Creon must be acknowledged for his achievements, and he was once a wise, capable ruler. Men would once have been jealous of his position, but following his dramatic descent to his final tragic state; no man would now envy him. This tragedy is what had to occur to save the city from Creon’s tyranny. We witnessed his character worsening as the play progressed, and it became evident that a drastic turn of events would be required to halt his behaviour.
Creon needed to learn the value of humanity and love, and he also needed to regain his respect for the gods and the feelings of others. As a king, it is essential he exerts control over his city, but he had to do so with an improved method of judgement and a more realistic set of values, but he could only realise this through the shock of the death of those close to him, especially as they were pushed to take their own lives. This forces him to recognise the “bonds he has not himself chosen”11 – like familial ties – which Nussbaum believes he was unable to do up until this point of the play.
R. Fagles describes Creon as “sustained by nothing except his tyrannical insistence on his own will….and his outrageous refusal to be defeated by a woman”12. Creon seems to have a problem with women in particular defying him, and warns the leader “never be rated inferior to a woman, never” (lines 760-1). This is another factor which was unhelpful in allowing him to rule fairly and equally, but was not an untypical view in Sophocles time.
Creon’s actions from start to finish lead to tragedy for all involved, most notably for himself. The Antigone as a whole can be seen as a lesson to Creon – a lesson to a ruler who was becoming dangerously immersed in his own misjudged views and conceptions, and who needed a sharp shock to prevent further decline of his character. Although he wishes only to hide “and never have to see another sunrise” (line 1450) again at the end of the play, we hope he will later emerge a reformed and improved man for his experiences.
The Antigone is an opportunity for us to witness a total change in the character of a strong ruler. At the same time as following the sad but admirable journey of the “rebel and martyr”13, Antigone, towards death, we are able to watch tragedy re-educate and reform a man whose resolve we at first believed could never be broken. Through this double journey we are saddened and shocked, but at the same time we are given hope for humanity in the change in Creon; it may take suffering to induce this alteration, but it is possible. As the closing lines declare – “those blows will teach us wisdom” (line 1470), and this is proven in the changing character of Creon in the Antigone.
1 from Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H.D.F Kitto, Methuen and Co, London 1939, p.129 2 from On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy, by John Jones, Chatto and Windus, London 1962, p.200 3 all line quotes will be from Sophocles; The Three Theban Plays, ed. by Robert Fagles, Penguin, London 1984 4 from The Fragility of Goodness, by Martha Nussbaum, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986, p.56