Introduction, translation, and notes by Marianne McDonald, Ph.D., MRIA
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Sophocles is the playwright of heroism, and Antigone the first female character in drama to be a hero in the full sense of the word. She is the first conscientious objector.
The play is often performed as veiled criticism of the government prevailing at the time to show that something is rotten in that particular state.
First, I offer a look at tragedy as it was originally performed, then Sophocles’ other work, and its later influence, finally a close look at the Antigone, with suggestions to facilitate an eventual performance.
The Performance of Tragedy
The first performance of a tragedy is attributed to Thespis, ca. 534 B. C. in Athens. He had only one actor, who differentiated himself from the chorus, and Aristotle tells us that Aeschylus added a second actor and that Sophocles added a third, creating more possibilities for interchange and conflict. The three actors were called Protagonist, Deuteragonist, and Tritagonist (first, second, and third actor), and if further parts were needed, they were divided between them. Since all the actors were male, masks allowed them to play female roles. Masks particularly suited actors in the large theatres in which they performed. There were also supernumeraries, or nonspeaking parts, such as attendants and children. An actor was called a hypokritês, which meant “one who answers, an interpreter, expounder.” Aristotle tells us that Sophocles introduced scenepainting to suggest a visual background.
At the main Athenian dramatic festival, the Greater Dionysia, each dramatist put on three tragedies and one satyr play which comically handled tragic themes. A comedy by a different playwright followed. Aeschylus preferred the connected trilogy which allowed the development of a concept such as the workings of divine justice over several generations. Sophocles abandoned the practice of writing connected trilogies and instead preferred to highlight a major character within a single play.