Antigone: Book 3
Summary of Antigone and Haemon
The Nurse brings Antigone her breakfast of coffee and toast. Antigone can’t eat but takes the coffee. The Nurse asks her what is wrong. Antigone says the Nurse must keep her “warm and safe” (p. 22) and talks like a little girl to her Nanny, saying the Nurse is “stronger than death” (p. 23). The Nurse asks what is eating her heart. Antigone says she is too young for what she has to face and takes the Nurse’s hand affectionately, asking her to look after her dog, Puff, and not scold him, and if he gets too lonesome for her to put him to sleep.
Just then Haemon enters. The Nurse leaves, and Antigone rushes into Haemon’s arms asking forgiveness for quarreling with him last night. He says she is already forgiven. He asks where she got the perfume and make up and dress she was wearing last night. She says it was Ismene’s. She regrets that she wasted a whole evening quarreling. He says there will be other evenings, and she answers, perhaps not. She wants him to hold her with his full strength.
She begins to speak of the little boy they were going to have when they were married; she would have been a good mother. She pictures it for him, and then presses him that it is truly her he loves and not Ismene. He reassures her and they kiss. Then she makes him promise to go away as soon as she tells him something. He must ask no questions. He promises, and then she says she dressed up in Ismene’s clothes because she wanted Haemon to love her as a woman. She wanted him to love her as his wife just then, but he laughed at her in Ismene’s clothes. She wanted to make love before their marriage, because she will never be able to marry him now.
He stands in shock, but she says he promised to leave without questions, and he does. Ismene enters and says she can’t sleep. She pleads that the family and Haemon love Antigone and cannot do without her. Polynices is not worth the sacrifice because he didn’t even love Antigone. He was a “bad brother” (p. 29). She tells Antigone not to try to do something that is beyond her strength. Antigone confesses that she has already buried her brother that very morning. She exits with Ismene running after her.
Commentary on Antigone and Haemon
This is a very touching love scene with Antigone, the child-woman, clearly saying good-by to the marriage she will not have with Haemon, because of her crime of burying her brother. She is saying good-by to her loved ones without explaining herself, perhaps to keep them from being accomplices. She worries about her dog missing her and makes the Nurse promise to take care of him. She clears the air with Haemon about the quarrel. She tried to have one night of being a wife with him, but he laughed at her attempts to dress up. This very human view of the young woman who will never be a bride, who has chosen death, instead, echoes the laments of Antigone in Sophocles. Sophocles’s heroine is more adult and daunting, however, even while she sings of Death as her bridegroom. This Antigone is young and tender, endearing and loving. The heart of the audience bleeds for her and Haemon, the tragic lovers.
The audience also realizes that Antigone is clearly aware of what she is giving up and that she must feel very strongly about what she has done. So far, we are not sure why she has given up her life for her brother, as Ismene has reminded her and the audience that he was no good; he was “an enemy in the house” (p. 29). She seems to be speaking of the time when they were growing up, but Polynices did indeed turn out to be an enemy later when he attacked Thebes with an army. Even without knowing Antigone’s reasoning, the audience has to feel respect for her deep passion to do something she feels is morally right.
Antigone is like the passionate youth of every age who die young for a cause. They protest the lack of moral integrity of their elders or of society, and though they have the most to lose, they give themselves body and soul. Antigone loses her life and love before she is willing to lose her integrity. It is easy to see why Haemon chose her over Ismene. She is full of life and generosity, but at the same time, is willing to give it up for something she sees as bigger than her own interest. This makes her an extraordinary person, of heroic stature, especially in contrast to the others around her.