Situational Irony in Antigone

Instructor: Ashley Bishop
Sophocles' 'Antigone' is a prime example of how situational irony may be used in Greek tragedy to create tension and heighten the tragic effect of the plot and characterizations.

Irony in Antigone

A common literary device used in dramatic literature, irony is generally defined as a reversal of expectations. In this lesson we will explore a specific type of irony employed in Antigone called situational irony. Situational irony can be described as an incongruity between what the audience expects to happen and what actually occurs. Such incongruity creates tension and dramatic effect that both surprises and intrigues the audience.

There are several instances of situational irony in Antigone, but for the purposes of this lesson we will highlight a few of the most significant examples.

Out in the Open

The main conflict in this play exists between Antigone and her uncle King Creon. Creon declares that Antigone's brother, Polyneices, is a traitor, and his body shall remain exposed to the elements. Antigone feels that this is an assault on her religious beliefs, so at the risk of her own death she attempts to bury her brother. The situational irony in this instance is that, despite her attempt to bury Polyneices, his remains are left to decay in the open, but for her crime of attempting to bury her brother Creon orders that Antigone is entombed while still alive.

Too Little, Too Late

Teiresias, the prophet, predicts that Antigone's death will result in personal tragedy for Creon. Convinced by Teiresias' words, Creon orders Antigone's execution to be stopped, but it is too late. Antigone has taken her own life. Although Creon did not actually kill Antigone, her death sets into motion the suicides of his son and wife. In this example situational irony is depicted as Creon's ruin, despite his change of heart.

Civil Unrest

At the beginning of the play, the chorus proclaims that after years of strife and civil war, peace has finally descended on the city. The chorus predicts prosperity for Creon's reign. In one of his first acts as a king, however, Creon's decision to execute Antigone, a princess, brings about civil unrest. Her death plunges the city back into turmoil, as it now must mourn for its princess Antigone, prince Haemon, and queen Eurydice. In this instance, situational irony is present in the expectation that the city has returned to peace under Creon's rule, but his decisions quickly reverse this expectation.

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