Judgement Play Essay, Research Paper
Human beings by nature judge both themselves and others. Judgment comes through a person s ego telling them that they can have control over a particular situation. This desire for control promulgates a false sense of responsibility in essentially uncontrollable situations. For example, a human feels a responsibility to the dead. Humans build mental and physical shrines for the dead. They mourn the dead with funerals. Most people practice specified burial rituals to ensure a happier afterlife for the deceased. These practices are attempts to exert control over a person s death and a person s fate in the afterlife, eventhough both natural and supernatural forces are guided by specific rules that are absolute and unavoidable. The control, judgment, and sense of responsibility over a dead person s body is absurd and pretentious. Such is the case in Sophoclese s play Antigone.
The play begins with Antigone declaring her ego driven righteousness. She declares that she will abandon the (man made)law that states if a man shall assault the gods of the city, (he will) be denied burial. (Barnet, Berman, Burto, Draya p.81) Through the honor and love of her family, Antigone will bury her deceased brother Polynecies who died while attacking her city, Thebes. This action is ego driven to protect her and her families image. The action is also superfluous and pretentious. Antigone feels that her action is favorable to the gods. The problem is that she has been given no direct message from any god stating that her action is in their best interests. Antigone simply assumes that she knows what the gods want, but she has no right to determine what the gods want. Antigone knows this, but her ego forces her to abandon this idea and act in her own families interests. She is therefore protecting her own image under the guise of honor. Antigone even overstates her position of righteousness in front of her sister Ismene:
Go away, Ismene:
I shall be hating you soon, and the dead will too,
For your words are hateful. Leave me my foolish plan:
I am not afraid of the danger; if it means death,
It will not be the worst of deaths – death without honor. (Prologue, lines 76-81 p. 83)
She declares that she will die for her brother s honor, further asserting her own righteousness and denying herself any possible fault. Such an act is inherently defiant of the gods. She is essentially putting words into the mouths of the gods to protect her own image. This action is brutally unrighteous. Her punishment is death.
Creon, King of Thebes, plays a similar role to Antigone s. Creon had declared that Antigone s brother, Polynecies, shall not receive an honorable burial. Like Antigone, Creon acts to please the gods and protect the honor of Thebes. Creon is therefore protecting his own image under the guise of law. Whether or not this law is man made or not , Creon is still assuming that he has the power to control the fate of Polynecies in the afterlife. Whatever Creon decided while Polynecies was alive is immaterial. Polynecies is now dead and his judgment is naturally left up to the gods. However, Creon, like Antigone insists that he knows what the gods want when he tells Antigone, And yet you dared defy the law. ( Ode 1, line 36 p.87) Creon feels that his word is as just as the word of the gods, even though the gods have said nothing of the subject thus far. When Creon receives an oracle from the soothsayer Tiresias, telling him that his action is actually in defiance of the gods, he calls Tiresias a liar. He unjustly declares his own word to be just over the word of the gods. Again, another brutally unrighteous act. Creon s punishment is death.
Both Antigone and Creon suffered deaths because they acted on their own ego driven terms. Their assertion of control of supernatural law is a defiance of the gods. The only person who acts in complete accordance with the gods is Tiresias. Tiresias relays an oracle declared directly by the gods. His reward is life because he acts on purely righteous terms. Not one person, however, can say what is actually just. The only two absolutes we have as humans are life and death. The rest is left up to speculation. Unfortunately the nature of human beings interferes with natural/supernatural laws through cultural or religious practices. The criteria of these practices is first invented, then transmitted, and finally perpetuated into man made laws and schools of thought. Therefore it is impossible to say what is absolutely just, and the question of what is absolutely just remains infinitely rhetorical.