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Jean Anouilh s

A Antigone

Ancient greek drama meets modern dilemmas

In the scene that follows, we see the argument between Antigone and her more conformist and conservative sister Ismene. The scene starts with Antigone s nurse who surprises her while she returns from burying her brother.

Nurse: Where have you been? Antigone: Just out for a walk. It was all grey. Beautiful.

But now everything s turned pink and yellow and green. Like a postcard. You ll have to get up earlier, Nan, if you want to see a world without colours.

Nurse: Not so fast! I was up while it was still pitch dark! I went to your room to make sure you hadn t thrown the blankets off in your sleep and the bed was empty!

Antigone: The garden was still asleep. I caught it unawares. A garden that hasn t yet begun to think about people. Beautiful!

Nurse: I soon saw you d gone out you d left the back door open.

Antigone: The fields were all wet. Waiting.

I made a terrific noise all by myself on the road, and I felt awkward because I knew the waiting wasn t for me.

So I took my sandals off and melted into the landscape

Nurse: You re going to have to wash those feet before you get back into bed. Antigone: I m not going back to bed.

Nurse: Four o clock. It wasn t even four o clock yet. I get up to make sure she s still properly covered up, and there s her bed cold, and nobody in it! Antigone: Do you think it would be like that every morning, being the first girl out?

Nurse: Morning! Middle of the night, you mean! And are you trying to tell me you were only out for a walk? Story-teller! Where ve you been?

Antigone: You re right. It was still night. I was the only one out there who thought it was morning. The first person today to believe in the light.

Nurse: Go then play the fool. I m up to all your tricks I was young once myself, and I was a handful too. Now tell me where you ve been, you naughty girl! Antigone: I wasn t doing anything wrong!

Nurse: You had a rendezvous, I suppose don t tell me you hadn t! Antigone: Yes, I had a rendezvous.

Nurse: You mean you ve got a sweetheart?

Antigone: Yes poor thing. Nurse: A nice thing for a king s daughter, I must say! You half kill yourself to bring them up, but they re all the same

And yet you used not to be like the others, preening in front of the glass and putting rose on their lips and trying to attract attention.

The times I ve said to myself, My goodness, this child isn t vain enough! For ever in the same dress, with her hair all over the place the boys will be after Ismene with her curls and her ribbons, and this one will be left on my hands!

And all the time you were just like your sister worse, you little hypocrite! Who is it? A boy you can t even introduce to your family as the one you love and want to marry? That s it, isn t it?... Isn t it? Answer me, brazen hussy!

Antigone: Yes, nurse. That s it. Nurse: Yes , she says! Heaven help us! I ve had her since she was a little girl, I promised her mother I d make a respectable young woman of her and now look!

But you haven t heard the last of this, my girl! I may only be your nurse, and you may treat me like an old fool, but your uncle Creon is going to find out about this I can tell you! Antigone: Yes, nurse. I know. Leave me alone now.

Nurse: And do you know what he s going to say when he hears about you getting up in the middle of the night? And what about Haemon, your fianc?

She s engaged and she gets up at four in the morning to go out with someone else! And then she wants to be left alone her highness doesn t want anyone to say anything about it!

Do you know what I ought to do? I ought to give you a good spanking, like when you were a little girl. Antigone: Don t make a fuss, Nan. You shouldn t be too cross this morning.

Nurse: Not make a fuss! When I think how I promised her mother ! What would she say if she were here?

You silly old fool , she d say so you couldn t keep my little girl virtuous for me! For ever protecting her not to catch cold, giving her egg custards to build up her strength

But at four in the morning, when you re really needed,you re sleeping like a log, you who claim you never get a wink all night, so you let her slip out of the house as easy as pie, and when you get there the bed is stone cold!

That s what your mother will say to me up there, when I go. And I ll be so ashamed I could die, if I wasn t dead already, and all I ll be able to do is hang my head and say Yes, Lady Jocasta you re absolutely right.

Antigone: Stop crying, Nan. You ll be able to look her straight in the eye, and she will thank you for taking such good care of me. She knows why I went out this morning. Nurse: You haven t got a sweetheart? Antigone: No.

Nurse: So you ve been making a fun of me? I suppose it s because I m old. You were always my favourite. And though your sister was easier to manage, I thought it was you who loved me best, too.

But if you did love me, you d have told me the truth. Why was the bed empty when I came to tuck you in?

Antigone: Please don t cry! Come along, my little old red apple. Do you remember when I used to rub your cheeks till they shone? Don t fill all these little furrows with tears for nothing.

I am virtuous, I swear I have no other sweetheart than Haemon! If you like, I ll swear I never shall. Save your tears you may have need of them. When you cry I feel like a little girl. And I mustn t be little today!

Ismene: Up already, Antigone? I went to your room and Antigone: Yes, I m up already. Nurse: So do the pair of you mean to start getting up in the morning before the servants?

What sort of behaviour is that for princesses? Strolling about before breakfast not even properly dressed! You ll be both be catching cold on me again, before

Antigone: It s summer now, Nan we shall be all right. Go and make us some coffee, won t you? I could do with a cup.

Nurse: My dove! There she is, a light-headed for want of something to eat, and I stand here like a fool

Ismene: Are you well? Antigone: It s nothing. Just a bit tired! That comes of getting up so early. Ismene: I couldn t sleep either. Antigone: But you must, or you won t be so pretty in the morning.

