An Actor's Response to the role of Haimon in Sophokles' Antigone

Mark Angus
63 Gunterstone Road
London W14 9BS

A follow-up to the review of Antigone in Issue 1.5

The role of Haimon in Antigone, as I discovered after working on it in rehearsal, is not as straightforward as it seems. People often describe Antigone as depicting the clash of two ideologies--mortals vs. gods or state vs. religion, for example. As part of that scheme the role of Haimon is usually defined as 'the voice of reason.' Not only is this phrase of no practical use to the actor, it imbues Haimon with an air of saintliness and implies that he is without selfishness or any self-interest. Such a man would not be human, and such an interpretation defies what appears in the text.

On his first entrance Haimon categorically assures Kreon that he personally agrees with his father's reasoning and that nothing, including Antigone, is more important than his father's will. Assuming that he is not lying and we take what he says at face value, what are we to make of this revelation? It leads us down a path very different from the one marked out for a lovelorn romantic hero. Several remarks made by other characters suggest a profound attachment between the two young people, but none of this evidence comes from Haimon.

You could, of course, argue that he is concealing his true love for Antigone from Kreon, knowing his father's obsession with showing superiority over women, but surely this detracts from an identification of Haimon as 'the voice of reason' and subverts the argument that he is selfless. And such conjectures contradict Haimon's own words: 'I can't consider any marriage more important, then, than your good judgement.' What is most important to Haimon is not Antigone, but his relationship with Kreon.

Glib contemporary phrases such as 'the generation gap' are wholly inadequate when it comes to dealings between these two men. Haimon has had a privileged upbringing and so has both a sense of responsibility and a sense of authority. It is paradoxically the fact that Haimon has never been anything but a good, dutiful son which creates the tension between him and his father. Haimon believes that his own history of obedience entitles him to Kreon's respect, while Kreon is of the mind that Haimon should follow and obey him as unquestioningly as he always has.

Consider also the fact that Haimon is Kreon's second son and has only found favor with his father since his brother's death. Megareus would naturally have taken precedence over Haimon while he lived; his death in the war brings Haimon and Kreon into foreign territory. Haimon has taken on two new roles: only son of his parents, and heir to the throne. As a result of this new responsibility, he feels that Kreon should acknowledge his newfound maturity. His desperate desire for his father's respect and acceptance fuels his anger and frustration when Kreon will not listen to him. He desires something from his father for his own sake, and his father lets him down.

I believe that Haimon is excited not only by his father's succession to the kingship but the likelihood that he himself will become king in time. He is constantly at pains to point out that he is more concerned for Kreon's reputation and future as a ruler than for Antigone's fate. He wants Kreon to repeal his edict because of the dissension he has observed among the citizens: 'I have heard them in the shadows and the darkness muttering' (775). He knows that the city could not survive the divine retribution which might follow if Polyneikes is not buried, and that Antigone commands the sympathy of the citizens. He is desperate not to provoke further unrest.

Haimon is urging Kreon not to throw away the golden opportunity that has unexpectedly fallen into the family's lap. No one expected Kreon to be thrust into this position of power--least of all Kreon himself. Haimon wants his father to hang onto this position at all costs. He is less a doomed romantic lover than a political pragmatist. His concern for Antigone is a poor second to his need for his father's love and respect--what else are we to make of the line 'If you're the woman, yes, it's you I care about' (829-30)? His father's refusal to recognize his real priorities is maddening to him.

I would like to suggest that in saying 'So she shall die, and dying destroy another' (843), Haimon is telling his father that Antigone's death can only bring disaster to Kreon's reign. Kreon, however, thinks that Haimon is pleading on Antigone's behalf. The two men are in fact very similar: they both want to be respected and to be important. Each is the instrument of the other's failure to achieve his goal, and the result is profound unhappiness for both. When Kreon says 'Get her out here, the hateful, loathesome girl, that she might die here, now, before his very eyes, in front of him her bridegroom' (852-4), Haimon realizes that nothing he can say or do will lead his father to respect him.

Kreon thinks that by his actions against Antigone he is attacking Haimon's most vulnerable spot, painfully unaware that it is his rejection of his son which hurts Haimon most. Haimon knows he has not supplanted Megareus in his father's affections and never will. At a stroke we see what growing up for Haimon must have been like: a constant struggle for attention and recognition which he never got. When Kreon's ultimate cruelty is revealed, Haimon cannot bear to be in his father's presence any longer. Kreon is destroying the entire family and indeed all of Thebes, and no amount of entreaty can stop him. This is too much for a young man like Haimon, intensely proud and aware of his position, loyal, intelligent, and ambitious, to bear. Kreon's disregard for his counsel pushes him beyond the breaking point.

When understood in this light, Haimon ceases to be an abstract 'voice of reason' and becomes a living character with a past that creates his present. He is not a romantic hero who dies for love, but a young man destroyed by what he sees as his father's total indifference to him. It is the realization that Kreon will never accept him as a man which drives him to his death. It is his hopeless love for his father, not his feelings for Antigone, which is the key to his character.

(Mark Angus read English at the Flinders University of South Australia and trained for the theater at Mountview Theatre School and the School of the Science of Acting, London.)