The Sentry in Antigone

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson will take a look at the role and purpose of the sentry in the play ''Antigone'' by Sophocles. Though his part is small, the sentry serves a very important purpose in the play. He's also funny.

An Old Joke

It turns out people were funny even in 440 BC. Antigone by Sophocles is believed to have been written in 441 BC, and thanks to the sentry character, it has some pretty funny parts. Despite this humor, Antigone is still a tragedy.

The humor actually serves to highlight the tragic nature of the play. The sentry also delivers important information to the audience and to the king. One might think that a character who doesn't even get a name might not be that important to the play, but that absolutely isn't the case for the sentry!

Important Plot Points

The sentry gives us important factual information in the play. His first entrance is to report to Creon, the king, that someone has performed funeral rites and a symbolic burial for Polyneices, whose dead body Creon had proclaimed would rot and be carried away by animals. Anyone who dared to care for or bury the body would be punished by death. The sentry's second entrance confirms that it was Antigone who did this forbidden deed. The sentry discovered her and brought her to the king for her crime.

Funny, But Tragic

The sentry is, at first, a silly character. He enters the stage all in a bluster, babbling almost unintelligibly. He talks so much and says so little that Creon becomes impatient. ''Don't you know your talk irritates me?'' Creon asks him in frustration, finally resigning himself somewhat in saying, ''You can't stop talking, can you? You must have been born this way.''

Still, the sentry talks round and round in circles. It is amusing to watch him annoy the king, but upon further examination we see there is a dark side to this humor. Taking another look at the sentry's lines, we see that the cause of all his amusing babbling, which irritates the king so entertainingly, is actually fear.

Knowing he is going to deliver news that will make Creon angry, the sentry is afraid for his own life. The king has the power to kill with just a word, regardless of justice. The sentry is so afraid of this that it slows his journey to the king.

''I kept stopping to think,'' he tells Creon, ''and all the way I was going in circles about turning right back.'' This fear is also what causes him to be amusingly clumsy in his speech. The results may be amusing, but underneath is a terrible fear induced by the egregious injustices that could be inflicted by the king.

Speaking Truth to Power

Looking further still under the surface layer of amusement, we gain even more depth and value from the sentry's words. He speaks truth to the king in a way one might not expect from a servant, but in doing so he provides valuable commentary in the play. After the sentry delivers his news to the king, Creon accuses him of committing the crime and taking a bribe.

The sentry is really innocent, but the king is angry and can't (or won't) see that. Astutely, the sentry says to the king, ''Sir, it's terrible; you make your mind up when even what's wrong looks right.'' In this, the sentry highlights the tragedy in the king's stubborn adherence to his own point of view, regardless of truth.

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