Jan 30: Antigone...On Ice!

I’m reading this while at the Culver City Ice Arena, where the young Master Delicious is skating (my being able to take him is a collateral benefit of the strike). However, I don’t have my book with me – instead, I printed out my reading from Bartleby. Rest assured that it still looks pretty pretentious, though, what with all the white space (indicating Poetry) on my document which, depressingly is all of 11 pages.

Let me stop myself right there. None of that don’t-wanna-do-my-homework attitude. It will filter down to the children.

Anyway, because I don’t have an Introductory Note, or even access to the Internet, I don’t know who anyone is in this play going in. Will Sophocles provide the pipe (as we sophisticated sitcom writers call exposition)? I’m guessing so: after It’d been working iin sitcoms awhile I went to see “The Merchant of Venice,” which I hadn’te even read since college, and talk about expositional! The whole beginning was filled with “as you and I both know” dialogue – it was like the Pompidou Center, with all its pipe on the outside.

But I digress. To the reading! And speaking of “as you and I both know" -- this also has one of my favorite bonnet-bees, where characters who know each other well nevertheless refer to each other by name:

No tidings of our friends, Antigone,
Painful or pleasant since that hour have come
When we, two sisters, lost our brothers twain,
In one day dying by each other’s hand.
Okay, now I remember hearing about this play. Antigone is not allowed to bury her brother Polynices, but she’s going to do it anyway. Her sister counsels her to work within the system:
And think, how much more wretchedly than all
We twain shall perish, if, against the law,
We brave our sovereign’s edict and his power.
For this we need remember, we were born
Women; as such, not made to strive with men.
And next, that they who reign surpass in strength,
And we must bow to this, and worse than this.
But Antigone, she's hard :
ISM. Fiery is thy mood,
Although thy deeds might chill the very blood.

ANTIG. (lighting Marlboro -- ed.) I know I please the souls I seek to please.
A friend of mine once worked on that Method Man sitcom, and Meth apparently divided all ideas into two camps – “hard” and “corny.” Antigone is hard.

Okay, now here comes the chorus, which is divided between “Stroph I,” “Antistroph I,” “Stroph II,” and “Antistroph II”. I’m pretty sure these are parts of the Chorus’s speech, but I like to think of them as parts – like, an Athenean actor would have had “Antistroph II” as a credit on the back of his headshot (head-tablet in those days, possibly.)

One of the interesting effects utter ignorance gives me is that I don’t know what Polynices has done to deserve his punishment, so I don’t know how much I should sympathize with Antigone. What if he’s really a bad guy? The ambiguity is delicious – and it’s one that I have and the Athenean audience didn’t.

Now Creon comes in. Creon tells us that Polynices was a rebel, which in the “you’re either with us or against us” atmosphere is a v. bad thing. Also it’s apparently a huge deal to be unburied, although it seems worse for Thebes, what with the germs and all.

The guard enters:
I will not say, O king, that I am come
Panting with speed and plying nimble feet,
For I had many halting-points of thought,
Backwards and forwards turning, round and round;
For now my mind would give me sage advice:
“Poor wretch, and wilt thou go and bear the blame?”
Or—“Dost thou tarry now? Shall Creon know
These things from others? How wilt thou escape?”
I can’t tell you how much I love this ("wilt"s and "dost"s aside). The guard, after all, is a bit player – he’s not really involved in our story, he’s just telling us stuff that’s happened that we can’t afford to stage. Yet Sophocles gives him a great attitude to play – a kind of craven careerist indecision. It also helps illuminate Creon as the kind of badass you don’t want to be telling bad news to.

The guard lowers the boom (the body has been covered in dust), but, again, he gets his own little story:
…for we [the other guards] neither saw
How to oppose it, nor, accepting it,
How we might prosper in it. And his speech
Was this, that all our tale should go to thee,
Not hushed up anywise. This gained the day;
And me, ill-starred, the lot condemns to win
This precious prize.
If I may continue in the Wu-Tang mode – and I apologize for the mid-90s references, showing my age I guess – Creon replies, basically, C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me):
No thing in use by man, for power of ill,
Can equal money. This lays cities low,
This drives men forth from quiet dwelling-place,
This warps and changes minds of worthiest stamp,
To turn to deeds of baseness, teaching men
All shifts of cunning, and to know the guilt
Of every impious deed.
Creon wants to know what guy did this. We’re ahead of Creon – even those of us who don’t know the plot going in. And now we know that he’s going to hit the ceiling when he finds out. But how hard will he hit it? I guess this seems like penny-ante criticism, but it’s exciting to me how well-constructed this is.

The guard provides the blow to the scene:
You will not see me coming here again;
For now, being safe beyond all hope of mine,
Beyond all thought, I owe the Gods much thanks.
Still characteristic, that guard. It’s very castable. I’m thinking Kevin Chamberlain.

Then the Strophes and the Antistrophes come out and talk about Man and how’s he’s like. (“Wonderful in skill,” for example.) Does anyone do this, nowadays, in art? Just opine for a page on what we’re like as a species? Radio preachers, maybe. Or Deepak Chopra.

Now they’ve found Antigone and they go get Creon, who comes in saying “this better be important” (“What chance is this with which my coming fits”). The guard tells us more about himself (“I can claim a right/To wash my hands of all this troublous coil.”) – he’s really the one who has the story in this excerpt, in fact it’s really the Guard who’s caught in the middle, like someone who has to arrest nonviolent protestors:
But this to me both bitter is and sweet,
For to escape one’s-self from ill is sweet,
But to bring friends to trouble, this is hard
And bitter. Yet my nature bids me count
Above all these things safety for myself.
This was written almost 2500 years ago. For all our chain restaurants, we don't seem to have much changed.

This was my favorite reading so far, because I appreciate what Sophocles did in his adaptation – adding a regular guy to stand between these mythic characters. Good construction, too, dude. And I think, with a little tweaking here and there, it would be perfect for ice ballet.

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