Ismene: Don t make fun! Antigone: I m not. It s a comfort to me this morning, your being pretty. Do you remember how miserable it used to make me when I was little? How I used to daub you with mud and put worms in your neck?

And once I tied you to a tree and cut off your hair! Such beautiful hair How easy it must be not to have foolish thoughts, with all these lovely sleek locks hanging round your head!

Ismene: Why have you changed the subject? Antigone: I haven t. Ismene: Listen, Antigone. I ve been thinking Antigone: Yes ?

Ismene: Turning it over in my mind all night You re mad. Antigone: That s right. Ismene: We can t do it! Antigone: Why not?

Ismene: They will kill us! Antigone: Of course they will. Everyone has his part to play. Creon has to have us put to death, and we have to go and bury our brother. That s how the cast list was drawn up. What can we do about it?

Ismene: I don t want to die! Antigone: I d have preferred not to. Ismene: Listen. I m older than you, and not so impulsive. You do the first thing that comes into your head, never mind whether it s sensible or stupid. But I m more level-headed. I think.

Antigone: Sometimes it s best not to think too much. Ismene: I disagree. It s a horrible business, of course, and I feel sorry for Polynices, too. But I do see Creon s point of view. Antigone: I don t want to see it.

Ismene: He is a king. He has to set an example. Antigone: But I m not the king, and I don t!

Antigone, self-willed little beast, does the first thing that comes into her head! So that she s stood in the corner or locked up in the dark. And serve her right! She should do as she s told!

Ismene: That s right. Scowl! Glare! Hold forth without letting anyone else get a word in edgeways! But listen to what I say. I m right more often than you are. Antigone: I don t want to be right!

Ismene: At least, try to understand! Antigone: Understand! You ve always been on at me about that, all of you, ever since I was little.

I was supposed to understand I mustn t play with water beautiful, cool, elusive water because it made the floor wet.

Or with earth, because it dirtied my clothes.

I was supposed to understand you mustn t eat your cake before you ve finished bread and butter,

Or give all your pocket money to a beggar

Or run in the wind till you drop

Or drink when you re hot, or go swimming when you feel like it.

Understand! Understand! Always understand!

I don t want to understand! I can do that when I m old. If I ever am.

Ismene: He s the king, Antigone! He s stronger that we are. And everyone agrees with him. The streets of Thebes are full of them. Antigone: I m not listening.

Ismene: They ll hiss and boo. They ll seize us in their thousand arms, surround us with their thousand faces and their one expression, spit at us. And we ll have to ride in the tumbril through their hatred, through their smell and their laughter to our execution.

The guards will be waiting there, with their stupid faces all red from their stiff collars, their great clean hypocrites hands , their loutish stare.

You can shout till you re hoarse trying to explain they ll do exactly as they re told, slavisly, without knowing or caring whether is right or wrong.

And the suffering, have you thought of that? We ll have to suffer, feel the pain increasing, mounting up till it s no longer bearable. It has to stop, but it goes on, climbing higher and higher like an ear-splitting shriek I can t! I can t!

Antigone: That s what thinking does for you! Ismene: Haven t you thought about it? Antigone: Yes, of course. Ismene: But I m not brave. Antigone: Neither am I. What s that got to do with it?

Ismene: Don t you want to live then? Antigone: Not want to live

Who used to be up first in the morning just to feel the chill air on her bare skin?

Who used to go to bed last, and then only when she was ready to drop, just as to live a bit more of the night?

Who used to cry as a child, because there were so many insects and plants in the fields that it was impossible to collect them all?

Ismene: Antigone my little sister

Antigone: No! Leave me alone! Now is not the time to be whimbering and putting our arms round one another! You say you ve thought things over? And you ve come to the conclusion that it s too much to have the whole city howling for your blood, the pain, the fear of dying?

Ismene: Yes. Antigone: Excuses! You can make use of them if you like. Ismene: Antigone! Please! It s all right for men to die for their ideas. But you re a girl.

Antigone: Only a girl! The tears I ve shed because of it!

Ismene: Your happiness is within your gasp you ve only to stretch out your hand and take it You re engaged, you re young, you re beautiful

Antigone: No not beautiful.

Ismene: Yes, in your own way! You know very well it s you the boys turn to look at in the street, you the little girls stare at speechless till you disappear round the corner Antigone: Boys in the street Little girls

Ismene: And Haemon? What about Haemon Antigone? Antigone: I ll be talking to him. I ll soon settle him.

Ismene: You re out of your mind! Antigone: You ve always said that about everything I ve ever done

Go back to bed, Ismene. It s getting light look! And there is nothing I can do.

My dead brother is surrounded by guards now, just as if he d managed to make himself king. Go back to bed. You re pail from lack of sleep.

Ismene: Aren t you coming? Antigone: I don t feel like sleeping. But I promise I ll stay here until you wake up. Nurse will bring me something to eat. You go now you can hardly keep your eyes open.

Ismene: You will let me talk to you again? Try to make you see Antigone: Yes, yes I ll let you talk to me. I ll let you all talk to me. Go to bed now, please, or you won t be so pretty tomorrow.

Poor Ismene!

I wasn t born to hate but to love.


Polynices and Antigone

Antigone - Nurse