Adv. English 12
20 September 2004
The modern version of Antigone, written in France during the time of World War II, was shaped by Jean Anouilh to reflect better upon the situation in France at the time and is different from the original play in many ways. While Jean Anouilh was writing the modern version of Antigone (1942), the Germans were occupying the country of France. This situation seemed to fit the story of Antigone, in which a revolution has just taken place. The original play, written by Sophocles in the Fifth century BC, was a little outdated for the current French society. Jean Anouilh adapted this story to make it more up to date and more interesting. He changed the way certain characters were to be viewed by the audience, most noticeably Creon. The modern version makes many additions to the original, including new characters and added background information. The new version also subtracts a few things from the original that do not have as much significance in his version. Anouilh makes several changes, including changing characters’ images and the plot.
Jean Anouilh makes more additions to Antigone than he does subtractions and changes to it. Many additions are small and insignificant, but some of the others change the way the reader thinks about a character in the original version. In the modern version, a large part is given to Antigone’s nurse, who did not even exist in the original play. The nurse is someone who Antigone can confide in and her “hand that is so prompt to ward off evil” (Anouilh 185) gives Antigone comfort. This part allows Anouilh to reveal much more information to the reader. The author uses the nurse as a way to explain what Antigone has done and foreshadowing of what is to come. The original version leaves this character out and the imagination of the audience do the rest. The scene where Creon and Antigone talk alone is also lengthened greatly and added to this scene is a story told by Creon of what really happened between the two brothers. The scene displays neither brother as the hero and makes Antigone’s statement almost pointless. It also depicts Creon as a better man because the reason he did not bury one is to keep up the spirits of his own people. If both sides were called enemies it would reveal how pointless the revolution really was. Creon thought “Eteocles, that virtuous brother, was just as rotten as Polynices” (Anouilh 209); he only wanted to keep his kingdom running smoothly. The original is almost the complete opposite of this. Sophocles’ version leaves out the story Creon tells; therefore, Creon is seen as more of a villain because he really does hold a grudge against Polynices. Anouilh also adds a scene using Antigone and a guard right before Antigone is locked away in a cave. This scene is a way to let out Antigone’s final thoughts to the audience about her love for Haemon. It creates empathy for Antigone and shows how much she really regrets what she has done. She no longer wants to die but wants the life she once had with Haemon. Sophocles gives more pride to Antigone and shows that she is not afraid to die. She will gladly give her own life to help her brother’s spirit in the afterlife. The additions made in the modern version of Antigone give much background information and leaves less to the imagination of the audience. In the modern world, it is believed that less freedom should be given to the imagination of the audience. Modern plays provide most of the mental images instead of letting the mind create them.
The subtractions made by Jean Anouilh eliminate unimportant lines and make the play fit better into his society. Fewer subtractions exist than additions because in modern productions more is given to the audience leaving them less room to think. Eurydice, the queen, is still mentioned in Anouilh’s play, but all of her lines are completely removed from the script. By removing the queen, the author limits the hatred that can be felt towards Creon. The short description of Eurydice’s death makes it less dramatic than in the original. Tiriesias, the blind seer, is also removed from the modern version. This subtraction also removes the forewarning, “wound not the life that’s perished” (Sophocles 38), which Creon receives in the original version of the play. Removing the prophet also aids in making the modern version more believable. In the twentieth century prophets and magic were considered fantasy. When Creon does not yield to the warning he has received from the seer he is seen as even more of a villain for his ignorance. Anouilh sides with Creon more than Sophocles does and removes these parts that make him look like the antagonist. He makes Creon look like the hard working king who wants what is best for his kingdom even if it does hurt his own family. The gods have also been removed from the modern version of the play. This is obviously because of religious differences that existed between the two societies. A large time period exists between the publishing of the two plays during which many changes occurred. Christianity took over as the main religion in most countries and many others faded away. Both plays were also written in two different countries, the original in ancient Greece and the modern version in France. For these reasons, Jean Anouilh almost completely removed religious references from the play.
Anouilh also edits the original and changes several points of the story to change how a character is viewed or to make the play more interesting. He once again lowers the amount of hatred towards Creon by changing the scene where Antigone is captured to favor Creon. Instead of condemning her, he states: “I want to save you, Antigone” (Anouilh 202), but she refuses. Creon attempts to cover up the whole ordeal and goes on with the marriage between Antigone and his son. Even after Antigone refuses several times, he tries his best to save her. In the original play, Creon attempts none of this and has Antigone immediately put to death. This change really makes Creon look like a benevolent ruler and it lowers the empathy felt towards Antigone. The modern play also goes deeper into the love between Antigone and Haemon. The original version contains very little scenes in which interaction actually occurs between Antigone and Haemon. The new version shows that there is a very deep love between the two. They already have their whole future planned out and are anxious to be wed. This connection displayed by Anouilh gives Antigone much more to lose than without this love. Not only will Antigone lose her love but also her whole future. This makes Antigone’s decision to turn down Creon’s offer even more ignorant. She is not just hurting herself but Haemon and her relatives and everyone else connected to them. Anouilh also changes the physical appearances of Ismene and Antigone so that they are completely opposite from the way that they were portrayed by Sophocles. “I am not beautiful” (Anouilh 184) cries Antigone to Ismene who, in the modern version, is the better-looking one and more popular of the two. Haemon even seems to like Ismene more until he suddenly proposes to Antigone. This, again, is lowering the empathy felt toward Antigone because she is no longer the loud, boisterous star that she was originally. She no longer works her way into the heart of the audience but seems to stray away until near the end of the play when she starts to come into their hearts. Anouilh uses these changes to give the audience a new view of the old story and show them that maybe Antigone is not so blameless after all.
Jean Anouilh’s revisions to this classic play cause it to take the side of Creon much more than in the original. He adds scenes that give Creon sympathy and allow him to be viewed as a good ruler. Personally, I feel that the protagonist in the modern version is Creon. All Creon wants to do is rebuild his empire and bring up the spirits of his people. Antigone, on the other hand, disobeys all authority that Creon displays. The modern version appeals to me more than the original because it supplies much more depth into the history and background of the situation.