Jean Anouilh (1910–1987) was a twentieth century French playwright, theorist, critic, film and television writer. He was interested in the role of the individual in society and the clash of idealism and realism within the individual. 

Anouilh's 1942 adaptation of Sophocles' play Antigone is one of his best known works. It was first performed in Paris in 1944, during the German occupation of the Second World War. Even though the playwright didn't take an active part in the French Resistance, his play was interpreted as a political parable, where Creon represented the Nazis and Antigone's rebellion represented the French Resistance. Anouilh refused to refute or validate this point of view. 

Anouilh's version of Antigone tackles themes such as tragedy, meta-theatre, the idealism of youth, the compromises of adulthood, the duel between morality and politics, and the choices and uncertainties of life in a complex, non black and white world.

 
Summary of Jean Anouilh's Antigone
The summary below appears on the OCR website (OCR: Oxford- Cambridge - Royal Society of Arts; the spelling and punctuation conform to British English). 

The opening scene (set in the royal palace in the city of Thebes) depicts all twelve characters on stage.The Chorus (played by an individual) addresses the audience, firstly introducing Antigone and predicting her fate. Antigone is described as a ‘tense, sallow, wilful girl’ who is going to die. He/she then proceeds to present the character of Ismene (Antigone’s sister) as ‘gay and beautiful’ in contrast to her sister. Then the Chorus introduces Haemon (Creon’s son and engaged to Antigone). Creon (the King) is described as a conscientious but weary man and Eurydice (Creon’s wife) sits endlessly knitting until she dies. The Messenger and the three indifferent Guards are introduced. We are told that the Messenger ‘has a premonition of catastrophe’ and thus keeps apart from the others. 

The Chorus then proceeds to provide the back story to the plot of the play. Oedipus had four children: Antigone, Ismene and their two brothers Eteocles and Polynices. It was agreed that when Oedipus died, the two brothers would alternate ruling over the city a year at a time. However, Eteocles refused to hand the throne over to his younger brother after a year. So Polynices attacked the city creating a state of civil war and the two brothers met in battle and killed each other in single combat. Creon then issued a decree that Eteocles should be buried with full military honours whilst the body of Polynices should be left unburied without mourning. The decree also states that anyone attempting to bury his body will be put to death. 

The Chorus exits. It is dawn and Antigone enters to meet with the Nurse. The Nurse asks her where she has been as she did not sleep in her bed last night. Antigone tells her she has been out wandering and the Nurse chides her, telling her she will tell Creon. Antigone teases her by telling her she has a secret lover, but eventually she confesses that she has no other lover than Haemon. 

Ismene enters looking for her sister. Antigone sends the Nurse away to make coffee. Ismene accuses Antigone of evading the point and admits they cannot bury their brother otherwise Creon will put them to death. Their confrontation sees Antigone stating it is their duty to bury Polynices but Ismene admits she is a coward. She also reminds Antigone about Haemon and Antigone states she will go and see him. Before she leaves, Ismene promises to discuss this again with Antigone. 

The Nurse re-enters and Antigone asks her to keep her ‘warm and safe’ and to care for her dog Puff, but if Puff mourns for Antigone then the Nurse must put her to sleep. 

Haemon arrives and Antigone apologises for their argument the previous evening. He forgives her and they warmly embrace. Antigone asks him if it was a mistake on the night he chose her to marry him instead of Ismene. Haemon reassures her by telling her, ‘I love you exactly as you love me. With all of myself.’ Antigone tells him that she would have been very proud to have been his wife but he must walk away instantly without turning back because she will never be able to marry him. She orders him to leave her if he still loves her. There is a pause as Haemeon stares at her then he leaves. 

Ismene returns, saying she cannot sleep as she is terrified that Antigone will bury Polynices. Antigone flatly replies saying that when they met earlier, she had returned from already having burying him. 

The stage is now bathed in early morning sunshine. Creon and his Page enter. The Page informs Creon that one of the Guards standing watch over the body of Polynices has arrived at the palace. The First Guard is duly summoned. In an evasive and long winded fashion, the Guard relates how, with the other two Guards, during their watch over the body, they discovered that Polynices had been covered with dirt. Creon is furious and he demands that the Guards are sworn to secrecy and must return to uncover the body. If there is another attempt to bury the body, the Guards must arrest the perpetrators and bring them straight to him. They exit. 

The Chorus returns, informing the audience that, ‘The spring is wound up tight.’ The tragedy has begun its inevitable and irrevocable course. ‘The play is on. Antigone has been caught. For the first time in her life, little Antigone is going to be able to be herself.’ 

The struggling Antigone is dragged on stage by the three Guards. Antigone defiantly demands that the Guards do not touch her. In turn, the Guards are in celebratory mood having caught the perpetrator. 

Creon enters and reacts with surprise seeing Antigone, his niece, handcuffed to the Third Guard. He demands that she is released from her chains. Creon then proceeds to interrogate the three Guards and the First Guard tells him they witnessed Antigone frantically covering her brother’s body with the earth. Creon dismisses the Guards and tells them to wait outside. 

