Inevitability of Fate as an Element of Tragedy

From Shakespeare’s Hamlet to ancient Greek myths, fate is an inherent, and even necessary, element in tragedy. Fate is recognized to be omnipresent and omnipotent in tragedy. The free will of the characters, whether exercised or not, is overpowered by their preordained fates. Hence, a tragedy occurs when despite a character’s brave efforts and noble intentions, he/she faces death simply because they are destined to die.

This is what happens to the protagonist Antigone in Sephocles’ play Antigone. The daughter of the ill-fated Oedipus and the sister of Polyneices and Eteocles, who also died tragic deaths, Antigone is a character that rouses the audience’s sympathy. When her uncle, King Creon issues a royal edict banning anyone from giving the disgraced Polyneices a proper burial, Antigone makes the choice that dooms her life. She is forced to defy the King’s orders because of her principles and firm conviction in the laws of Heaven which dictated that the dead must be given proper funeral rites if they are to enter the world below successfully. This choice may have been of Antigone’s own will but as later events prove, she was destined to meet a tragic end and the noble principles that led her to make this choice will not save her from her fate. Even as she explains her decision to her sister Ismene, Antigone acknowledges her impending death in a fatalistic manner as she has already accepted the power of fate.

When the blind prophet, Teiresias, warns Creon that condemning Antigone to death would seal his own fate, the King agrees to free Antigone and allow Polyneices’ burial. In another example of how fate is generally accepted by the characters as inescapable, King Creon is fearful that the prophet will prove right and that his own fate would be to die if he does not pardon Antigone. However, fate strikes again as Antigone is discovered to have taken her own life in prison.

Thus, Antigone, whose downfall makes the story a tragedy, meets her tragic end regardless of her noble character and brave choices. The dismal ending to the story is preordained and inescapable. The sense of inevitability that overshadows all the action makes the story all the more tragic. The play concludes with a final acknowledgement of the power of fate which comes from King Creon himself as he laments, “ Everything I touch goes wrong, and on my head/ fate climbs up with its overwhelming load” (1489-90)

 

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