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The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone

The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone

by Sophocles

ISBN: 9780374530075

Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Published in Literature & Fiction/Poetry

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Sample Chapter

THE BURIAL AT THEBES was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on April 5, 2004. The cast, in order of appearance:

ANTIGONE Ruth Negga ISMENE Kelly Campbell CHORUS Barry McGovern Garrett Keogh CREON Lorcan Cranitch GUARDS Aidan Kelly Mark D'Aughton HAEMON Owen McDonnell TIRESIAS Stephen Brennan TIRESIAS'S BOY Alan McMahon William O'Sullivan MESSENGERS OF THE PALACE Aaron Monaghan Mark D'Aughton EURYDICE Cathy Belton

DIRECTOR Lorraine Pintal DESIGNER Carl Fillion LIGHTING DESIGNER Paul Keogan COSTUME DESIGNER Joan O'Clery

CHARACTERS

ANTIGONE ISMENE CREON HAEMON TIRESIAS EURYDICE CHORUS GUARD MESSENGER

The scene is Thebes, in front of CREON's palace, just as the dawn is breaking. ANTIGONE and ISMENE enter hastily.

ANTIGONE

Ismene, quick, come here! What's to become of us? Why are we always the ones?

There's nothing, sister, nothing Zeus hasn't put us through Just because we are who we are- The daughters of Oedipus. And because we are his daughters We took what came, Ismene, In public and in private, Hurt and humiliation- But this I cannot take.

No, wait. Here's what has happened. There's a general order issued And again it hits us hardest. The ones we love, it says, Are enemies of the state. To be considered traitors-

ISMENE

How so? What do you mean?

ANTIGONE

I mean-have you not heard?

ISMENE

What I heard was enough. Our two brothers are dead, The Argos troops withdrawn And the pair of us left to cope. But what's next, I don't know.

ANTIGONE

That's why I came outside. The walls in there have ears. This is for your ears only.

ISMENE

What is it? You have me scared.

ANTIGONE

And right you are to be scared. Creon has made a law. Eteocles has been buried As a soldier, with full honours, So he's gone home to the dead. But not Polyneices. Polyneices is denied Any burial at all.

Word has come down from Creon. There's to be no laying to rest, No mourning, and the corpse Is to be publicly dishonoured. His body's to be dumped, Disposed of like a carcass, Left out for the birds to feed on. If you so much as throw him The common handful of clay You'll have committed a crime.

This is law and order In the land of good King Creon. This is his edict for you And for me, Ismene, for me! And he's coming to announce it. "I'll flush 'em out," he says. "Whoever isn't for us Is against us in this case. Whoever breaks this law, I'll have them stoned to death."

I say, He has put it to us. I say,

It's a test you're facing, Whether you are who you are, True to your seed and breed And generation, or whether-

ISMENE

Antigone ... Antigone, What do you mean, a test? If things have gone this far What is there I can do?

ANTIGONE

You can he]p me do one thing.

ISMENE

And what thing is that?

ANTIGONE

His body ... Help me to lift And lay your brother's body.

ISMENE

And bury him, no matter ...?

ANTIGONE

Are we sister, sister, brother? Or traitor, coward, coward?

ISMENE

But what about Creon's order?

ANTIGONE

What are Creon's rights When it comes to me and mine?

ISMENE

Easy now, my sister. Think this through for a minute. Think of the line we come from: We're children of Oedipus- Daughters of the man Who fathered us on his mother- The king they drove from their city. No matter he didn't know. No matter it was Oedipus Brought his own crimes to light And then reached into his eyes And tore them out of their sockets- Still they drove him out. Oedipus had to perish. And then his wife, the mother Who had bared her breasts for him In the child-bed and the bride-bed, She hanged herself in a noose.

And now this last thing happens. The doom in our blood comes back And brother slaughters brother- The two of them, dead in a day.

Are you and I to be next? How do you think they see us? How do you think we'd fare If we went against the order? Two women on our own Faced with a death decree- Women, defying Creon? It's not a woman's place. We're weak where they are strong. Whether it's this or worse, We must do as we're told.

In the land of the living, sister, The laws of the land obtain: And the dead know that as well. The dead will have to forgive me. I'll be ruled by Creon's word. Anything else is madness.

ANTIGONE

You and the laws of the land! Sister, let me tell you: From now on, and no matter How your mind may change, I'll never accept your help.

I will bury him myself. And if death comes, so be it. There'll be a glory in it. I'll go down to the underworld Hand in hand with a brother. And I'll go with my head held high. The gods will be proud of me.

