecting of the norms of morality, existing in that society and make the audience reconsider the attitude towards the choices and behaviors of the main characters.

Works cited:

Aristotle. Poetics. In Critical Theory since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971

Rayor, Diane J. (2011) Sophocles’ Antigone. Cambridge University Press

Sophocles.  The  Three  Theban  Plays  (Antigone,  Oedipus  the King, Oedipus at Colonus). Translated by Robert Eagles. London: Penguin Classics, 1984

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

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[Accessed: April 1, 2020]