What Is Antigone's Tragic Flaw?

What Is Antigone's Tragic Flaw?
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  • 0:03 Antigone the Tragic Hero
  • 0:34 Antigone's Tragic Flaw
  • 2:24 Creon's Tragic Flaw
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Bishop
'Antigone' is a classic Greek tragedy in many ways, including the fact that its main hero has a tragic flaw. For Antigone, the flaw brings about her demise and serves as a moral lesson for the audience.

Antigone the Tragic Hero

As the title character, Antigone is the obvious choice as the tragic hero of this play. Like many other tragic figures from Greek drama, she has hamartia, which is a tragic and prominent flaw that brings about her downfall. There is, however, an alternate theory about the hero of Antigone.

Some scholars have argued that Creon, the King of Thebes, is the tragic hero. In this lesson we will explore Antigone's tragic flaw and the possibility of a second tragic hero.

Antigone's Tragic Flaw

The word 'hamartia' is derived from the Greek word hamartánein, which means to err. As a literary term, it was first identified by Aristotle in his seminal work, The Poetics. Aristotle outlined several critical qualities of tragedy, and chief among them is the tragic hero's flaw. This flaw is often unknown or underestimated by others, and it is the one quality that makes the hero vulnerable.

It's important in the tragic definition of the hamartia that the hero does not acknowledge his or her own flaw. In Antigone, the central character believes that her flaw is her strength, though it is actually her stubborn loyalty.

Antigone's overarching flaw gives her strength to follow her convictions. She is loyal to her family and her moral convictions. When Creon declares that Polyneices, Antigone's brother, is a traitor to the city and that his body will remain unburied, Antigone feels honor-bound to bury him even though she knows that this action is punishable by death. Her loyalty to her family is also bounded in her loyalty to her religious convictions.

After Creon discovers that Antigone has defied his command, he questions her. Antigone responds:

'I did not believe your proclamation had such power to enable one who will someday die to override God's ordinances unwritten and secure' (lines 496-499).

Antigone believes that service to the gods and the dead is more important than obeying man's laws:

'The time in which I must please those that are dead is longer than I must please those of this world' (lines 86-87).

Antigone's loyalty reveals her profound stubbornness. From the beginning of the play, she's aware of the price for burying her brother. Although her sister Ismene pleads with her to reconsider and accuses her of being 'headstrong', she attempts to bury him anyway (line 53).

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