The land of the living, sister, Is neither here nor there. We enter it and we leave it. The dead in the land of the dead Are the ones you'll be with longest. And how are you going to face them, Ismene, if you dishonour Their laws and the gods' law?

ISMENE

Dishonour them I do not. But nor am I strong enough To defy the laws of the land.

ANTIGONE

Live, then; and live with your choice. I am going to bury his body.

ISMENE

I fear for you, Antigone.

ANTIGONE

Better fear for yourself.

ISMENE

Oh, stop! This must never get out.

ANTIGONE

No. No. Broadcast it. Your cover-ups sicken me. I have nothing to hide From the powers that see all. I'm doing what has to be done.

ISMENE

What are you, Antigone? Hot-headed or cold-blooded? This thing cannot be done.

ANTIGONE

But it still has to be tried.

ISMENE

You are mad. You don't have a chance.

ANTIGONE

Here and now, Ismene, I hate you for this talk. And the dead are going to hate you. Call me mad if you like But leave me alone to do it. If Creon has me killed, Where's the disgrace in that? The disgrace would be to avoid it. Exit ANTIGONE

ISMENE

Nothing's going to stop you. But nothing's going to stop The ones that love you, sister, From keeping on loving you. Exit ISMENE

Enter CHORUS of Theban elders

CHORUS

Glory be to brightness, to the gleaming sun, Shining guardian of our seven gates. Burn away the darkness, dawn on Thebes, Dazzle the city you have saved from destruction. Argos is defeated, the army beaten back, All their brilliant shields Smashed into shards and smithereens.

Like a golden eagle, the enemy came swooping, Like an eagle screaming down the sky, Hoping to set fire to the seven towers. But the dragon of Thebes had grown teeth.

We overwhelmed him on the walls And Zeus blasted his overbearing.

A god of war stiffened our will And locked our arms, so the line held.

Glory be to brightness, to the gleaming sun.

Seven guardians at our seven gates Bore the brunt and broke the charge. Our attackers Were struck down and stripped of their armour. Their spears and helmets are the spoils of war. We have hung their shields among the trophies.

But Polyneices and Eteocles: The only trophies they took at Thebes Were each other's lives. Their doom was sealed. Their banners flew, the battle raged And they fell together, their father's sons.

Glory be to brightness, to the gleaming sun.

Glory be to Victory. I can feel her wings Fanning the air. The joy in my eyes is like the joy in hers Dazzling the city she has saved from destruction.

Race the chariots and run to the temples. Drum the earth from early until late. Give glory to the god of the dance. Let Bacchus lead us and burn away the dark! Glory be to brightness, to the gleaming world.

Enter CREON with his guards

King Creon. All hail to Creon. He's a new king but he's right For this city at this moment. Now we will know what's what, Why he has sent for us To be privy to his thinking.

CREON

Gentlemen. We have entered calmer waters. Our ship of state was very nearly wrecked But the gods have kept her safe. So, friends, well done. You from the start have been a loyal crew. You stood by Oedipus when he was at the helm And when his sons stepped in to take his place You stood by them as well. But now they're gone, Two brothers badged red with each other's blood, And I, as next of kin to those dead and doomed, I'm next in line. The throne has come to me.

Until a man has passed this test of office And proved himself in the exercise of power, He can't be truly known-for what he is, I mean, In his heart and mind and capabilities. Worst is the man who has all the good advice And then because his nerve fails, fails to act In accordance with it, as a leader should. And equally to blame Is anyone who puts the personal Above the overall thing, puts friend Or family first. But rest assured: My nerve's not going to fail, and there's no threat That's going to stop me acting, ever, In the interests of all citizens. Nor would I, Ever, have anything to do With my country's enemy. For the patriot, Personal loyalty always must give way To patriotic duty. Solidarity, friends, Is what we need. The whole crew must close ranks. The safety of our state depends upon it. Our trust. Our friendships. Our security. Good order in the city. And our greatness.

Understand therefore that I intend To make good what I say by what I do. And hear this first. This ordinance is binding.

Concerning the sons of Oedipus: Eteocles, who fell in our defence, Eteocles will be buried with full honours As a hero of his country. But his brother Polyneices, an exile who came back To visit us with fire and sword, a traitor, An anti-Theban Theban prepared to kill His countrymen in war, and desecrate The shrines of his country's gods, hear this About Polyneices: He is forbidden Any ceremonial whatsoever. No keening, no interment, no observance Of any of the rites. Hereby he is adjudged A carcass for the dogs and birds to feed on. And nobody, let it be understood, Nobody is to treat him otherwise Than as the obscenity he was and is.

