The Language of Literature
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Antigone by Sophocles


In the battle for the throne of Thebes, Antigone's brother Eteocles has died defending the city, while her brother Polyneices has died attacking it. Creon, the king of Thebes, has sworn that although Eteocles has been given a soldier's funeral, Polyneices' body will remain unburied. Antigone defies the decree and buries her brother, even though her sister, Ismene, refuses to help her. Creon then condemns both Antigone and Ismene to death. He changes his mind about Ismene, but locks Antigone away in a stone vault. Later, after the blind prophet Teiresias predicts doom, Creon decides to free Antigone, only to find that she has committed suicide. Antigone's death leads to the suicide of Creon's son, Haemon, who was betrothed to her, and then to the suicide of Creon's wife, Eurydice.


This story addresses

  • families torn apart by political differences,
  • gender bias,
  • the death penalty,
  • suicide.

Instructional Focus

To encourage students to

  • analyze their beliefs about family loyalty,
  • identify instances of gender bias,
  • evaluate their opinions about the death penalty,
  • identify alternatives to suicide.


Oral Reading
Assign roles. Have students interpret the drama. Pause to discuss the issues as they arise. At the end, focus on how the cumulative effects of the other issues influence the issue of suicide. Ask students to identify alternative actions the suicidal characters could have taken.

Class Discussion
Use the following questions as springboards to solutions:

  • Why does Antigone feel it is her duty to bury Polyneices? Why doesn't Ismene?
  • What does Ismene mean when she says, "We are only women; we can't fight with men?" How does this statement relate to Antigone's saying her crime is holy? What is the implication?
  • Ismene says, "Impossible things should not be tried at all." If this were so, how would the world be different?
  • Why does Creon refuse to bury Polyneices? What does his fear indicate? Creon threatens to torture the sentry before killing him if his order is disobeyed. What does this indicate about his ability to govern?
  • Why does the sentry bring Antigone to Creon despite knowing she will be executed? Is the death penalty a fitting punishment for Antigone's crime? Explain. How does she defend herself?
  • How does gender bias affect Creon's decision to stand by his original decree? Why does he include Ismene in the sentence?
  • What does family loyalty have to do with Creon's insistence on carrying out the sentence? What does he hope to prove?
  • Haemon says that Creon is surrounded by men afraid to speak the truth. Do "yes men" influence business and politics today? Do you ever find yourself saying what people expect to hear, not what you really think? Explain.
  • Creon argues that it's not right for a man "to go to school to a boy." What's inherently wrong with this reasoning? Have you ever learned a valuable lesson from someone younger than you? Explain.
  • Teiresias tells Creon, "The only crime is pride." What does he mean by this? How can pride lead to faulty judgment? Can poor decisions be rectified? How?
  • Explain the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice. Why did they consider suicide a viable "out"? What measures could each have taken to effectively deal with their situations?
  • What lessons learned from this drama can be applied to your life? Explain.

Guest Speaker
Invite a knowledgeable health professional to address your class on the relationship between family dysfunction and suicide. Be sure the professional discusses local resources where appropriate levels of assistance can be sought.

Deadly Penalties
Ask students to identify countries that enforce the death penalty. Have them research the application of the sentence in one particular country. For what offenses can the sentence be rendered? How is the sentence carried out? Does it serve as a deterrent? Is the sentence accepted as part of the culture, or do some oppose its use? Have students report their findings to the class.

Musical Messages
Have students identify songs that reflect the lessons learned from the play. Ask them to bring a recording of the songs to play in class. Have students introduce the songs and explain the connection to the drama.

Real World Connection

Have students research suicide prevention. Ask them to identify the signs of suicidal tendency, appropriate measures to take when someone displays the signs, and local resources where proper assistance can be sought. Have them create posters that explain their findings. Encourage them to present their posters. Display the posters.



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