Attending modern theatres we, the audience, oftentimes forget how deep the roots of theatrical tradition are, and what they actually reach to. It is believed, that theatre is over two thousand years old at least, and that it can be traced back to the ancient times, when the citizens of Ancient Greece would arrange festivals in honor of Dionysus, the god of vine, the god, who enjoyed great fun, if we were to describe his nature in modern language. The festivals were arranged in a way to please the god, and thus in the majority of cases they were funny, entertaining. A ceremonial hymn was one of the central elements of the event. The majority of plays in ancient Greece were performed outdoors. The stage was arranged in the form of a circle, and was located near a minor hill, which made it possible for numerous rows of spectators to clearly see the actors and the performed play. The chorus was an integral element of any performance, and masks were the compulsory element of their appearance.
But with the development of theatrical tradition, the plays were becoming more diverse, and not only funny and entertaining plots were performed on theatrical stage. Antigone is just such an example (Sophocles, 2005). It is not a comedy; it is a tragedy, which raises important social issues. And this was an important function of theatre in ancient Greece times, it was meant to be a site for discussing socially important issues. The issues were so pressing, that many feared and hesitated to speak of them openly. But the discussion became less frustrating when disguised in the chorus mask, when intentionally introduced as something artificial, something having little or no relation to the present day situation.
Antigone very well falls under this category of serious theatrical performances, which were meant to publically discuss the matters, which were hard to be discussed in public. It is the third play in Oedipus cycle. Antigone is a discussion of a woman’s role in the society and a set of questions, seeking answers, and related to the family and relations within it. Antigone is a symbol of political freedom and daring, and it is a symbol of free spirit, seeking the truth in the most philosophical understanding of the concept. And the play “Antigone” is a typical Greek play, though it is really hard to apply the word “typical” to such a masterpiece of the world drama.
It is worthwhile remarking, that the chorus in Antigone contrasts largely to the chorus in the previous play in the cycle, where the chorus was supporting antigone in her decision. In this pplay the chorus is not very supportive of her confrontation with the conventional norms, and thus this creates additional tension. The text of the play hints the reader at the fact that the author did not mean the play to be read. It is quite natural taking into consideration the fact, that few could read and there were very few options for publishing the written piece. Thus the piece presupposes, that much more will depend upon the stage layout, upon the performance of the actors, and not on the text itself.
In general, Antigone is a good example of classicism in ancient Greece drama. Its multiple interpretations prove, that it remains to be very up-to-date, that the issues discussed within it remain quite important and calling for modern society as well. But the play is always recognized as an ancient Greek piece, since it contains all the elements, typical of an ancient Greece theatrical piece.
- Sophocles. “Antigone”. Thomas, J.E. (Trans). Prestwick House Inc, 2005