The overbearing undergrad Antigone, Ms. Miller, has “as great an irrational self-confidence in her thespian powers as Shakespeare’s Bottom, and when Henry Harper, that old Creon, refuses to give her play at least a B, she launches a campaign against him, including charges of anti-Semitism, that leads to a proper catastrophe.” (Disch 174) But in Sophocles’ classic, Polyneices’ beloved sister Antigone is a balanced, intellectual and humane person (as evidenced from allusions in the play). Her love for her brother impels her to bury him properly. Though this action would invoke the wrath of Creon and jeopardize her life, her humanity and love supersedes all other considerations. Antigone believes that though she may die as a consequence of her rightful action, she anticipates being rewarded for it in the afterlife. Hence, what legitimizes her actions is moral fortitude that has a founding on ancient theology. So the approach and the basis for confronting power in the two plays are varied. Both heroines have their moral standpoint, but Sophocles’ Antigone’s rebellion is more weighty and intense than her contemporary alter-ego.
Coming back to the way in which authority figures utilize their power, Creon is so consumed by his power that his decisions lack elaborate moral scruples. His stubbornness will tragically lead to the death of his own son Haemon, his beloved wife Eurydice and also that of his niece Antigone. Through these great losses he learns a lesson in humility and realizes all too late that one cannot become a law onto oneself. In other words, even the supreme command of the King will have to submit to the natural laws of humanitarian justice. Harper, on the other hand, is not so much dictated by vanity or egoism as he is by a conservative view of education. He sincerely believes that following the framework of rules set for the curricula is in the best interests of his students. It is for this reason and also for instilling decorum in her pugnacious pupil that he takes objection with her alternative paper.
Studying the two plays through Aristotle’s conception of tragedy makes for an interesting scholarly exercise. One of Aristotle’s most influential works concerning literary theory is his Poetics. In it he articulates with eloquence and clarity various facets of good theatre. Tragedy is acknowledged as a powerful genre of drama. Aristotle goes on to set out various rules of thumb for making aesthetically and emotionally satisfying tragedies. His concise definition of tragedy is that it is “an imitation of an action that is serious … with incidents arousing pity and fear, in order to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions.” (Botton 20) Tragedy is relevant to the discussion to the extent that it is often the by-product of abuse of power. This is clearly evident in the two plays in question.