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The Third Episode:
Creon and Haemon
The leader of the Chorus announces the arrival of Haemon, Creon’s youngest child. Haemon appears to be mourning since he has heard of Antigone’s misfortune. The leader of the Chorus wonders whether Haemon is mourning because Antigone will be lost in the prime of her youth or because he is to lose a bride.
When Haemon enters, Creon asks him whether he is angry with his father for having sentenced Antigone, Haemon’s “promised bride,” to death, or whether he will unquestioningly accept his father’s will. Haemon mildly responds that he will follow Creon’s orders and that he prefers his father’s “wise government” to the fairest bride.
Creon is pleased with his son’s response and enters into a lengthy monologue on the virtue of having obedient children. He is happy that Haemon has bowed his “constant mind” to his father’s will. A child’s loyalty to his father, remarks Creon, is important because the child can support the father in moments of danger. But a child who is disloyal brings, according to Creon, only sorrow to his unfortunate father. Creon advises Haemon against giving up his own worth for the sake of a woman. He explains that a “wicked wife,” such as Antigone, brings no comfort. He asks Haemon to reject such a woman and to leave her to her wretched fate.
Antigone was the only one among all the Thebans who refused to submit to Creon’s law. Creon has asserted that she must die, and now he cannot break his “word before the state.” Creon cannot tolerate rebels within his own state. He believes that the law of the state must be respected and obeyed at all costs. His speech now turns into a lecture on the politics of the state. Creon argues that it is law-breakers, like Antigone, who destroy law and order, thereby bringing about the downfall of cities. Such “traitors” cause wars which consequently bring death and destruction. Creon asserts that he must “defend the law” at all costs and not submit to a woman’s will. He declares that he would rather be struck down by a man. The Chorus praises Creon for speaking wisely.
Haemon initially accepts that his father speaks wisely, insofar as he (Creon) is concerned with protecting the safety of the state. But Haemon warns Creon that the citizens of Thebes are unhappy that their monarch has condemned Antigone to death. Haemon observes that the citizens are unable to speak out against Creon’s decision for fear of punishment. The Thebans in the street, reveals Haemon, mourn for Antigone and hold her in high esteem for her glorious deed. They feel that Antigone’s deed merits the highest praise. Haemon labels this unrest among the people as “the dark rumor spreading silently.”
Haemon declares that his father, a king of high renown, is precious to him. Children glory in their parent’s fame, notes Haemon. Yet he advises Creon against neglecting to take into consideration others’ points of view. Haemon states that the man who presumes he alone is wise is actually a fool. He tells Creon that it is no disgrace to listen to the voice of reason. Haemon cites the example of the tiny plant which yields to the flow of torrential waters in order to save its twigs, while the huge tree, which stubbornly resists the torrent, is swept away. Similarly, Haemon speaks of the mariner who does not loosen the sail when caught in a storm, and consequently causes his vessel to capsize because his sail is too tightly set. Haemon pleads with Creon to relent and accept change, as it is inevitable. Haemon understands that it is good to possess wisdom, but he also recognizes that man is not infallible, as far as his judgment is concerned, and so he must learn to accept criticism.
The Chorus now begins to realize that Haemon’s arguments are correct. The Chorus asks Creon to learn from his son, but it also advises Haemon to be guided by his father. The truth lies somewhere between the two extreme stances adopted by father and son.
King Creon will not tolerate being lectured to by his young son. Haemon responds to this by saying that when it comes to the question of what is right and what is wrong, age makes no difference. Creon asks Haemon whether he (Haemon) considers Antigone to be a criminal. Haemon’s reply is that the whole of Thebes denies the allegation that she has committed a crime. Creon rebukes him by asking, “Am I ruled by Thebes?” Haemon candidly remarks that a single person does not make up a city. Creon now accuses Haemon of defending Antigone, to which Haemon replies that he cares about Creon, his father. Creon had already labeled Haemon “the woman’s champion”; now Haemon asserts that Creon is “the woman” for whom he is trying to rescue the situation. Creon is angry with Haemon for showing such impudence. Haemon observes that he (Creon) has spurned the gods. Creon describes his son as an “(a)bominable spirit, woman-led!” He proclaims that Antigone will not live to be his wife. Haemon warns Creon that Antigone’s death will ruin him (Creon). Creon takes this to be a threat and promises that Haemon shall pay for his insolence. He orders Antigone to be brought and put to death immediately in the presence of her lover, Haemon. But Haemon refuses to stay and watch her suffer. He swears that he will never again see his father and walks out.
