In Greek tragedies the tragic hero had very distinct characteristics that set him or her apart from the other characters. The play Antigone by Sophocles, however, seems to have two tragic heroes with Antigone and Creon as possibilities.
A tragic hero is always from noble birth. Creon is the King of Thebes and Antigone is a princess, as the daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes. Therefore both Antigone and Creon fit the profile of the tragic hero in this instance.
An error of judgment is normally what leads to the downfall of a tragic hero. Again can it be argued that both Creon and Antigone made an error of judgment.
Antigone was prepared to go against Creon’s will to bury her brother Polyneices. To her it was more important to obey the laws of the gods. She believed that Polyneices would not be able to rest unless he had a proper burial with the appropriate burial rites. As burials were very much the responsibility of the women Antigone knew it was up to her and Ismene to ensure Polyneices got buried. She stood alone in this as her sister Ismene was too afraid of Creon to stand up to him.
Creon on the other hand appeared to be the villain that refused Polyneices this right. It is true that he was a typical Greek male of the times and had no regard for a woman’s views. He believed, as all males of the time, that woman should be out of sight and not interfere in the matters of the country and definitely not go against any decree from the king. What cannot be ignored here is, that as a Greek man and the king, his main task was to protect his kingdom from the enemy. To him Polyneices was the enemy as he attacked Thebes. For enemies there are no burial rights.
Both Antigone and Creon were very stubborn in their views. Being Antigone and Polyneices’ uncle the audience expects more empathy from Creon but he was adamant in punishing whoever went against his decree. Not even Haemon, his own son who was engaged to Antigone could soften his hart.
Antigone was prepared to die for burying her brother and stayed stubborn until the end when Creon had her locked up and she eventually committed suicide.
Creon didn’t at first want to listen to the prophet Tiresias and it was only after his conversation with the elders, who formed the Chorus, that he started doubting his decision. Strangely enough he insisted on burying Polyneices first before he went to free Antigone. One has to wonder if it was still his pride that stopped him from going to Antigone first.
It was only after Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice (his wife and Haemon’s mother) killed themselves that he realized what he did. Only then he showed remorse which brings us to the other characteristic of a tragic hero. A tragic hero must learn from his mistakes. On this point it can be argued that Creon was the actual tragic hero and not Antigone. She never once showed remorse. She died for what she believed in and Creon had to live with the consequences of his decision.
It is also assumed that the protagonist would normally be the tragic hero. In Antigone it is again difficult to establish who the protagonist is. Antigone seems to be the protagonist with her main goal being burying her brother. Therefore Creon would be the antagonist opposing her goal. It can also be argued that Antigone was the antagonist opposing Creon’s goal to not have Polyneices buried.
Sophocles chose to name his play Antigone and not Creon leading the reader to assume Antigone being the protagonist and the tragic hero. Even though Antigone might not have had remorse she definitely realized the effect of her decision in her monologue when she called death her bridal chamber.
At the end, even though Creon suffers severely at the hand of his decision, Antigone is the one receiving the most empathy from the audience. She had to make a very difficult decision at a very young age with no hope of any support. Her tragedy lies in the fact that she really had no other choice where Creon was stubborn and did not think about the outcome his decree might have had when he made it.
A tragic hero has no control over his or her fate; it is destiny which cannot be changed. Creon made his choice out of pride whereas Antigone made her choice according to the spiritual laws. She had no real choice and is therefore most likely more of a tragic hero than Creon.