By Keri Walsh
In 1936, Simone Weil defined Sophocles’s Antigoneto French manufacturing unit
workers as “the tale of a man or woman who, on their lonesome, with none backing, dares
to be against her personal nation, to the legislation of that state, to the pinnacle of
its govt, and who's, evidently, quickly placed to death.” Weil’s insistence on
Antigone as a civilian protester, instead of Hegel’s version of female household
virtue, recurs all through writing of the fascist interval. From Virginia Woolf and
Louis MacNeice within the British Isles, to Marguerite Yourcenar and Jean Anouilh in
France, Antigone got here to embrace the courageous political resistance of the person.
By 1950, Hegel’s influential interpreting of the play as featuring rightful yet
irreconcilable claims appeared able to cave in: “as for Creon,” the Oxford
classicist Gilbert Murray instructed a BBC radio viewers after the conflict, “it used to be of
course preposterous of Hegel to indicate that that he was once as a lot within the correct as
Antigone and that our sympathies might be flippantly divided.” This partisan
reading of Antigonegrew in energy within the post-war interval, inspiring feminist,
pacifist, and post-colonial engagements with the play.
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Additional info for Antigone in Modernism: Classicism, Feminism and Theatres of Protest
People sleep in broad daylight. Lying in the open air, the bodies of sleepers are like corpses of suicides; lovers are like dogs mating under the sun. Hearts are as dry as scorched fields. So much drought calls for blood. Hatred infects souls; the sun’s rays eat away people’s consciences, but their cancer remains. (37) This ultraviolet realm is arrested by the appearance of Antigone, who alone “withstands these arrows shot by Apollo, as though grief shielded her like sunglasses” (38). Antigone’s mournfulness has an inoculating effect against the rays of the sun, and it is only by dwelling on her private suffering that she can survive: grief is presented as a life-line, and a humanizing, individuating principle.
They may lack classical learning, but it is in fact character, imagination and empathy that are required to understand this tale. Greek stories, she suggests, are “much more moving for ordinary people, who know what it is to struggle and to suffer, than for those who have spent their lives between the four walls of a library” (19). But within Weil’s project of story-telling and pedagogy, we can trace an engagement with classical tradition that goes beyond the Horatian formula of instructing and delighting.
But whereas the plot of Antigone depends on burial, Cocteau “unburies” the text from the dust of centuries. The objectivity attained from the air, Cocteau suggests, “is the means of making this old masterpiece live. The force of habit distracts our contemplation, but because I fly over a famous text I believe I can hear it for the first time” (305). New technology—flight—gives rise to a new perspective. Cocteau augments this reflection in his marginal notes: “Why am I occupying myself with Sophocles?