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The Psychoanalytic Study Of Antigone English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2907 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This study investigates the psychoanalytic functioning of Sophocles’s ” Antigone” as against the Modern Antigone by German dramatis Anouilh.It will help us in understanding the reasons and impulses under which she challenges the rigid authoritarian rule and fulfilled the religious and filial duty of giving a proper decent burial to her deceased brother Polynices.She disobeys Creon and consequently sacrifices her life for this act of bravery.

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Many writers have been interested in the theme of loyalty and betrayal, from ancient Sophocles and his master piece “Antigone”, to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” , to Carmen Taffola’s “Marked” and finally Josephina Niggli’s “The Ring of General Macias”. Each one of the mentioned works relates to different aspects of the stated theme. Yet, the most critical question comes when loyalty and betrayal are accompanied with issues of life and death. At this point, the real question is dropped: “Is pride or love a deadly sin to cause the downfall of a king and the loss of the beloved ones?

Background Information about the Author and Myth:

Throughout the Greek history of drama, Sophocles was one of the most prominent playwrights ever excluding Aeschylus and Euripides, who came rather later. His career as a playwright came to life after he won his first prize in the Dionysian theatre competition over Aeschylus. Right after his amazing victory, he became one of the important figures in ancient Athens as well as in theatre. Throughout fifty outstanding years, Sophocles entered 30 competitions winning twenty four out of them and never taking less than second. There is no doubt that he is given credit for adding a third character on stage, which will shape in the near future the history of theatre. In addition to that, Sophocles had a great sense of creativity when it came to developing his characters and this will be discussed later on.


Concept of burial in ancient Greece

A deep study of Sophocles’ play Antigone intends to highlight one of the major issues of Greek society i.e. the importance of burial which is the basic cause of the rising conflict of the play regarding the right of the burial of Polyneices who had betrayed his country, escaped from exile and brought fire and death to his own people. Sophocles has articulated the importance of the burial, thus, giving us a glimpse into their beliefs back then.

The ancient Greeks used to believe that if a soul was left unburied for a long time it wouldn’t be able to cross over and find peace and it is for this reason that every religion holds this sanctioned belief that the dead should be buried with due reverence and if it is not done religiously, the whole community has to face its dire consequences. This is exactly what is depicted in Antigone. Creon is punished by the gods because he left Polyneices’ body unburied. Antigone for example says that, “There is no guilt in reverence to the dead (scene two- 106) Nevertheless, there are honors due all the dead. (Scene two 113)

The main issue of burial exposes before the readers at the very opening scene depicting Antigone and Ismene at Thebe’s city gates, right in the middle of the battlefield. Antigone was confiding with Ismene. She decided to bury her brother regardless of the death penalty. All the events take place in Thebes, a prominent city in ancient Greece. Sophocles creates a dense vague mood since Antigone and her sister have lost two brothers and their parents due to the curse on Oedipus. This scent of death makes the reader wonder if the play will end with death as well. And as mentioned before, the time frame makes loyalty and betrayal a key issue. Antigone was waiting to see if Ismene would be loyal to her family, the law of the Gods or would rather abide by Creon’s law.



Antigone, the oldest daughter of Oedipus has decided to bury her brother Polyneices regardless of Creon’s decree and the death penalty. She heads to the field, performs the burial rituals, and sprinkles dust on his body. Later on, she is captured and faces Creon who is ready to spill her blood to preserve his honor. She is then taken to a stone grave to rest there until her death. Haimon, the king’s son enters and tries to plead Antigone’s case. His father is determined not to listen and threatens to kill her in front of him. Teiresas, the blind prophet enters and tells Creon that the Gods are furious. He and Creon head to the field and bury Polyneices. Unfortunately, when it was time to free Antigone, the latter has hung herself using her bed sheets. Devastated Haimon kills himself and joins Antigone in death. Eurydice, the queen hears the distressing news, kills herself and damns Creon. The king is left alone crammed with feelings of regret and remorse. The chorus states that the gods vigorously punish the proud, yet punishment brings wisdom.


