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Creon, Ismene and Antigone
The Chorus announces the arrival of Ismene, in tears and full of anxiety. Creon describes Ismene as “a serpent coiled in the house” and a subverter of his throne. He asks her whether she will acknowledge her role in the burial of Polynices’ body.
Ismene falsely admits to being a partner in crime with Antigone. Ismene wishes to bear her part of the blame. Antigone, however, denies that Ismene played any part in the burial. Ismene wishes to go with her sister to her death, but Antigone forbids her to do so. Antigone asserts that she has done the deed alone and that she does not need this verbal support from her sister. Ismene is hurt as she feels that Antigone is now scorning her.
Ismene laments that she has no joy left in life, but Antigone tells her to save herself. Ismene had earlier chosen life over death when Antigone first revealed to her the secret burial plan. Antigone observes that her life, too, has long been spent in the service of the dead.
Creon upbraids Ismene for taking leave of her senses. He forbids her from addressing Antigone as her sister, for Antigone is “nothing now.” Ismene asks Creon whether he intends to kill his son’s (Haemon’s) betrothed. Creon replies by saying that Haemon “may find other fields to plough upon.” He remarks that Antigone would make a “wicked consort,” not worthy of Haemon. He resolves that “death must come” between Haemon and “his joy.” He orders that Antigone and Ismene be taken away and locked up. It is now settled that Antigone must die.
This scene includes a debate between Antigone and Ismene. Ismene wishes to claim a part in the deed so that she will be able to share the fatal punishment with her sister. But Antigone is unwilling to share with her sister the honor she will receive for burying her brother in defiance of Creon’s law.
Besides, Antigone reminds Ismene that she (Ismene) has already chosen life over death. One may recall that in the opening scene of the play, Antigone had requested Ismene to join her in burying their brother, but Ismene had refused to do so. At that time, Ismene was afraid that Creon would punish them with death if they were caught.
In the present scene, however, Ismene shows some dignity and nobility. Although she has not been an accomplice in the deed, she is now willing to accept death with her sister. Ismene makes a noble offer, but Antigone rejects it. Ismene believes that Antigone is now scorning her because she (Ismene) had earlier refused to help Antigone with the burial plan. It is true that Antigone does not want Ismene to share her glory in dying for her brother; however, Antigone also wants Ismene to live. She tells Ismene: “Life was the choice you made. Mine was to die.”
Again, as in the first scene, the question of choice or free will arises. Antigone chose freely to break the law, for which she knew she would be punished, whereas Ismene chose to live by the laws of the land. Therefore, Ismene has not acquired the right to die at this point. For Antigone, facing death (even as a “criminal”) is a gift from the gods, a release from earthly sorrows. Ismene displays the extent of her sisterly affection in this scene.
When Creon observes the two sisters quarreling over whether Ismene should die with Antigone or not, he naturally concludes that these two have lost their minds. In any case it is not up to the sisters to decide whether Ismene should be accused or not; that is Creon’s prerogative. Creon has already decided that Antigone must die, even though she is engaged to his son, Haemon. He does not care that he will be causing great pain to Haemon. Creon is still unsure of whether Ismene should be punished, although he is certain that Ismene has played her part in the burial by being a silent supporter of Antigone’s cause.