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Tom Chaney: Though You Kill Me, I Must Bury My Brother

Of Writers And Their Books: Though You Kill Me, I Must Bury My Brother! Tom says, the conflict in Anouilh’s Antigone boils down to Antigone's rejecting life as utterly meaningless unless she makes the hard choices. This column first appeared 9 May 2010.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Art of Ken Follett

By Tom Chaney

Though You Kill Me, I Must Bury My Brother!

A car load of us motored to Columbia a few days ago to see a production of Jean Anouilh's Antigone. Though we traveled in the midst of wind and storm, I was eager to see one of my favorite plays again.

The fact that Robert Brock, director of the Kentucky Repertory Theatre, directed the play was another plus.


The trip could not be wasted.

A genuine bonus was that the students at Lindsey Wilson College were capable. I cannot imagine a school of that caliber without a theatre program! A group of student actors implored Brock to come and direct. 'Twas a worthy production.

But, as Hamlet said, "The play's the thing."

In the early 1940's Jean Anouilh retold the ancient Greek story of Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, who defies her uncle, Creon king of Thebes, and buries her brother Polynices after the Theban war.

Creon has declared that Eteocles, brother of Polynices be given state burial, and that Polynices be left as food for carrion, his shade to wander for eternity.

You may recall that the two brothers were the sons of Oedipus who had unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Self-blinded, Oedipus wandered, desolate in the land.

He left his throne to his two sons, decreeing that each should rule in alternate years.

That, of course, did not work. They fought to a draw -- killing each other.

Creon, brother-in-law of Oedipus took the throne, declaring Eteocles the victor and Polynices unworthy of burial.

Anouilh discards the appeal to fate and the gods found in the original version by Sophocles.

The conflict in this Antigone boils down to Antigone's rejecting life as utterly meaningless unless she makes the hard choices brought about by events and character. At one point she says to Creon:
"I am disgusted with your happiness! With your life that must go on, come what may. You could say you are all like dogs that lick everything they find. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness -- provided a person doesn't ask much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and I want it total, complete; otherwise I reject it! I will not be moderate. I will not be satisfied with the bit of cake offered for being a good little girl. I want to be sure of everything this very day; sure that everything will be as beautiful as when I was a little girl. If not, I want to die."
There is much to be said about this Greek story and the Greek play upon which Anouilh bases his Antigone. But perhaps the finest that can be said is that the play was done first on February 6, 1944, during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The relationship between the conflict of Antigone and Creon and that between the Nazi occupiers and the French Resistance rings clear as a bell.

But the censors approved, and some say enrollment in the resistance increased as a result of the play.

Antigone is, of course, put to death. The countryside of Thebes (not the stage in good Greek fashion) is littered with corpses, including that of Haemon, son of Creon who was the intended husband of Antigone.

Creon is left alone -- even his wife Eurydice takes her life in despair at the death of her son.



Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
THE BOOKSTORE
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
270-786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney - bookstore@scrtc.com
http://www.alibris.com/stores/horscave






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