Instructor Resources

Possible Topics & Themes

Pre-reading exercises

Do our duties and responsibilities toward the dead vary by the person’s proximity to us?

Do the living “owe” anything to the dead? Or should attention be given exclusively to other live beings?

What are some funeral or burial rites are you familiar with? In what ways to they treat the dead? 

Reading Guide

  1. Lines 1-70 lay out the play’s conflict: what is it? Then, distinguish not only Antigone and her sister Ismene’s arguments, but also their characters. How are not only their actions but their motivations and fears distinct?

  2. Lines 73-97, Antigone & Ismene: What does Antigone want to do? What is her reasoning? How does Ismene respond? Scholars of the play point out that Ismene is Sophocles’ invention. What purpose does she serve here? Whose side are we on so far, with whom do we feel sympathy? Why?

  3. What does the Chorus say about law and religion circa lines 90-120?

  4. Creon enters and in a long speech outlines his role in government: 135-210 Creon – By what right does Creon feel that he now holds power? Does he represent himself as a tyrant who has seized power or as a legitimate king who has rightfully inherited it? How does Creon address the chorus? What does he think of them? Why does Creon declare that Polyneices cannot be buried?

  5. What is the tone of Creon towards the Chorus in 240-260? Evaluate here and other spots his value as a leader.

  6. Lines 190-278: Conversation between Creon & the Sentry: What parts of Creon’s personality and leadership style emerge during this conversation?

  7. At ca. lines 350-420 Antigone describes how she had to violate Creon’s law—why? What motivated her? What does Creon mean by “law”? What does Antigone? In each case, what is the source of ultimate authority? What does she mean by the “immortal unrecorded laws of God” (361)? If such laws are unrecorded, how does one know them?

  8. The Chorus compares Antigone to “inflexible heart,” “toughest iron” and “wildest horses” (375-386). Do these metaphors apply more to Antogone or Creon?

  9. How does Creon’s understanding of gender influence him at lines 440-ff? What role does the fact that Creon’s son Haimon was to marry Antigone play? 

  10. Lines 430-463, Antigone & Ismene: Why does Ismene respond the way that she does? What made her shift from her original position do you think? (looking here for a way to discuss the honor of burying the dead, which in ancient Greece fell to women). What has changed in this dialogue between the sisters since we first saw them at the beginning of the play?

  11. Lines 500-625, Creon & Haemon: What does Creon expect from his son? And what position is Haemon taking? How does Creon respond? Is there a similarity in the way Creon responds to Antigone & to Haemon? What are we understanding about Creon’s character? What is the effect of switching to single lines? How has the relationship between Creon and Haemon changed over the course of this exchange?

  12. Haimon has an interesting theory of leadership at 570-580, where he compares a leader to trees and sailboats. Explain his “political” position. What is Creon’s response?

  13. Lines 661-735, How does Antigone feel about her fate as she is taken away to the cave? 

  14. At this point, 772-857 Teiresias the blind priest/prophet enters saying that his ritual offerings to the gods went really wrong. What does he conclude from this at 796-811? What prediction does he make 841-854? What counsel does Teiresias give Creon? How does Creon receive Teiresias’ counsel? What does Creon accuse Teiresias of?

  15. Lines 840-855: What is Teiresias’ prediction/prophecy?

  16. Lines 860-880, Creon & Chorus Leader: What counsel does the Chorus Leader give Creon? How does Creon respond? Why do you think Creon responds this way?

  17. Lines 900-980, Messenger & Eurydice/Chorus Leader: What does the Messenger tell Eurydice happened in the cave? How does Eurydice respond? Why introduce Eurydice at the end of the play just to kill her off? Does the logic of the play demand that Creon loose both his son and his wife? The death scenes have all taken place off stage and are related by other characters. What is the effect of hearing about these deaths being described second-hand? Why not show them? 

  18. Lines 985ff to end, Creon/Messenger/Chorus: Creon’s life has changed by the end of the play. But has his character changed? What “justice” has been done? Who decides justice in this play? Who is wise? How does the play claim one gains wisdom?

Close Reading Discussion Questions

  1. How does the chorus affect your judgements about each of the characters in the play and their relationship to the play’s larger questions about legitimacy, law, ritual and power?

  2. Re-read the first 100 lines of the play, and write down some adjectives describing the two sisters (Antigone and Ismene). With these characteristics in mind, what actors you would cast in the role of Antigone and Ismene if this were a movie? Why?

