Antigone: Book 4
4. Summary of The Discovery
Creon and his page enter, and Creon stands on the top step. A Guard enters, one of the ones stationed to protect the body of Polynices from being buried. The Guard is fearful and identifies himself as Private Jonas, Second Battalion. Creon asks why he is here. Jonas begins babbling about his long 17-year service and his competence, and that he is up for promotion. He and the guards were doing their duty as they were supposed to. Creon is impatient and asks him what he is trying to say. He finally reveals that in the middle of the night someone gave burial rites to the body. It was completely covered with dirt, though not buried in the ground. A child’s shovel was found near by. They didn’t see anything.
Creon decrees the guard around the body be doubled and that this Guard and his other two companions will be punished. They are to say nothing to anyone about this. If word gets out, they will be shot. Jonas pleads, saying he has a wife and children. Creon says if he keeps his mouth shut, he will live. They must uncover the body and bring anyone they see coming near it. After Jonas leaves, Creon tells his page they have to publicize the news before it gets out by rumor, and then they have to clean up after this affair.
When Creon leaves, the Chorus enters and gives a long speech on the nature of tragedy. He announces that a crucial moment in the play has been reached. He compares it to a spring tightly wound. Now it will uncoil by itself, and anything at all will bring on the full consequences. Nothing has to be done but watch it happen in complete silence. Tragedy happens in “stillness” (p. 34). It is unlike melodrama with its emotions, because in tragedy everything is known ahead of time, and that means “tranquility” (p. 35). All the characters are equally innocent because they play their parts. The fact that there is no hope makes it peaceful. In tragedy, the characters don’t try to escape, though they shout about death and what they have learned in their lives.
The Chorus leaves and Antigone is dragged in by Jonas and the other Guards. They do not believe her when she says she is Princess Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, and that they should take their filthy hands off her. They remind her that her own hands are filthy. Jonas tells the others he found her clawing the dirt with her hands to bury the corpse. The Guards wonder if there will be a reward and argue among themselves about the party they will have with the reward money.
Creon comes down the stairs saying asking the Guards who is watching the body. They say they have arrested the culprit, and then he recognizes his niece, Antigone. They tell Creon she was covering the body with dirt. It happened in broad daylight this time. The body stank, and one of the Guards started chewing tobacco, and when he turned around, Antigone was covering the body with dirt. She didn’t even run. Creon asks Antigone if this is true, and she answers, yes. He asks if she did it the first time, and she says, yes. The toy shovel belonged to Polynices; it was the one he took to the beach. Creon dismisses the Guards.
Commentary on The Discovery
Creon is a cold and calculating ruler when he finds out about the burial. He begins thinking like a politician, trying to figure out who is behind this act. First, he thinks it was done by the friends of Polynices who want to keep the rebellion alive. He has blocked their gold in the banks, and they want revenge. He thinks of the leaders “stinking of garlic and allied to envious princes” (p. 32). Or perhaps it is a plot of the temple priests. The child’s shovel points to a child accomplice. Then he imagines they have set him up to have to kill a child who will become a martyr, a “white-faced baby of fourteen”(p. 32). Or, perhaps these rebels are within the Guard itself.
Creon, like all politicians, is afraid of opposition, and has to begin thinking of the endless corruptions that could be taking place. His job is to stamp it all out. Though he tells the Guards to keep quiet about the burial, he tells his page they will have to bring out the incident in public themselves, to put the right spin on it, to keep control. This describes the thinking of all politicians who only know how to rule by control and punishment. This kind of thinking has obviously corrupted Creon as a person, as Antigone points out to him later. He terrorizes and threatens the Guards to keep them in place. He cannot even trust his own men. And when he sees Antigone, he knows he cannot even trust his family.
The Chorus interrupts at this point to tell the audience the action is reaching a climax. This is the traditional purpose of the Chorus, to comment on the action or to sometimes take part in it. This Chorus is a single person; in Greek theater it was often a group of 12-15 men, representing the collective wisdom of society. The Chorus is not always the voice of the author, but in this case, it is Anouilh’s statement on tragedy. The suspense that Anouilh builds into the play is more about the psychological shifts and not about the outcome of the action, for it is clear that Creon will have to execute Antigone for treason. The Chorus explains that tragedy is quite peaceful to watch because the shouting is not about the characters trying to escape. They accept their roles, and now that the action has reached this point, the plot unwinds without any effort until the end. The audience can relax because there is no hope, only the interest of hearing what the characters have learned. This is what makes tragedy “kingly” (p. 35). What the Chorus means by this is that it is as though the characters are already dead or beyond the roles they are playing, telling us their hard earned wisdom. Thus, we are about to witness in the next scene, Antigone and Creon, each making the final case for their positions. The audience is the jury.
When Antigone is caught, she does not try to escape or lie about what she has done. She only wants to be treated as a princess, a daughter of Oedipus. She has pride in her lineage and in herself. Creon is taken by surprise that the “little Antigone” of his own house could be the criminal. The Chorus remarks that “The play is on . . . For the first time in her life, Antigone is going to be able to be herself” (p. 35). Antigone has engineered this for herself and is not a victim. She sees herself as a victim only if she has to live a life prescribed for her, as she has accused her sister of doing.
The scene of the Guards arguing among themselves how they will spend the reward money, in front of Antigone, is vulgar and funny, a bit of dark humor. They worry about whether their wives and kids will have to be invited to the party when they would rather have a bachelor brawl. This again points out the inhumanity of the position of soldiers of the state, how they have given up any vestige of empathy for a fellow human being for the sake of their own skins. Antigone is only a prisoner to them, an object. They did their job and will be rewarded; they do not reflect on what their job means.