This is where I stand when it comes to Thebes: Never to grant traitors and subversives Equal footing with loyal citizens, But to honour patriots in life and death.

CHORUS

Loud and clear, King Creon, You have laid down the law.

You exercise the power. Your regulations hold For the living and dead.

CREON

And that is why I regard you from now on As agents of the law.

CHORUS

Younger men Would be better for that job.

CREON

I don't mean You should do work on the ground. Naturally I have guards out there already as we speak.

CHORUS

Then why do you call us "agents of the law"?

CREON

I mean you're not to lend the least support To anyone who'd go against the order.

CHORUS

But who'd do that? Who would choose to be dead?

CREON

Death, yes, it would be. But you never know. There's always money lurking and I never Underestimate the lure of money.

Enter GUARD

GUARD

Sir, I wouldn't exactly say I was panting to get here. Far from it. As a matter of fact, I was more for turning back. I was over a barrel. One part of me was saying, "Only a loony would walk himself into this," and another part was saying, "You'd be a bigger loony not to get to Creon first." It was "You take the high road, I'll take the low road," then "What's your hurry?" then "Get a move on." But when all was said and done there was only one thing for it: get here, get it out and get it over, no matter what. So here I am, the old dog for the hard road. What will be, says I, will be.

CREON

What has got you into this state, guard?

GUARD

First off, boss, you must know I'm in the clear. I didn't do the thing, I didn't see who did it and so, in fairness, I shouldn't be blamed for it.

CREON

Why do you need such fences and defences? Your news is hardly all that desperate.

GUARD

Desperate enough to panic me, your honour.

CREON

Then get it out, man, as you say yourself, And get it over.

GUARD

Well, here's what it is. The corpse. Somebody has as good as buried it. Somebody's after attending to it right. Casting the earth on it and all the rest.

CREON

What are you saying? What man would dare do this?

GUARD

That, for the life of me, l cannot tell. There wasn't so much as a scrape left on the ground. No sign of pick-work or that class of thing. No rut-marks from a wheel. Nothing but the land, the old hard scrabble. Whoever did it was a mystery man entirely. When the sentry showed us this morning, we were stunned. The corpse had actually gone and disappeared. But then it turned out it was only hidden, under this coat of dust. As if somebody had treated it, you know, just to be on the safe side. Somebody observing all the customs. There were no tears in the flesh, so it couldn't have been wild animals or the dogs.

And then the row broke out, everybody shouting, one man blaming the next and ready to fight to prove his innocence. We'd have put our hands in fire to clear ourselves. Swearing by this and that that we'd neither done the deed nor knew who did it. And then, when we'd more or less calmed down, one man speaks up and panics us again. And what he stated was the obvious: you would have to be told, the thing could be hid no longer. So that was agreed and I was the lucky man. I drew the short straw and that, sir, 's why I'm here. The one that's never welcome, the bearer of bad news.

CHORUS

Creon, sir, I cannot help but think The gods have had a hand in this somewhere.

CREON

Enough. Don't anger me. Your age, my friend, Still doesn't give you rights to talk such rubbish. The gods, you think, are going to attend To this particular corpse? Preposterous. Did they hide him under clay for his religion? For coming to burn their colonnaded temples? For attacking a city under their protection? The gods, you think, will side with the likes of him? Here's something else for you to think about. For a good while now I have had reports

Of disaffected elements at work here, A certain poisonous minority Unready to admit the rule of law And my law in particular. I know These people and how they operate. Maybe they are not The actual perpetrators, but they possess The means to bribe their way. Money has a long and sinister reach. It slips into the system, changes hands And starts to eat away at the foundations Of everything we stand for. Money brings down leaders, Warps minds and generally corrupts People and institutions. But in this case Whoever took the bribe will pay the price. You then: listen to this For this is my solemn vow: if you do not Apprehend, arrest and bring before me The one who interred the corpse, I'll hang you out And have you so carved up and pulled apart You'll be pleading to be dead. You'll discover then What interest your kind of money earns. You can't, friend, have your palm greased and expect To get away clean. Everything comes out.

GUARD

Can I say a word or am I just dismissed?

CREON

Dismissed. That's it. You and your news disturb me.

GUARD

Your conscience is what's doing the disturbing.

CREON

Watch it, guard. You're overstepping here.

GUARD

It's that mystery man who has you really bothered.

CREON

I warn you. You should keep a civil tongue.

GUARD

But I didn't do it.

CREON

Oh, yes, you did. The minute you smelt money.

GUARD

What's happening here, Creon, is that the judge Has misjudged everything.

(Continues...)

Excerpted from "The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone" by Sophocles. Copyright © 2005 by Sophocles. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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