  3. Re-read Creon’s monologue, Creon’s interactions with the Sentry, and the section between Antigone and Creon after she is brought before him, in order to gain a sense of Creon’s character. If Creon lived in today’s world, on which social media platform would his monologue appear? Why would he use this platform? What traits does he have that would make him choose this platform? Using the conventions of the platform, rewrite a section of the monologue in modern language.

  4. From what you have read so far, what do you think the main conflict of the play is?


Antigone in Ferguson and Matters of Justice

  • Prompt(s): How has this performance sharpened or challenged your understanding of justice now? What does this live performance highlight about the play’s meaning for current times? Why would this play and characters relate to the Movement for Black Lives?

  • Antigone in Ferguson: What kind of research do you think the theater artists had to do to connect this ancient Greek tragedy to a real-life, modern-day one?
  • How does story affect what we remember and what we don’t? How can a re-telling disurupt or received story, or even recall an ignored event? 

Informal Writing

  • In about 100 words write a definition for the term “civil disobedience,” and explain whether or not you think Antigone is engaged in an act of civil disobedience.

  • From what you have read so far (first 100 lines), what do you think the main conflict of the play is?

  • Antigone’s feelings about what happened to her brother Polyneices and the injustice done to him move her to action. What are some social justice issues (local or global) that you feel strongly about and might inspire you to act? Brainstorm a list of at least three issues (think about laws, policies, movements, etc.). Really search for an issue or a problem– local, national, global– that matters to you and that you have questions about.

  • Based on her statements and actions, do you consider Antigone to be a criminal or a hero? Using the text, write two paragraphs: one that creates a case for her being a criminal and one supporting her actions as heroic. Use at least two examples from the play to support your ideas.

  • How does the character of Creon help you to think about justice, power, and authority? What qualities do you look for in a leader, and how can a person demonstrate those qualities? What makes a leader “legitimate”—the leader’s qualities or behavior? Can that legitimacy be lost, if so, how?

  • Has the play helped you to think about the world we live in today?

  • Using your artistic skills, sketch the placement of the characters in an outdoor venue. Include in the drawing appropriate Greek masks.


  • Write a letter to Sophocles giving him feedback on how well the play follows Aristotle’s theories.


  • What rituals does your family or community have to mark the passing of life? What are some rituals you are familiar with?


  • Do our duties and responsibilities toward the dead vary by how close they are to us? Ought we distinguish among honoring family and friends, soldiers and politicians, the young and the old?


  • Search “video + changing + guard + Arlington”: How does the changing of the guard both a political and a spiritual act? Why do unidentified (“unknown”) remains garner so much respect?


  • Search “video + haka + funeral + service”: Some cultures associate rituals for the dead with silence and stillness. How does this Maori (a people of New Zealand) event upend that expectation? In what ways does it still show deep reverence for the dead?


  • Search “video + NYC + potter’ field”: How does this government-run burial ground show duty to the deceased? Who is buried there, and specifically, who buries them?

Group Projects

Have students working in groups compose a speech by one of the characters that would add an additional view of their character, motives, and behavior. (For example: a letter from Polyneices to Antigone, a speech by Eurydice after she has left the public space.

Formal Essay Topics

  1. Antigone believes that her moral duty to the gods is superior to her legal duty to the state, and she is willing to suffer the consequences in order to do what is morally right. In other words, should we do what is legal or what is right?

  2. According to Nelson Mandela, “in life, every man has twin obligations – obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country.” How do the characters in the play approach these dual obligations? (Choose two characters to compare.)

  3. Antigone is sometimes interpreted as a play that criticizes the function of government, specifically its authority to shape an ethical society. How does Creon fit into this role of government? What kind of governing authority does Creon represent? Does his role seem to be effective or ineffective? Why?

  4. In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King writes that “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all’.” Engaging the text, explain how Antigone knows the difference between the just and the unjust law. (Is it significant that MLK refers to a religious figure—St. Augustine—in his explanation?)

