Term Paper: Self in Antigone and Hamlet

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¶ … Self in Antigone and Hamlet

The best art mirrors life. Audiences relate to characters that possess something with which they can relate, be it good or bad. This type of reflection generally leads to certain concepts such as truth and justice. Powerful characterization helps authors make their points because all kinds of "characters" fill the world. Sophocles and William Shakespeare captured characters so compelling, they are still popular today. Antigone and Hamlet present audiences with strong, compelling characters that cause them to feel something -- one way or another. From Creon to Antigone to Hamlet himself, these characters are a wonderful example of the various types of people that populate the world. Individuality and confidence are important aspects of the human character. Self and a solid sense of self are important because without one, people can fall victim to pride, like Creon, or grief, like Hamlet. A strong sense of self can even lead to death, as seen with Antigone. These playwrights demonstrate the important of a healthy and strong sense of self.

Antigone forces readers to decide what is right and wrong but that statement over simplifies the many issues the play brings to light. Through realistic characters, Sophocles reveals the complexities of life as we move from day-to-day. Many times, we often find ourselves attempting to understand two opposing forces. This kind of complication is revealed through Antigone, as she finds herself facing a clash between obligation to her family and her duty to civil law. Things are more complicated with the added aspect of Creon refusing to budge. Charles Segal points out what is happening with Antigone and Creon is "not only between city and house, but also between man and woman" (Segal). Creon asserts "political authority and his sexual identity" (Segal) early in the play when he says, "No woman is going to lord it over me" (Sophocles 593). Segal states that when Creon does this, with these words specifically, he "repeatedly describes his sovereign power in the state" (Segal). This is important for every one, including Antigone to see and understand. Antigone hears the words but she does not listen to the. She does not respect Creon the way he believes he should be respected and through her disrespect, she challenges his "most important values and his self-image" (Segal). He will not be disrespected, especially by a woman, regardless of who that woman is. This is significant because Sophocles is showing us a very real type of character with Creon. Some people refuse to be wrong and refuse to listen to others, who may or may not have an opinion they should hear. We all know someone like Creon. Sophocles is making Creon a realistic but unlikable character in order to point out some of humanity's flaws. One major flaw is that many men cannot resist the lure of power and Creon shows how we become when we do. Creon does not care about right and wrong and his sense of justice is guided by his pride. Like many men, his character is flawed.

To emphasize Creon's flawed nature, Sophocles gives us Antigone, who possesses a clear sense of justice and goodness. She is a heroine and she dies with a sense of dignity Creon will never know. She is like Creon in that she is headstrong and determined to stand by what she believes. Her belief, however, comes with a sacrifice that Creon could never understand. Antigone is a character we can believe in and root for because she is doing the right thing. She puts family first and never wavers from her decision. She tells Ismene she will bury her brother, "myself./and even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory" (Sophocles 85-6). Antigone is stubborn and Tell Creon his doom is her "precious little pain . . . This is nothing . . . I've been accused of folly by a fool" (520). She faces her death with dignity with the confidence that she is doing the right thing. Losing her life is simply the price she must pay. It is amazing to reduce her situation to anything that simple but this is how it was for her. She is a striking contrast to Creon when it comes to honoring her self and her heartfelt feelings. That she is related to Creon only makes things more painful and difficult but it allows Sophocles to reiterate the importance of family above all else.

Shakespeare, too, leans toward family in Hamlet when we see the ghost literally begging Hamlet to avenge his father's death. Hamlet cannot face the thought of his father being murdered because it might implicate his mother, with whom he is already angry. Family is complicated as these two authors demonstrate. Without a strong sense of self, people fall victim to emotion rather than logic and sense. Only through facing challenges do people find strength to go on -- or not. The solution for some is clear, as we see with Antigone. For others, it is more complicated, as we see with Hamlet. Through these representations, we see the gamut of human emotions and come to realize the world is filled with many complex characters. Hamlet is nothing if he is not complex. His issues stem from grief that is never assuaged. When he returns to Elsinore, he is lost and he never actually finds himself. He is not confident about his individuality like Creon or Antigone. From the beginning of the play, certain events have forced him to reconsider everything he believed to be true about life and himself. He loses his footing and never regains his balance. He moves inward instead of trying to work things out in another way. Jan Blits agrees, noting "Hamlet retreats both into his soul and onto the stage to escape 'the drossy age'" (Blits). Hamlet is "unable to keep the soul's two functions together" because he does not think when he acts and does not act when he thinks. Hamlet is simply unstable, unsure, and unwilling to move. He is stuck in the proverbial rut and is not trying to get out. Hamlet is lost and the saddest thing about this situation is the fact that he is largely responsible.

Actions speak louder than words and two people that prove this to be true are Hamlet and Antigone. Hamlet cannot find peace and the ghost is determined to stay at him until he acts. This ghost does not want Hamlet to find any type of peace until he does what he avenges his father's death. This request, or demand, forces an inner conflict within Hamlet that is almost unbearable. Hamlet does not want to think about what the ghost is asking him to do. The strange thing about this behavior is the fact that hamlet must know, on some level, that what the ghost is asking him to do is perfectly reasonable and warranted. Yet, he cannot deal with it. Looking at this personality type and that of Antigone is almost looking at two different species because they are so comepletely different from one another. Hamlet knows subconsciously what to but cannot act. Antigone also knows what to do and has no problem acting and then expressing her feelings regarding what she is doing. Hamlet cannot even bring himself to hardly think about what the ghost wants him to do much less discuss it with anyone. What these two individuals do (or not do) speaks volumes about who they are. Shakespeare reveals the pain associated with inaction and the suffering brought on by self-loathing. Hamlet knows he should kill but he knows murder is wrong. Even after the Mousetrap play, there is no doubt about the truth. Hamlet could be no more unlike Antigone. He makes excuses for not following through, then resorts to self-loathing when he realizes he failure. He claims he is a "dull and muddy-mettled rascal . . .unpregnant of my cause,/and I can say nothing . . I am pigeon-livered and lack gall" (II.ii.59-04). Hamlet does not grab hold of the truth and do what he must like Antigone does; he stands back away from action while Antigone dives right in. These characters demonstrate the complexity of man because many individuals, though they might not want to admit it, have been in the dark place Hamlet finds himself. It is not fun; it is not pretty and it is difficult to rise above. Hamlet is a compelling character just as much as Antigone is because the audience sees bits of real life in him.

Sophocles and Shakespeare point out the importance of a sense of self with these compelling characters. When things become difficult, those with confidence in themselves will rise to the occasion and, if they must face death, they do so with dignity and grace. Antigone could not have been more ready or proud to die for her actions. In fact, she is opposite Hamlet in the regard that she never… [END OF PREVIEW]

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