Antigone at Thebes

Started by Ben Lehman, July 16, 2011, 06:42:56 PM

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Ben Lehman

I'm working on a game called Antigone at Thebes based on a play by Sophocles that doesn't actually exist. The play takes place after the events of Oedipus at Colonus, but before the events of Antigone and is about Antigone's decisions around her brother, Polyneices', attack on Thebes to reclaim the Theban throne.

The game is both jeepform and fanfiction.
I'm trying to bring jeepform out of the realm of tawdry emotion and into history, literary criticism, and post-modernism.
The fanfiction bit is just that I really, really love Sophocles.

The game comes in three stages and nine scenes. The primary character of the game is the play itself.
Stage one: Athenian
Stage two: Elizabethan
Stage Three: Modern


Ben Lehman

Stage one: Athenian

Background: It helps if everyone at the table is familiar with the Theban plays, or at least the play Antigone. In case you're not, though, here's the one minute summary: At prince Oedipus's birth it is prophecied that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified, his parents left him to die. Of course, he was adopted by shepherds and grew up to become a hero. He kills his father, Laius, during a skirmish on the road, and frees the city of Thebes from the grasp of a monster, winning as reward the hand of the supernaturally beautiful and eternally young queen Jocasta. They had four children: Antigone, Ismene, Polyneices and Eteocles. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus discovers his incest, Jocasta kills herself, and he goes into exile, accompanied by his daughter Antigone. In Oedipus at Colonus, he dies in Athens and Antigone returns to Thebes to deal with the upcoming Theban Civil War.

Foreground: After this play, the Theban Civil War will be fought. Polyneices and Eteocles will kill each other. Creon, now the king by default, will order that Eteocles be buried with ceremony but that Polyneices be left unburied to become a shade. Antigone, under cover of night, will bury her brother. Outraged, and not knowing that the criminal is his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Creon will order the criminal killed, ultimately resulting in the death of both Antigone and his own son, Haemon.

Relationships: Incest themes run heavy through the Theban plays, and this one is no exception. Oedipus's children form two very close couples: Antigone and Polynieces and Ismene and Eteocles. It is unclear whether their relationship is actually sexual or just intensely, inappropriately intimate. At the time of the play, Eteocles rules a usurped throne of Thebes (it should be Polynieces') and Creon waits in the wings, hoping for a chance to seize the throne. Creon's son Haemon is interested in Antigone, but they are not yet engaged.

Tone and Style: Greek drama obeys the three unities, which I believe are Unity of Space, Unity of Time, and Unity of Character. Basically, they occur in a single long "take," without changing scenes. One character, who is the focus of the play, is on stage the entire time. Events offstage can occur, but only in real time, and are reported by the chorus or other characters, rather than directly observed. The purpose of this structure is that we get inside of this one character's skull at a crucial moment of their life, understanding only what they understand, struggling with what they struggle with.

Some greek plays involve special effects, gods, and monsters, but the plays of Sophocles do not. They have no combat, no supernatural element, and little patriotic jingoism. Rather, they are wholly focused on constructing and deconstructing the morals, choices, and pathos of a particular individual: In this case, Antigone.

Ben Lehman

The Chorus: The chorus in the play is made up of the women of Thebes, begging Antigone to do all she can to prevent a war.

The ending: The play will end with Antigone trying and failing, or choosing not to, prevent a war, and with her being delivered the news that both of her brothers are dead.

The structure: The play will have a number of people, perhaps in different arrangements, approach Antigone to try to persuade her of their viewpoints. Choose and play three such sections, then play the ending.

Required characters:
A Chorus of Theban Women

Possible Characters:
Polyneices, in disguise, visiting his sister
Creon: A noble of Thebes
Haemon: Creon's son, in love with Antigone
Tiresius: Blind prophet of Thebes
A Maidservant

See character sheets for details about each character, their wants and needs.

Ben Lehman

Stage two: Elizabethan

In this stage, we play out a few scenes from an Elizabethan revision of the play, adapted for the stage and customs of the time. Since the play is not about British history, it will not be a "historical" play. Rather, it will be either a tragedy or a comedy. Decide which.

If it is a comedy, it is called: "Two Maids of Greece or, Love Stops a War."
If it is a tragedy, it is called: "Antigone and Ismene."

If it is a comedy, gently elide all direct aspects of incest (i.e. if Antigone and Polyneices are still brother and sister, she must end up with Haemon). Everyone gets married at the end.
If it's a tragedy, everyone dies at the end.

Working from the events of your previous play, work out a rough script in three acts. The basics should remain: the city of Thebes is under siege by Polynieces, who may or may not be its rightful ruler. Inside, Antigone and Ismene are trying to figure out what to do about it.

Act one: Introduce complications
Act two: Escalate tension
Act three: In comedy, resolve. In tragedy, die.

For each act, just sketch out a rough idea of what happens. Three or four sentences should do it. For acts one and two, pick at least one item from the lists below. For act three, just follow the directions above.

