Ancient Greek play by Sophocles
In this lesson, students will learn about Antigone, an ancient Greek play by Sophocles. Then they will begin reading, annotating, and discussing the opening of the play.
- Materials to create the Characters in Antigone class chart
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
- As you begin reading Antigone, determine which students may need support such as Guided Reading.
- Help students locate copies of the Independent Reading texts if necessary.
Task 1: Background Information for Antigone
- Create a class chart of Characters in Antigone. Include the cast of characters in the play, but also include some additional names.
- ✓ Antigone
- ✓ Ismene
- ✓ Creon
- ✓ Eurydice
- ✓ Haemon
- ✓ Teiresias
- ✓ Guard
- ✓ First messenger
- ✓ Second messenger
- ✓ Chorus of Theban Elders: Chorus and Leader
- ✓ Oedipus
- ✓ Iocaste
- ✓ Sphinx
- ✓ Eteocles
- ✓ Polyneices
- ELL: Monitor that students can pronounce the names of each of the characters. If there are concerns, repeat them one by one and allow students to repeat after you. Additionally, be sure students can follow your explanations as you complete the chart. Ask questions as appropriate to verify understanding.
- Take 5–10 minutes to give background on Greek drama, Sophocles, and the Oedipus myth.
- ✓ Greek drama was performed in outdoor amphitheaters.
- ✓ Actors wore masks that probably helped them project their voices.
- ✓ The Chorus moved between the audience and the main stage, and commented on the action.
- ✓ Sophocles (496?–406 BCE) wrote the play circa 441 BCE as part of a competition during a religious, cultural festival in ancient Greece.
- ✓ Many plays (if not all) were based on Greek myths well known to the audience, so that the audience already knew the basic plot details.
- ✓ Antigone, though written before the others, is the third part of a trilogy about the Oedipus myth.
- ✓ Oedipus, a former king of Thebes, unwittingly killed his father, Laius, and married his own mother, Iocaste.
- ✓ Oedipus, Antigone’s father, became king as a young man. The city was plagued by the sphinx, who posed a riddle to all challengers and killed anyone who could not answer or solve the riddle, What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?
- ✓ Oedipus solved the riddle correctly (his answer was “man”) and was rewarded by the grateful Thebans with the crown and the existing queen whose husband had been reported dead. Oedipus didn’t know that he had killed his father or that this queen was his mother.
- ✓ He and his mother had four children: two daughters, Antigone and Ismene, and two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices. Antigone and Ismene are two characters in Sophocles’ play.
- ✓ After the truth of their relationship was revealed, Oedipus blinded himself and Iocaste committed suicide.
- ✓ Before Oedipus died, he decreed that his two sons would rule jointly, Eteocles for a year, and then Polyneices for the next year. They would rotate leadership each year.
- ✓ Eteocles refused to give up the crown after his first year, so his brother found allies that would help him recapture the town and the throne.
- ✓ Both brothers died during the battle, each killing the other.
- SWD: It may be helpful to provide students with a timeline or summary of key events from the Oedipus myth to help give them an understanding of the context.
Today you will start reading, annotating, and discussing Antigone, an ancient Greek play by Sophocles.
- Listen to your teacher describe the background for Antigone.
- To help you keep the characters straight, use the list of characters at the beginning of the play (the “dramatis personae”) and work with your teacher to create a Characters in Antigone chart. Maintain a list of characters and information about them in your Notebook. Fill in information each day as you read and find out more about the characters.
- Ask questions if you need clarification.
Task 2: The Beginning of Antigone
- Choose two good readers to read aloud the conversation between Antigone and her sister Ismene.
- Share with students that a strophe is the first of two alternating movements of the Chorus in a classical Greek drama while turning from one side of the orchestra to the other.
- A list of Greek Place and Mythological References is provided.
- Update the Characters in Antigone class chart with students and have them update their lists in their Notebook.
Follow along as two students read the beginning of Antigone up through systema 4 (line 155), when the Leader announces the arrival of Creon, the king.
As you read along, annotate the text as follows.
- Highlight information for the Characters in Antigone chart.
- Note any questions you have about the text.
- Mark unknown words.
Task 3: The Sisters' Relationship
- Give students 3 minutes to write before asking them to share with others.
- Allow students time to share their Quick Write responses.
Complete a Quick Write.
- How would you describe the relationship between Antigone and her sister, Ismene?
Share your response with a partner.
Task 4: About the Beginning of Antigone
- Circulate through the room to eavesdrop on the conversations. Determine which students may need more support.
Use the following questions to have a conversation with a partner about the beginning of the play.
- What questions do you have about what the characters said?
- What is it that Antigone intends to do? Why?
- What is Ismene’s response?
- What information or other contributions are made by the Chorus and the Leader?
- What mention is made, if any, of the many Greek gods?
After briefly discussing each question, write your answer. Refer to specifics from the play in your answers.
If you have time, continue reading the play with your partner.
Task 5: Discussion of the Play
- Facilitate a brief discussion with the whole class about the opening situation. Be sure students have the following points of understanding:
- ✓ Antigone is upset that Creon has decreed that Polyneices cannot receive burial rites.
- ✓ She asks Ismene to help her to provide the proper burial for Polyneices.
- ✓ Ismene says she will not help Antigone because that would involve disobeying the law.
- ✓ Both sisters’ lives are shaped by legal forces (which relates to a Guiding Question).
- ELL: Be sure that English language learners are involved in the discussion as actively as other students. Avoid situations in which some students avoid sharing by allowing their partners to “take over.”
- You may need to explain the Greek burial customs:
- ✓ A person who has died is guaranteed passage or transfer to Hades, a place of all dead spirits, as long as she or he is properly buried.
- ✓ The body must be anointed with oil and wine.
- ✓ The body must be buried.
- ✓ Prayers for safe journey should be recited.
- ✓ If the burial rites are not done, the “soul” or spirit of the dead will wander aimlessly.
- ✓ It would be a disgrace to a family if the burial rites were denied.
- SWD: If you explain the Greek burial customs only orally, be sure to repeat key words a few times (sometimes at a slower pace) to ensure that all students are clear about the topic of discussion. Consider showing pictures if at all possible.
Share your thoughts about the opening of the play with your classmates.
- What is the opening situation of the play?
- What questions do you have that remain unanswered?
- How are the laws of Creon, king of Thebes, in conflict with Antigone’s understanding of the right thing to do?
Task 6: Antigone
- If there is time, students could begin this reading in class.
- Prompt students to include quotations from the play to support their ideas in their reflections.
Continue reading Antigone .
- Read until the Guard leads in Antigone (after the antistrophe 2, line 364).
- Look up words or names when you don’t know what they mean.
- Pay particular attention to Creon, his speech, his manner with the Leader of the Chorus, and his style of leadership.
Task 7: About Antigone
- Use students’ responses to the questions to assess their understanding of the play so far and whether, for some students, you need to slow the pace or pick it up.
Answer the following questions and submit your responses to your teacher.
- What is your initial impression of Creon and his leadership?
- What statements in the Justice: Take a Stand survey have bearing on what you’ve read so far?
- Laws are made to help create order in society, and so they must be obeyed.
- All persons are equal under the law; whether rich or poor, they will receive the same treatment under the law.
- Each person who breaks a law must suffer the consequences with reasonable punishment.
- Morality cannot be legislated.
- It is sometimes justifiable to break a law.
- The best way to change an unjust law is through civil disobedience—to break the law.
- The bodies of all dead soldiers should be treated honorably, even those of enemies.