Completed PhD: Dr Anastasia Remoundou-Howley (2011)

Palimpsests of Antigone: Contemporary Irish versions of Sophocles’ tragedy

My thesis explores the reception of Sophocles’ Antigone in contemporary Irish drama with works by Aidan Carl Mathews (Antigone1984), Tom Paulin (The Riot Act 1984), Brendan Kennelly (Antigone 1984), Conall Morrison (Antigone 2003), Seamus Heaney (The Burial at Thebes 2004), Stacey Gregg (Ismene 2007), and Owen McCafferty (Antigone 2008). The creative synergy between original text and adaptation, from page to stage, is symptomatic of an archipelago of literary and philosophical responses to Antigonean discourses which reroute politics and ethics into a current critique that extends far beyond the field of Classical studies. Through the lens of inherited interpretations and postmodern theorizations, with which all of these writers are familiar, I seek to demonstrate that the implications of Antigone’s mourning act, in the text and through performance, can be read as tropes for a post-humanist discussion redirected into the political sphere. In this way, these Irish adaptations, written in response to modern national and international tragedies, contest notions as varied and complex as ’agency’, ’representation’ versus ’disappearance’, ’mourning’, ’democracy’, ’law’, ’violence’, ’cultural identity’, ’gender’, ’mothering’, ’kinship’, ’war’, ’suffering’, ’memory’, ’trauma’, and the defense of human rights by revisiting Ireland’s violent historical past and redefining its role in the present beyond the narrow interpretative borders of an assumed anti-colonial terrain. I therefore submit that by reimaging itself as Other on Antigone’s legitimate space, the stage, and textually, these Irish playwrights, from the North and the South of the island, challenge Western logocentrism and democratic ideals from within by refiguring Antigone’s defiance as a protest against injustices inside the boundaries of their country and in the world at large. The contexts through which Antigone is palimpsestuously re-inscribed within Irish theatre exemplifies a metaphora (as ’transposition and as ’translation’) into new spaces and new possibilities of an agonistic pluralism that, being political, liberates Antigone from the confines sanctioned by Classical tradition. Antigone thus returns on the Irish stage since 1984 as the autonomous individual against the state, as the worn-out anti-heroine and mock-sacrificial martyr perpetually vanishing from the final act (Mathews), as a Republican rebel (Paulin), as a feminist icon (Kennelly), as an avenger/suicide bomber (Morrison), as a human rights defender (Heaney), as displaced by her sister Ismene (Gregg), and as a mothering pacifist in post-conflict Northern Ireland (McCafferty).

Supervisor: Prof. Brian Arkins

Research area: cross-cultural encounters