The third scene of Sophocles’ Antigone is rife with situational irony. Antigone, who has just been ordered by her uncle Creon to be put to death for trying to give her brother a proper burial, is asked by her sister Ismene if there is anything she can do to help. Antigone responds that there is nothing and that she must accept her fate. However, the irony lies in the fact that, although Antigone believes she is powerless to change her situation, she is actually about to embark on a course of action that will have major repercussions for everyone involved.
Antigone’s decision to bury her brother despite the consequences will ultimately lead to tragedy and destruction, but it is also what makes her a tragic hero. Antigone’s choices may seem short-sighted and foolhardy, but it is precisely her sense of duty and loyalty to her family that makes her a heroic figure. In the end, Antigone’s tragic flaw is also what makes her one of the most compelling characters in all of Greek tragedy.
Irony is a major element in Antigone, as it is in many other works by Sophocles. Dramatic irony, attitudinal irony, and verbal irony are three varieties of irony employed by Sophocles in Antigone. The presence of sarcasm has a significant influence on the play’s outcome. If there had been no sarcasm in the play, the events in the scenes would have played out very differently than they do now. Irony also adds to the drama by keeping readers guessing what will occur next; it also serves to add suspense? Although Sophocles met his objective, as shall be seen later, he did so with style.
Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that the characters do not. In Antigone, there are several examples of dramatic irony. The first example of dramatic irony occurs in scene two. Antigone has just finished burying her brother, Polyneices, in defiance of Creon’s orders. Haemon, Creon’s son, enters and Antigone tells him what she has done.
Haemon tries to reason with Antigone, telling her that she should have obeyed her uncle’s orders. Antigone responds by saying that she would rather die than live a life without honor. The audience knows that Antigone is going to die, but she does not. This is an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows Antigone’s fate, but she does not.
The second example of dramatic irony occurs in scene three. Antigone has been brought before Creon to answer for her crimes. Antigone tells Creon that she is not sorry for what she did and she would do it again. She also tells him that he can kill her if he wants to, but that will not change anything. The audience knows that Antigone is going to be put to death, but she does not. This is another example of dramatic irony because the audience knows Antigone’s fate, but she does not.
The third and final example of dramatic irony occurs in the last scene of the play. Antigone has been sentenced to death and is about to be carried off to her execution. Haemon, who is in love with Antigone, begs his father to spare her life. Creon refuses and Haemon threatens to kill himself. Antigone tries to stop him, but he does not listen. The audience knows that Haemon is going to kill himself, but Antigone does not. This is the third and final example of dramatic irony because the audience knows Antigone’s fate, but she does not.
Attitudinal irony is when a character says or does something that is the opposite of what they are really thinking or feeling. In Antigone, there are two examples of attitudinal irony. The first example occurs in scene two. Antigone has just finished burying her brother, Polyneices, in defiance of Creon’s orders.
Haemon, Creon’s son, enters and Antigone tells him what she has done. Antigone then says to Haemon, “You’re the only one who knows. I wouldn’t want anyone else to know, not even my mother.” The audience knows that Antigone is not really thinking about what she is saying because she has just told Haemon what she did. This is an example of attitudinal irony because Antigone is saying the opposite of what she is really thinking.
When characters make statements that they believe are true, but the audience knows aren’t really the case, this is known as dramatic irony. One of King Creon’s comments is an example of dramatic irony. The Sentry appears to expose that Creon’s law had been broken, and that Polyneices had been buried. “And who dares do it?” asks Creon (Scene 1, 88).
The audience knows that it was Antigone who broke the law and buried her brother, but none of the other characters are aware. Situational irony is when events turn out the opposite of what was expected. In Scene 3, Antigone has been captured by Creon’s men and led back to the palace in chains. Antigone’s sister, Ismene, tries to console her, but Antigone will not be consoled. Antigone says,” You stay here and live in ignorance And let them do to you whatever they please” (Scene 3, 12-13). The situation is ironic because Antigone expects to die for her actions, while Ismene expects to live.
Both Antigone and Ismene are examples of tragic heroes. A tragic hero is a character who has a tragic flaw that leads to their downfall. Antigone’s tragic flaw is her stubbornness, which led her to break Creon’s law. Ismene’s tragic flaw is her fear, which led her to not help Antigone bury Polyneices.
The ironic situation in Scene 3 is a result of the characters’ flaws. Antigone’s stubbornness leads her to defy Creon’s law, while Ismene’s fear leads her to not help Antigone. These actions result in the two sisters’ opposite fates. Antigone expects to die, while Ismene expects to live. The ironic situation highlights the tragic flaws of both characters.
The plot of the play revolves around Creon’s decision to bury Polyneices because he had committed sacrilege. Antigone is accused of this atrocity by Creon (Scene 1, 88). When, in fact, the audience knows that it was Antigone who had perpetrated the crime, Creon asks if there has been “a man who would do such a thing.” This indicates that Creon believes only a male would commit a crime like this. This foreshadows further conflict in the tragedy.
Antigone will eventually confront Creon about his views and attempts to change his mind. The irony here is that Antigone will fail in this confrontation.
This is an example of situational irony because the audience knows something that the characters do not. Antigone’s actions are going to result in her own death, but she does not know this yet. The conflict between Antigone and Creon is further heightened by the situational irony in this scene.