Antigone by sophocles:

Antigone , the main character of the play is the eldest daughter of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes. She bears the prominent traits of her father’s character which leads her towards catastrophe like her father. Her name in Greek means “the one who goes against”. And it is true that her name really fits her, for she has never learned to yield, just like her father. She is determined to bury Polyneices regardless of whether he is considered a traitor or not. “There is no guilt in reverence to the dead (scene two- 106).”Antigone believes that if she had left her brother like that she would have suffered for eternity. She is as motherly and sisterly as any person could be, “This death of mine is no importance, but if I had left my brother lying in death unburied I should have suffered now I don’t. (scene 1 70-73).keeping it in mind,she resolves to give burial to her brother and violates the mortal laws of state. Yet, when Ismene reacts with disapproval to her request, she is cold, bitter and distant. Also, her determination is remarkable when she says, “Creon is not strong enough to stand in my way.” Her words show great courage, tenacity, and foolishness at the same time since she knows that getting caught will get her killed. She speaks to Creon in a way no one would dares to, as an equal. And above all, she was ready to plead her case fearlessly regardless to her previously determined fate. And so, her bravery flows into the readers pushing them to keep on going, to follow up every twist and turn. Every scene foreshadows her death. Again when she is lead to her grave, she argues, pleading her case. She is not scared of facing death, yet she is shaken by the choragus’ bitter words. Such undaunting, bold and grave qualities of her character make her immortal in the annals of literature ever.

Modern Antigone By Jean Anouil

Anigone in 1944:

Antigone, a play by Jean Anouilh, was edited and republished in 1946 by “Editions de la Table Ronde.” It was originally written in Paris in February of 1944 when the capital was occupied by the German army.

At the time it was a best-seller and a play of multiple interpretations: political, philosophical, psychological, etc.

It is a fine example of a rewritten ancient Greek myth from the fifth century BC by the playwright Sophocle.

Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus; a daughter from an incestuous relationship. Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. Together they reigned over the city of Thèbes. Antigone had to carry the weight of this terrible inheritance as she grew up to become a young adult.

Anouilh’s plot is the same as Sophocle’s: Antigone’s brothers led a civil war against each other under the walls of Thèbes. Both died in combat. King Créon, uncle of Antigone, gave a burial to one of his nephews and let the body of the one who betrayed him rot on the battlefield. Antigone believed it was her duty to lay earth on her brothers corpse as a symbolic gesture. In her eyes, the laws of family prevailed over the decisions of the King. Despite the arguments, the forbidding, the threats of death, the young girl overcame all these obstacles to do what she thought was her duty.

Antigone by Jean Anouilh also carries the same themes n motifs which Sophocles’ Antigone has. But quite ironically there is a sharp contrast between Anouilh’s character and Anitone herself as she embodies a rebellious spirit but he himself was hardly involved in the resistance movement against German Occupation. His play is of course a tragedy just like Sophocle’s which means Antigone dies due to resisting the law of power. But it is King Créon who is the most defeated in this story because he loses his son, his authority and his reason for living.

“All those that had to die, died. Those who believed one thing and then those who believed the opposite – even those who believed nothing and those who were caught in the middle without understand anything. Dead all the same, all of them, stiff, not useful, rotten. And those that live on will slowly start to forget the dead and confuse their names.”

Anouilh was obviously left feeling hopeless after the absurdity of all the deaths from the war.

As for the Antigone of Sophocle, she opposed divine law and human laws.

Psychoanalytic study of Antigone

While analyzing Antigone psychologically ,it is quite pertinent to review Freud’s formulation of the theory of Oedipus and Electra Complex which he had surely made after intense and deep observation of the attitudes children commonly hold toward their parents-intense love for the parent of the opposite sex and jealousy of and hostility toward the parent of the same sex. Freud brings to light unwitting perpetration of patricide and mother-incest as the fulfillment of the unconscious wish among all boys to replace their fathers as the love-objects of their mothers. Some how the same we discover from the events of Antigone’s life, including her purportedly moral burial of her brother, Polyneices, which represent normal stages of the evolution of the female psyche. quite interestingly, applying freud’s theory of Oedipus and electra complex on Antigone’s act of protecting her brother from degradation after death,we find over tones of electra complex as she is satisfying unconsciously her psychological need.

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In the prologue of the play,we see Antigone and Ismene busy in a conversation regarding the dishonorable treatment of their recently deceased brother, Polyneices. Antigone decides to perform for Polyneices proper burial rites and in by doing so violates a prohibition of Creon, the king of Thebes.gradually,the plot unfolds, resulting ultimately in the suicides of Antigone and Creon’s wife and son. This apparent superficial play conveys the most grave but hidden message that god laws are far superior to manmade laws and he who tries to violates the laws of god is bound to meet his tragic end as we see creon lamenting and repenting at the end of the play.

