Michille: Antigone – My MLA Project

512px-Lytras_nikiforos_antigone_polynicesI finished my classes (and 2 papers) for the semester and am working on the proposal for my MLA project. I am fortunate to have Pamela Regis, Professor of English at McDaniel College, romance scholar, and President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, as my advisor (although it is just as intimidating as having Jennifer Crusie as my professor for 7 of my courses). My project is a modern adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, minus the live burial. I looked at the structure of fiction through time and the story of Antigone through time and then applied those to contemporary popular fiction standards and the story that I intend to write during the Spring semester, which is set in the fictional town of Bachman’s Run.

Many of the texts we read in my Ancient World class followed a three-act structure similar to what Aristotle defined in approximately 335 BCE as having a beginning, middle, and end; or protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe, regardless of whether it was tragedy or comedy, epic or play. The three-act structure prevailed until Horace advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica in approximately 19 BCE: “A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts.” Playwrights and dramatists began experimenting with four-act and eight-act structures during the renaissance, but the act structure reverted in 1863 with Gustav Freytag’s Die Technik des Dramas, which presented a definitive study of a five-act structure. This has become known as Freytag’s pyramid. Freytag’s five acts consist of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. Contemporary popular fiction has since done away with the exposition as this contains background or backstory that is now considered undesirable up front in a story and is rather woven throughout the story as needed for the reader to understand the motivation of a character.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the play’s tragic heroine is willing to pay the consequences for going against a law of man in order to obey the law of the gods by giving her brother a proper burial. Creon holds the law of the state or polis above the law of the gods and refuses to back down even when it means sentencing his son’s fiancé to death. The story of Antigone has been rewritten many times since the original in approximately 441 BCE, and adaptations have often focused on the questions of political freedom and human rights. The concept of civil disobedience has stood the test of time, although it was handled differently by different authors during different periods in history. An early response to Sophocles’ Antigone by Aeschulus, Seven Against Thebes, actually separates the chorus into two sections, representing opposing sides of the argument. This division plays out through history in retelling of Antigone and is influenced by the author, the timeframe in which it was written, and outside forces working on the author. Several early Greek tragic heroines were also reconfigured in order to change uncomfortable themes or actions in the plays (i.e. Euripedes’ Medea and Sophocles’ Electra).

My version of the story of Antigone is more about civil disobedience in a non-fatal form. It is set in the fictional town of Bachman’s Run. The conflict on the surface of Sophocles’ Antigone is the provision of burial rites to an enemy of the state. In the U.S., today, this is not a plausible conflict. Burial rites would be afforded to anyone who can afford the ritual. An interesting global side note is the Ebola epidemic and its impact on burial rites in West Africa. The practice of cremating Ebola victims, who are most contagious just after death, opposes traditional funeral rights that often involve touching the bodies of the dead.

In the stories of Antigone over time, the role of, and relationship between, Antigone and Creon was reinvented relative to what was happening in the world at the time the play was written. Often, the rewrite focused on Antigone as a civil disobedient fighting for the rights of the people and Creon as a tyrannical leader or dictator. This is the conflict that I am using for my version of Antigone. The Nigerian version (Osofisan) also gives Haemon a more active role in the story which I have done to make the story fit the constraints of the contemporary romance novel.

Sarah (Antigone) will fight against the civil codes of the town of Bachman’s Run. There are two specific codes blocking her reaching her goal. The initial conflict is between Sarah and Atticus (Haemon), the town’s attorney. The conflict escalates when Sarah takes the issues before the Mayor (Creon), who is Atticus’s father, and the town council (Chorus of Elders). Following the pattern of the 20th century Creons from the Western world versions of Antigone, the Mayor is more of a tyrant than a benevolent leader. He enforces the ordinances for most citizens while circumventing them to benefit himself. The Chorus of Elders becomes the city council who begin the story supporting the mayor’s position, but gradually shift their loyalty to the son through the exposition of the mayor’s corruption. The exposition comes from other minor characters in the story. In the ancient texts, these characters could have been the gods interfering in the lives of mortals. In my version they are secondary characters running through the main plot and subplots.

Now, all that is left is writing the dern thing. We (me and my new BFF Pam [lol]) stayed conservative and kept it to the necessary scenes that will encompass all the plot points in Antigone and the structure of ancient tragedy, monomyth, and contemporary fiction, Pam’s essential elements, plus a synopsis and reflection. My hope is to turn it into a full-length novel in time to pitch at RWA in 2015.

It’s good to have goals, right? My next post will be on January 1 so New Year’s goals are on my mind. I hope you all made your goals this year and here’s to new goals for next year. More on 1/1/2015.

6 thoughts on “Michille: Antigone – My MLA Project

  1. Wow Michille, what a great project and how lucky to be able to work with Pam on it. Sounds like you have an excellent plan for your story. Would love to read it when it’s all done, though I will definitely need to brush up on my Antigone knowledge (my education is sorely lacking in that area).

    Good luck on your efforts.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I’m hoping no one needs to brush up. I want it to read like a contemporary romance. I am using the hero’s journey and ancient world to pull all the aspects of my MLA program together (as required). We’ll see how it goes.

  2. Oh, my gosh. I have to confess, I sort of got a brain freeze at “buried alive,” but how fantastic that you’ve got your plot, your turning points, and your characters! Writing it will be a cinch, right?

  3. Thanks for the good wishes. I had a moment of panic when Pam emailed me that my proposal had been submitted – I actually have to write it now. From romance writing certificate to masters degree (hopefully).

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