Creon questions Antigone, asking her if anyone else saw her under arrest. She replies that no one saw her. Creon informs her she will go straight to her room and he will get rid of the three Guards. Antigone tells him he is going to a lot of trouble for nothing and she will repeat her actions that very evening. Creon is taken aback and asks her why she did it. She replies that she owed it to her brother. Creon sees him as a traitor but Antigone regards him as her brother nevertheless. Creon accuses her of regarding herself as being above the law due to her status as Oedipus’ daughter. She states this is not true. She would have acted the same whatever her status and she knows that he will have to kill her. 

Creon charges Antigone with the same hubric qualities as her father. He has his feet firmly planted on the ground and takes his role as King very seriously. Once again, Creon tells Antigone that she must go to her room and he will deal with things and that she will marry Haemon. She is more important as Haemon’s wife. 

As Antigone is leaving, he asks her where she is going. She replies telling him he knows very well where she is going. Creon tries to persuade her that if anyone, apart from the Guards finds out what she has done, it will be impossible for him to protect her. Creon accuses her of casting herself as the heroine and himself as the villain as he grabs her by the wrist. He proceeds to tell her what it is like being King and that someone had to take on the role after the death of her brothers. 

Creon then earnestly tells Antigone about the story of her brothers. How they were unruly, insolent and making her parents unhappy. He relates how Polynices struck her father when he refused to pay for Polynices’ gambling debts, which made Oedipus weep with anguish. He continues telling her that Polynices (as well as Eteocles) was the instigator of many assassination attempts upon her father’s life. He admits the Ecteocles was as rotten as his brother but he had to make a martyr out of one of them. He also goes on to tell her that when her brothers’ crushed bodies were brought in off the battlefield, he could not tell which was which so he chose the prettier of the two to have the State funeral.

Dazed by this news, Antigone gets up to go to her room, but Creon tells her to find Haemon and get married soon, so she can be happy. In return, Antigone questions the very notion of happiness, telling Creon that her inheritance as the daughter of Oedipus is to ask questions, ‘to the bitter end’ and she will not life her life in mediocracy. 

As Creon is shouting at Antigone to shut up, Ismene enters. She now wants to help her sister bury their brother and she is prepared to die for it. Antigone refuses her and challenges Creon to call for the Guards which he does so. She cries out, ‘At last, Creon!’ Antigone is taken away by the Guards and Ismene leaves the stage in the opposite direction.

The Chorus demands that Antigone shall not die but Creon replies that she is determined to reject life and to die. Haemon enters, demanding that Creon stops the Guards. The Chorus tells Creon he should lock up Antigone, saying that she is mad. However, Creon replies that everyone will know that if he makes an exception in Antigone’s case, it is because Haemon loves her. Creon tells his son that he must live and Antigone must die. As he leaves, Haemon tells him he cannot live without her. 

The three Guards re-enter with Antigone, telling Creon that the crowds from the city are entering the palace. Antigone begs Creon to let her die and to be alone until it is all over. Creon thus orders the palace to be emptied. Antigone is left alone with the First Guard. 

Antigone tells the Guard that she knows his face will be the last that she sees. She then proceeds to ask him a few personal questions about his life and he starts to tell her what it is like being a professional guard. She asks him how she is going to die and he tells her she shall be immured in a cave. Antigone asks him if she can write a letter to be handed to someone after her death but he is reluctant to do so in case he is found out. He agrees to write down the letter in his own handwriting in his notebook as Antigone dictates. He starts to write the letter but as he asks who the letter is for, a sudden roll of drums is heard and the other two Guards enter to take Antigone away. 

The Chorus enters, announcing that it is now Creon’s turn. However, the Messenger rushes on stage, asking where the Queen is. The Messenger then proceeds to tell the heart-breaking news. With Antigone in the cave, the final stones were being heaved into place to block up the entrance when a moaning was from heard from inside. Creon ordered for the stones to be removed and they were greeted with a piteous sight. Antigone had hanged herself and Haemon was kneeling, holding her body in his arms. As Creon entered, Haemon stood to face with his father and then struck him across the face. He then drew his sword. With father and son standing staring at each other, Haemon finally turned his sword on himself. 

Creon enters stating he has laid out the two bodies of the brothers side by side. The Chorus reminds Creon of Eurydice, the Queen, his wife. He then proceeds to inform Creon that when news of her son’s death reached her, she put down her knitting calmly and went to her room. There she slit her throat. The Chorus concludes that one might think she was asleep. 

Creon replies saying that it must be good to sleep. The Chorus reminds him that he is now alone. Creon tells his Page never to grow up if he can help it. The clock chimes reminding them that it is five o’clock. The Page tells Creon that he has a cabinet meeting and Creon replies, ‘Then we had better go along to it.’ 

The Chorus concludes the play addressing the audience again. He states that all those who were meant to die have died and those who survived will ‘now begin to quietly to forget the dead.’ He affirms that the reason for Antigone’s ‘fever’ will never be known. The three Guards re-enter and sit on the steps playing cards. The Chorus concludes by declaring that Creon has begun to wait for his own death in the empty palace. ‘Only the guards are left, and none of this matters to them. It’s no skin off their noses. They go on playing cards.




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