Psychological exploration of Antigone’s character can be traced through her act of tending and caring her blind father which unmasks her unconscious hidden desire for having sexual relation with her father. She gives extra ordinary attention to her blind father and later same she does in the context of her deceased brother. Here,it is quite relevant to point out that by performing the ritual of burial in a respectful way, she in fact sees her brother at her father’s place thus satisfying her psychological need of electra complex. Antigone’s act of defiance of patriarchan society questions the validity of the prevailing customs of that times.

While going deep and deep regarding Antigone’s psychological working of mind with reference to Freud’s concept of psycho analysis, it is observed that Antigone had devoted her emotional n sexual self to her father completely .Oedipus who seemed to b a hindrance in Antigone’s sexual life,was in fact the object of her whole love for Antigone. At this point she seemed to be satisfied when she imagines herself replacing her mother as the caretaker of her father thereby fulfilling her primary sexual wish unconsciously.

In the play, we see Antigone’s psychological needs diverts from father to brother as Oedipus is dead in the beginning of the play. Antigone devotes herself to the prescribed burial of her recently deceased brother, Polyneices. Though a manifestly moral endeavor, her wish to bury her brother also was rooted in primitive unconscious drives.

Freud analysed it in this way that the little girl’s primary love for the father, invariably fruitless, is often deflected upon a brother: “A little girl finds in her older brother a substitute for her father, who no longer acts towards her with the same affection as in former years. Thus, Antigone’s act of giving burial symbolizes id and sibling incest and Creon’s punishment for them symbolizes morality and social laws. Though this seems a valid psychoanalytic inference, one may question the connection between burial and sexual love, which to this point remains obscure.

On being caught by a sentry at the site of Polyneices’ burial, Antigone is forced to discuss with Creon the nature of her crime. Creon strongly wishes Antinoge to confess her crime publicly but she is the one so bold so courageous so egotist like her father,prefers death to confession .it is her strong unconscious attachment with the male members of her family that makes her prfer death to life. Creon then sentences Antigone to be immured in a cave but is soon persuaded by Teiresias to liberate her, though not before she hangs herself.this conflict leads to the impending suicides of Haemon, Antigone’s prospective husband, and Eurydice, Haemon’s mother and Creon’s wife, follow soon thereafter, leaving only Creon to regret his tragic decision.

At this point, it is quite relevant to discuss her prefence to death over life. psychologically, it can be judged that the cave where she hangs herself to embrace death is the symbol of womb n her hanging is the symbol of feutus cord with hanging baby in womb.she wants to get herself rid of the sufferings of life by reverting to the world which Freud calls pre-birth.

Acoording to Freud,life is governed by two motives. Eros , the life instinct, and Thanatos, the death instinct. While Eros seeks activity, Thanatos seeks inactivity. But why was Antigone so anxious to meet death, or rather return to pre-birth? Why was her life governed by Thanatos? Hence by returning to the symbolic womb of her mother in which she, Polyneices, and Oedipus were conceived, she at last achieves the intimate union with Oedipus and Polyneices which she had so long desired. Antigone unconsciously experiences a pleasure with her father and brother beyond that of sexual intercourse, for gestation is the primary experience from which sex derives its secondary pleasurable character. Thus for Antigone, death is not separation but actually the reunion with her father and brother. So,cave symbolizes the womb and womb symbolizes the meeting place.

There is hidden a fascinating mystery in the sequence of deaths of Antigone’s love objects. Among the men in Antigone’s life, Oedipus is the first to expire, her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles second, and Haemon the last. This sequence is not arbitrary; each successive death represents a phase of female sexuality. The three male deaths in Antigone. then signify the extinction of various stages of female sexuality, the love-object of each substitutes for that of the preceding stage. Antigone, however, hangs herself before displacing her sexual love onto an unrelated object, such as Haemon; any gratification arising from such a relationship, she understands unconsciously, would be merely substitutive and she opts instead for the primal pleasure of the symbolic womb.

Again her desire to go back to pre birth has close connection with her name “Antigone” which literally means “against birth,” or “contrary birth,” which most have interpreted to indicate Antigone’s status as the product of incest, a perverse or “contrary” union. Antigone unconsciously wished to return to the womb, to pre-birth; she truly wished to undo her birth throughout the action of Antigone. 


To conclude, there is no denying the fact that Antigone is the sublime character with staunch determination, ceaseless courage and undaunted valour. She is the most impressive heroine of the play carrying all the required grandeur and glory. Her character not makes the readers understand the complexity of psychological workings of the unconscious mind but also throws light on Freud’s concept of psycho analysis. She is the immortal figure having all those heroic qualities which make her alive in the mind of the readers forever.


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