If an oracle told you your fate, would you listen to the hints and clues about your future? In this lesson we will analyze foreshadowing in the play ‘Antigone’ and see how these clues were ignored by the characters on stage.
Hints and Clues
Have you ever watched a horror movie and were surprised by the identity of the killer once he or she was revealed? You had no idea it was coming, but at the end of the movie you thought back and recognized the subtle hints along the way.
It’s always after the killer is revealed that you step back and say, ‘Oh, now that comment at the beginning of the movie makes sense.’ These hints or clues are known as foreshadowing and they occur in literature as well. An author uses foreshadowing to hint at something that may happen later in the story.
Most of the time, readers won’t notice they are reading this literary device; it is only after they learn the plot that they can go back and recognize the clues.In the play Antigone, Sophocles hints at what will happen to Antigone and her family. Let’s take a look at the text and analyze the moments that connect to events later in the play.
The Curse of Oedipus
Oedipus is a character in Greek literature who is known for his terrible fate. As a baby, his parents were told a prophecy in which he would marry his mother and kill his father. Unfortunately, the prophecy was right.
Oedipus left his damnation with his children Antigone, Ismene, Polyneices and Eteocles after he exiled himself from Thebes.In the Prologue of Antigone, Antigone and her sister Ismene are discussing the deaths of their brothers Polyneices and Eteocles. Creon, the new king and their uncle, decreed no one is allowed to bury Polyneices due to the fact that he fought against Thebes.
Antigone mentions how they have ‘suffered enough for the curse of Oedipus,’ and now they can’t even bury their brother? This is too much for her to bear. Antigone reminds the reader of her father’s curse, which foreshadows nothing but trouble in her future. She also says, ‘I cannot imagine any grief That you and I have not gone through,’ acknowledging that she and Ismene have been through a lot with the deaths of their entire family, a war, and now this.
Unfortunately, anytime someone asks, ‘Could this day get any worse?’, we know from experience that it will.Oedipus is also mentioned several times throughout the play by Creon, the Choragos and the Chorus. It is only a matter of time before the curse manifests into the downfall of the remainder of Oedipus’ children, just as it did for Oedipus in the first half of his life. Every time his name is mentioned, it foreshadows the downfall of anyone connected to his bloodline; in this case, it’s Antigone and her death.
Antigone foreshadows her own death in the same conversation when Ismene refuses to help bury Polyneices. Antigone welcomes death, saying she would rather risk her life and die with honor doing the right thing for her brother, reinforcing the idea that if and when she completes this task, she will welcome death with open arms.
In Creon’s opening speech to the people, he mentions his loyalty to the city over his loyalty to anyone else and says that for a leader to really be known, he must be tested. ‘I am aware, of course, that no Ruler can expect complete loyalty from his subjects until he has been tested in office.
‘ And tested he will be. This speech foreshadows how Creon will deal with his niece Antigone when she goes against his orders and buries her brother.
Creon’s damning pride shows when his fate is accurately read to him by the famous prophet Teiresias, the same prophet who read Oedipus’ fate; Creon chooses to believe that Teiresias was bribed and the prophecy is fake. Teiresias literally tells Creon his fate, but Creon is too stubborn to listen to the actual hints and clues being dropped.
Choragos and the Chorus
In Antigone, the Chorus represents society, the Choragos acting as the leader of the people. Throughout the play, both attempt to provide wisdom and guidance to Creon and his family.
After each scene, the Chorus sings an ode to the audience that summarizes the events of the act, summarizes background information, and foreshadows future events.In Scene 2, the Chorus sings about Creon’s argument with his son Haemon, who is also Antigone’s fiance. The scene ends with the words ‘Fate works most for woe With Folly’s fairest show.’ Tragedy is one’s fate when foolishness is one’s guide, and we see this unfold in Scene 3 when Creon and Haemon argue over Antigone and her choices. This line foreshadows Creon’s unwillingness to listen to reason and the deaths that will occur because of his stubbornness.
In Scene 4, the Chorus sings about women who have had fates similar to Antigone’s. They end with the lines, ‘But in her marriage deathless Fate found means to build a tomb like yours for all her joy,’ foreshadowing that Antigone will die before she is married, or that she will be married to Haemon only by death.
So, did this lesson help you recognize the hints and clues along the way in Antigone? Between everyone referencing the curse of Oedipus, and Antigone wishing death upon herself, it isn’t really a surprise when death takes Antigone, Haemon, and even Haemon’s mom at the end of the play.
Teiresias foresees the dreadful events that will occur and tries to warn Creon to let go of his prideful ways, but Creon’s stubbornness pushes reason away. The Chorus and Choragos attempt to show Creon the wisdom of those around him, but Creon’s change of heart comes too late, allowing Oedipus’ curse to take his entire family.