King Creon in Antigone: Character Traits & Quotes

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  • 0:00 King Creon's Role in…
  • 0:49 Creon's Background
  • 1:56 Creon as the Antagonist
  • 4:02 Creon's Tragedy
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson we will explore King Creon's character in Sophocles's 'Antigone'. We will examine his role and his background, looking at Creon as the antagonist as well as the victim.

King Creon's Role in Antigone

King Creon plays an interesting role in Sophocles's play Antigone. He is the title character's antagonist, or adversary, but he isn't a villain. He is like the strict parents who make their children clean the house before going out with friends. The parents aren't villains; in fact, what they're doing may be good in the long run. Yet, in the children's eyes, the parents could seem like the enemy.

King Creon is the antagonist in the play because he refuses to allow Antigone to bury her brother Polyneices, but like the parents who make their children clean their room, his reasoning isn't all bad. He makes this ruling because Polyneices had attacked Thebes with an army. In order to ensure order and peace in Thebes, King Creon has to make an example of Polyneices.

Creon's Background

King Creon becomes king in a difficult time. Two brothers have just killed each other fighting over the throne. Thebes has been torn in two, each taking a side in that fight, and even before these two brothers, Thebes wasn't in a very good situation. Oedipus, the father of the brothers, gouged his eyes out and left the city when he learned that he had unknowingly married his own mother. And Oedipus' father's rule had earlier come to an untimely end when Oedipus unknowingly killed his own father.

Each of these times the throne became empty prematurely, Creon had stepped up and filled the seat until the rightful ruler could take over. Creon initially fills this role since he is Queen Jocasta's brother (that's Oedipus's mother and wife). When Oedipus married Queen Jocasta, becoming king, Creon gladly stepped down. But when Oedipus first left the city after discovering just who he had married, the brothers (his sons) were too young to rule, so Creon stepped in until they were old enough.

Then when they came of age, the two brothers ended up fighting over the throne and killing each other. So Creon once again had to step in and take the place as king of Thebes.

Creon as the Antagonist

When Sophocles wrote the play Antigone, there were many philosophies that guided behavior in ancient Greece. Two competing philosophies were that of reason and religion, and we see these competing values in the tension between Creon and Antigone. Creon knows that the only reasonable way to promote peace in Thebes is to be strict in his punishment of those who attacked Thebes. This includes Polyneices, since he was the one who led the attack against Thebes.

On the other hand, Antigone loves her brother and, according to their religious beliefs, knows that without a burial he will never be able to move on to the next life. She feels that her beliefs and familial love should be honored over order in the kingdom. She says if they don't bury her brother, they will 'be guilty of dishonoring laws which the gods have established in honor.'

Creon rejects the rules laid down by the gods, determining them to be irrational, and instead he relies on the reasoning and laws of man. Creon explains that the laws of men are more important than those of the gods: 'Whomsoever the city may appoint, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great. . . disobedience is the worst of evils. . . therefore we must support the cause of order.'

Creon has decided that establishing order is the most important thing that he can do right now. And in order to do that, he needs to strictly enforce all commands that he has given, even if it means having his own niece killed for disobedience.

He says, 'Tis dire to yield; but, by resistance, to smite my pride with ruin - this, too, is a dire choice.' Creon knows that his pride is also holding him back from showing mercy, but feels that he is doomed either way. Whether he upholds his own ruling or lets Antigone live, he feels he will end up in a tragedy.

Ultimately, Creon does resolve to change his mind and says 'Ah me, 'tis hard, but I resign my cherished resolve, - I obey. We must not wage a vain war with destiny.' He decides that he can no longer fight against the gods and fate, and must let Antigone go free. Yet he fixes this tragic flaw too late, and what follows is his greatest tragedy.

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