The Chorus observes that Haemon has left angrily and warns Creon that Haemon’s youthful spirit may, in its present condition, cause him to act irresponsibly. Creon does not care for what Haemon may do, as he has already decided to stand by his decision to destroy both the sisters, Ismene and Antigone. When the Chorus asks whether Creon intends to execute both the sisters, Creon finally concedes that only Antigone, the one who performed the deed, should die. The Chorus asks to be made aware of the means of execution that Creon proposes to use. Creon replies that Antigone will be buried alive in a “cave-like vault” in the desert.
Another important player is introduced in the scene: Haemon, the youngest son of Creon. Haemon has been betrothed to Antigone, his cousin, and now comes before his father to challenge his (Creon’s) decision that Antigone must die. This leads to the third major agon (debate) of the play.
At first, Haemon succeeds in pleasing his father, by stating that he would follow his father’s will. Creon then enters into one of his lengthy monologues in which he stresses to Haemon the importance of being obedient to one’s parents. He also dubs Antigone a “wicked consort” who is not fit for Haemon. Besides, Antigone is a threat to the state of Thebes, as she has openly defied Creon’s law. Therefore, she must die. This is Creon’s reasoning, and he wishes to impress upon his son that he (Creon) is right and that Antigone is in the wrong. In a way, Creon now equates Antigone with her brother, Polynices, whom he had also branded a traitor. Such people, pronounces Creon, are a threat to the state, and therefore they should be dealt with firmly. Once again Creon ends one of his monologues by stating that he will not give in to a woman’s will. He fears that his image will be tarnished if he allows a woman to get the better of him. Thus, by justifying Antigone’s punishment, Creon attempts to pacify Haemon.
Haemon continues to address his father with respect. He accepts that his father is in the right, as far as matters of the state are concerned. Then he introduces his first note of dissent. He informs Creon about the unrest among the people of Thebes, who feel that Antigone is being treated unjustly. While common people cannot speak out against Creon for fear of incurring his terrible wrath, Haemon can speak more openly, as he is Creon’s own son. He does not speak as a rebel, but as an advisor, giving Creon fair warning about the situation. Even as he praises his father for carrying out the responsibility of a king, Haemon admonishes Creon for not lending “an ear to reason.” The Chorus had earlier accepted Creon’s words as wise, but now they acknowledge that Haemon, too, is correct. The Chorus, characteristically, does not take a side during this debate. It cannot tell which of the two, father or son, is absolutely correct.
Creon is right in asserting that the law of the state is all-powerful. However, he is morally wrong because his law contradicts that of the gods. Creon’s insensitivity is evident in this scene, as he discredits Antigone’s name while speaking to Haemon, her lover. He does not try to soothe Haemon or calm him down, but instead provokes Haemon to the point where his son is forced to walk away. Creon shows little human understanding here. He is utterly tactless in dealing with his son and altogether brutal in the manner in which he dismisses the idea that Haemon and Antigone could have been man and wife. His obvious insensitivity stands in sharp contrast to Haemon’s deep concern, both for Antigone and his father. Creon sees Haemon’s concern as insolence and swears that he will have Antigone killed in front of Haemon. Creon’s ruthlessness is the last straw for Haemon, who exits in anger, but not before warning his father against acting like a cold-blooded dictator: “No city is property of a single man.”
After Haemon’s exit, Creon states that he wishes to put to death both Antigone and Ismene. However, the Chorus’ question causes him to change his mind, and he decides that only Antigone will die. The painful nature of her death (by live burial) makes the situation appear more tragic and shows Creon in a ruthless light.