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Lansky, M.R. (2015). The Escalation of Conflict in Sophocles’ Antigone. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):47-52.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):47-52

The Escalation of Conflict in Sophocles’ Antigone

Melvin R. Lansky, M.D.

My psychoanalytic consideration of tragedy draws from Sophocles’ great play, Antigone (442 BCE), to explore the dimensions of conflict in the play. Because I am using a literary source, not a clinical case, as material, my remarks about conflict will be limited to direct statements of, or inferences about, conflict within the text itself. I deal not only with conflict, as, for example, between desires and prohibitions, but I expand that topic to include the interpersonal dimension of conflict with consideration of the important and neglected topic of the escalation of conflict between different parties, a topic for which the play provides copious and convincing evidence.

I argue that the escalation of conflict represented in this play can best be considered in the light of reciprocal shaming that unfolds; shaming in which each party, Creon, King of Thebes and his niece and presumed future daughter in law, Antigone, each feeling insulted and diminished, react to their received shaming by returning the shame to the shamer. Such shaming in the play could be understood as an act of defiance that insults the role of the shamed person—in Creon, Antigone’s disregard of King Creon’s authority in violating his edict forbidding of the burial of Antigone’s brother, Polyneices and in Antigone, the fact that Creon honored the burial of the one brother while forbidding the burial of the other, thus shaming Antigone’s family.

All of these shaming acts are experienced by those who receive them on the level of insult.

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