  5. Consider these quotations: 
    • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (US Constitution, Amendment IV)
    • “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” (E. Snowden)
    • “The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights.” (E. Snowden)


Edward Snowden in 2013, exposed the US government’s National Security Agency’s massive data collection practice on its own people through their computer devices. Snowden was immediately charged with espionage and treason. He fled the US. He currently resides somewhere in Russia. The US government has promised him is that it will not torture him, but does intend to prosecute him. The Obama and Trump administrations vilified him. Snowden is a controversial figure: some call him a true patriot, while others call him a traitor. Snowden did what he thought—and still thinks—is the right thing. He has gone against the state because the state went against the Constitution. Write an essay that analyzes Eric Snowden’s disobedience of US law, ostensibly to protect Fourth Amendment rights.

6. In “Obedience As a Psychological and Moral Problem” (in On Disobedience and Other Essays), Erich Fromm suggests that to disobey “inhuman laws” is a sign of growth and separation from irrational authority. Fromm refers only briefly to Antigone but what he notes is telling: “Whenever the principles which are obeyed and those which are disobeyed are irreconcilable, an act of obedience to one principle is necessarily an act of disobedience to its counterpart, and vice versa. Antigone is the classic example of this dichotomy. By obeying the inhuman laws of the State, Antigone necessarily would disobey the laws of humanity.” Antigone cannot honor Creon’s law and honor, at the same time, her dead brother, Polyneices. She can only do one. And in the end, despite the consequences imposed on her by Creon, she makes the right decision. Write a paper that supports or challenges this assertion about Antigone’s choice.

7. View Theater of War’s production of Antigone in Ferguson. Then, below is a excerpt from Judith Butler’s essay “Antigone’s Claim” that deals with the way Butler thinks of Antigone within our contemporary culture: 

I have been interested in how certain kind of heterosexual frames and normative gender schemes make certain kind of lives unliveable and ungrievable. That was an important dimension of AIDS activism, and remains one now, especially in light of the sufferings and losses on the African continent: it is very often a struggle to make certain kinds of lost life publicly grievable. The deaths by AIDS were not shameful deaths, but horrible deaths that deserved and deserve a public mourning. In a way, that point brought me to consider Antigone, her insistence on burying her brother even when the open public burial and grieving was against the law. The politics of mourning within war is clearly linked to that question of the distribution and regulation of grievable lives. How do we think about who is grievable and who is not, who is allowed to grieve openly and who is not? And what kind of public speech…is needed to call attention to the horrifying way that our capacity to feel horror is differentially distributed and naturalized?

8. As we titled this conversation Antigone’s claim, so we may ask what would Antigone’s claim be for the present and how we understand her claim in the present. It seems to me that in insisting on the public grievability of lives, she becomes for us a war critic who opposes the arbitrary and violent force of sovereignty. In a way, she stands in advance for precarious lives, including new immigrants, the sans-papiers, those who are without health insurance, those who are differentially affected by the global economy, questions of poverty, of illiteracy, religious minorities, and the physically challenged. That she, in some sense, becomes a figure through whom we can think what it means to understand certain lives as more precarious than others, who live out a precariousness so that others can engage in the fantasy of their impermeability and omnipotence.

    • In the essay, you should summarize Butler’s ideas about what it means to have grievable and ungrievable lives. 
    • In the play, the ungrievable life is Polyneices’. What is the implicit connection is Theater of War making between Polyneices as a war criminal and Michael Brown and so many others as ungrievable lives? What does this connection make you think about in our contemporary culture?


Be sure that you explain clearly the connections that you are making between the two plays: Antigone and Antigone in Ferguson. Though they are essentially the same play, one, Antigone in Ferguson, is making a direct claim for the play. As you write, you will need to keep in mind that you are evaluating the plays based on the audience and circumstances for each. 

More Ideas for Developing Research Questions

  • Look at the social justice issues you and your peers posted when brainstorming in your informal writing assignment. Then choose the one you think is the most interesting (from either your list or your classmates’ lists). Set a timer and spend 30 minutes googling the issue you’ve selected, and bookmark articles or copy links that look compelling. Take notes on key ideas and questions related to your topic.

Write a Post/Submit an Assignment that includes the following:

  • Identify the social justice issue you have decided to use 

  • Write a short paragraph summarizing what you learned in your preliminary research.

  • From there, develop two or three new questions you have about your social justice issue. 
    • These should not be “yes or no” questions, but deeper and more comprehensive questions. Keep in mind words such as “why” and “how” when developing these questions. 
    • For example, if my social justice issue is “accessibility in the remote learning environment,” I would think about questions like “how does an instructor create an effective online class that is equitable and accessible to all participants?” or “why are some students falling behind when learning online?” One of these might then become my research question.