chapter 3 ’s French Genealogy

Stéphanie Urdician

“Que les poètes recueillent Antigone. Voilà le rôle bienfaisant de ces êtres amoraux” (“May poets receive Antigone. This is the beneficial role of those amoral beings”). The wish that Maurice Barrès formulates in the Cocteau’s Antigone epigraph has been to a large extent granted. This present work is intended to provide a general diachronic overview of the French Antigones that marked the reception of the figure in France. The corpus under study is so vast that it excludes all exhaustive analysis. We selected literary works, dramatic texts for the most part, although the impact of Antigone’s figure is recurrent in philosophy, social studies, history or psychoanalysis. As proof, the works of Jacques Derrida, Paul Ricoeur or even Jacques Lacan to name only a few major thinkers who appropriated Antigone to say respectively “im- possible mourning”, “the inevitability of irreconcilable and non-negotiable conflict”1 in the heart of tragedy, “the splendor of Antigone” or the connection between death wish and beauty, the incarnation of pure desire or the symbol of autonomy.2 The tragic figure’s name works as a bookmark which activates the mythic scenario in many eponymous titles the sum of which make up the palimpsest specific to the mythic figure. Therefore hypotexts and hypertexts could become mixed up and the successive stages of reception coexist. Indeed, Antigone is not only the title of ’ tragedy but also that of eponymous plays by Rotrou, Cocteau, Anouilh, etc. This is where paratext intervenes to display the bias of the rewriting: for example Cocteau’s “contraction” and Anouilh’s “ad- aptation”. In this ocean of reworkings, there are essentially two faces: devo- tion and resistance are guiding lights in the backbone of reception, alongside this are structural patterns (’s remains, ’s prohibition, etc.). The various historical backgrounds, which constitute fertile ground for this rebirth, decompose the figure into a myriad of incarnations representing the multiple personality, Christian, political, feminist, luminous and dark by turns.

1 Ricœur (1990) 283. 2 Lacan (1986) 285–298.

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44 Urdician

1 Antigones Light: From Christianisation of the Myth to Human Transcendence

One of the first French tragedies to revisit Antigone’s argument was Robert Garnier’s one, Antigone ou la piété (Antigone or piety, 1580), based on the Chris- tianisation of the myth. The title exhibits filial piety inscribed in the tragedy3 and exacerbated in the rewritings that celebrate Christian faith. Al- though the play raises political questions at a time when royal power is being dashed by the succession of Charles ix and Catherine de Médicis, like ancient acting as mediator and reconciler of ennemy brothers in religious wars, this Antigone “acts on behalf of ethics and religion”.4 The motif highlighted is the infallible daughter’s devotion who accompanies her father to the end of his life, sacrificing her woman’s live – as wife and mother – and anticipating the future sacrifice for her brother. In the 17th century, Jean de Rotrou composed a five-act tragedy enti- tled Antigone5 (1639), opting for this dramatic genre with which the French playwrights revive ancient theater. He includes new characters – Adraste, Polynice’s father-in-law, and Argie, his wife – and shuffles the interventions. Jo- casta opens the play with her daughters, but the feminine trio bursts apart, to seal what the Sophocles’ tragedy established: the split of the sisters. Only in the third act do Antigone and discuss their views, unlike in the hypotext. But if Antigone tries to convince her sister on behalf of family union – “C’est à nous qu’elle (l’ordonnance) parle, à nous qu’elle s’adresse (…) Or il est temps, ma sœur, de montrer qui nous sommes” (“It (the decree) speaks to us (…) Yet it is now time, sister, to show who we are”, iii, v, 119) –, their opposition is never- theless radical as illustrated by the choice of stichomythias, typical of French theatre of the period:

Antigone – Pour un acte si juste, avoir le coeur si bas! Ismene – L’acte est juste, il est vray, mais Creon ne l’est pas. Antigone – Et, s’il est inhumain, serez-vous inhumaine? Ismene – J’abhorre l’ordonnance, et redoute la peine. Antigone – Le dessein sans effet est aussi sans merite. Ismene – Mais le dessein suffit, si l’effet ne profite. Antigone – N’est-ce pas profiter que d’inhumer les morts? Ismene – Non; car Creon, enfin, rendroit vains nos efforts. (Rotrou (1882) 122)

3 Fraisse (1974). 4 Poignault (2002) 133. 5 Rotrou (1882) 77–164.