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The simplicity of the plot
The question raised by the play.
is due,—as the foregoing sketch has shown,—to the clearness with which two principles are opposed to each other. Creon represents the duty of obeying the State's laws; Antigone, the duty of listening to the private conscience. The definiteness and the power with which the play puts the case on each side are conclusive proofs that the question had assumed a distinct shape before the poet's mind. It is the only instance in which a Greek play has for its central theme a practical problem of conduct, involving issues, moral and political, which might be discussed on similar grounds in any age and in any country of the world. Greek Tragedy, owing partly to the limitations which it placed on detail, was better suited than modern drama to raise such a question in a general form. The Antigone, indeed, raises the question in a form as nearly abstract as is compatible with the nature of drama. (The case of Antigone is a thoroughly typical one for the private conscience, because the particular thing which she believes that she ought to do was, in itself, a thing which every Greek of that age recognised as a most sacred duty,— viz., to render burial rites to kinsfolk.) This advantage was not devised by Sophocles; it came to him as part of the story which he was to dramatise; but it forms an additional reason for thinking that, when he dramatised that story in the precise manner which he has choscn, he had a consciously dialectical purpose1 Such a purpose was wholly consistent, in this instance, with the artist's first aim,—to produce a work of art. It is because Creon and Antigone are so human that the controversy which they represent becomes so vivid.

1 This point might be illustrated by contrast with an able romance, of which the title is borrowed from this play of Sophocles. ‘The New Antigone’ declined the sanction of marriage, because she had been educated by a father who had taught her to regard that institution as wrongful. Such a case was not well suited to do dramatically what the Antigone of Sophocles does,—to raise the question of human law against private conscience in a general form,—because the institution concerned claims to be more than a human ordinance, and because, on the other hand, the New Antigone's opinion was essentially an accident of perverted conscience. The author of the work was fully alive to this, and has said (Spectator, Nov. 5, 1887) that his choice of a title conveyed ‘a certain degree of irony.’

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