Comedy, act one:
Someone who has forsworn men / women.
Cross dressing
A stubborn, obstinate father
An older, inappropriate suitor

Comedy, act two:
An apparently inappropriate attraction
Identity confusion

Tragedy, act one:
An ill-advised oath
A ghost

Tragedy, act two:
Everything seems to be going to plan
The hero seems untouchable
Inappropriate sex

Ben Lehman

Play: Once you've laid out the basic scripting, draw up a cast, assign characters, and play out one scene from each act, plus the final scene.

It may behoove you to have a director, who calls the shots and allows for reinterpretations.


Ben Lehman

Stage three: Modern.

In this stage, you create one or more modern interpretations of the play, drawing on both the greek and elizabethan traditions.

A feminist version, circa 1970
A feminist version, circa 2000
A hollywood version, with all the over-acting and fake british accents.
A modern movie genre, such as a rom-com or action movie.
A samurai retelling
An anime series
A shakespeare in the park performance, with all the over-acting and fake british accents
A minimalist experimental theater version
Bollywood Musical

Pick one of these. Pick a scene, discuss it briefly, and play it out. Then, either choose to do a scene from another version, or another scene from the same version. Do this three times.

You're done! Discuss.


Ben Lehman

OK, so I still need to do character sheets and flesh out both stages 2 and especially 3.

Here's what a character sheet looks like.

Name: Antigone

Relationships: Daughter of Oedipus, followed him into exile. Brother, possibly lover of Polynieces. Very close sister of Ismene. Sister of Eteocles. Beloved of Haemon.

Nature: Pride. Despite her tainted family background, Antigone has admirably performed her role as the sister-daughter of Oedipus, following him into exile and waiting on him as he died. She acts intensely and without much in the way of forethought or regret, and carries through her actions until the end.

"I am a dutiful daughter and a loving sister."
"What business is war to a woman?"
"Do not speak to me of shame, who went into exile went into exile with our father while you remained in Thebes."


Ben Lehman

Name: Ismene

Relationships: Daughter of Oedipus, remained behind in Thebes, but was with him at the moment of his death (by coincidence.) Brother, possibly lover of Eteocles. Very close sister of Antigone. Sister of Polynieces'. Friend of Creon.

Nature: Shame. Ismene leads her life in the shadow of her father's sin. She does everything properly, according to the laws of city, and is definitely conservative and a bit of a killjoy. She is full of self-doubt and anxiety, which she projects onto others.

"Would you have the city suffer a second time?"
"We will not speak of such things!"
"Please, my sister, I beg you to see reason."

Ben Lehman

Name: Polynieces

Relationships: Son of Oedipus, remained behind in Thebes to share the throne with Eteocles only to be forced out. Brother, possibly lover, of Antigone. Brother of Eteocles and Ismene. Rival of Creon and Eteocles.

Nature: Pride. Polynieces is decidedly ambitious, wanting to seize the throne of Thebes as his own at any cost. He has organized a group of heroes from around Greece -- the Seven Against Thebes -- to strike at the city and regain his throne or, failing that, to destroy his brother's city. He wants what he wants, and nothing will stand in the way of that.

"I would have what I have been cheated of."
"Eteocles will burn, or Thebes will."
"My sister, my beautiful sister, come with me to my camp so that I may keep you safe from harm."

Ben Lehman

I'm kinda posting up a storm in my own thread here, but I'd really love comments or suggestions from the peanut gallery.


Very cool stuff, but will it fit in 3,000 words?

Ben Lehman


I think it's pretty short. Right now it's not more than 1000 words, the bulk of which is recapping the Theban Plays. The character sheets might push it over, though...


Ice Cream Emperor

I like the meta-quality -- I wonder what it is about the theme that inspires repetition/reinterpretation, since I have the same thing going on in the game I'm working on. (It's probably just: what people think about when they think about literary plays.)

I'm curious if you're planning on offering any more structure/support for the different plays? The reference to jeepform makes me think of something like a specific scene list, or maybe at least a list of suggestions. I'm probably very solidly in the target-demographic for this game (in terms of educational background) but I think I would still find it pretty intimidating to just be like 'invent a new Sophokles play... oh, you did that? Cool now make a modern 1970s feminist version!'

Which are awesome things to do, but I guess I wonder if I am awesome enough to just do them (and if so, why am I playing this game and not writing plays?)
~ Daniel


Hi Ben,

The game looks well structured. As you are well under way to having a playable and interesting game, let me risk an interruption for sake of reflection:

Quote from: Ben Lehman on July 16, 2011, 06:42:56 PM
I'm trying to bring jeepform out of the realm of tawdry emotion and into history, literary criticism, and post-modernism.
How? Why?

Frederik J. Jensen

Ben Lehman

Good questions.

Daniel, I'm hoping that the character sheets plus some other techniques will help fill in the gaps and make it easier than just writing a play from scratch.

Fredrik, I'm not sure. I guess I just like literary criticism, history and post-modernism? hahah. Also, I think that we can dwell in cheap emotion and convince ourselves that it's high art, but it really isn't. Nothing wrong with cheap emotion (see Polaris) and nothing wrong with low art, but I want to see if I can pull off something else.

I'm traveling right now, so we'll see how far the game gets.