The Play Antigone - Creon

Question Description

On the basis of the law, is Creon guilty? Are there indications in Confucius' Analects that relate to the wrongness or rightness of capital punishment?  


Final Answer

Proving Creon's Guilt:

        The death of Antigone in this play was unjust and her fate should not have been death at all. She was punished by Creon, but to be with the gods, one needs a proper burial and that is why Creon is guilty of denying Polyneices an honorable afterlife. Even Creon realized, in the end, that Antigone did not deserve death. A proper burial for her brother was the respectful and moral thing to do.

        Creon is guilty of denying Polyneices his afterlife in multiple ways. The main way Creon denied his afterlife was by deliberately telling all the townspeople that his body was to be left out for dogs and birds to scavenge. Yet, Antigone broke this “law” to save her brother's honor. Antigone knew that everyone deserved a burial, her brother included and Creon's word wouldn't stop her. Antigone tells Creon: “Nevertheless, there are honors due to all the dead” (Ode 1. Scene 2. Line 129). Antigone knew throughout that her decision was the right thing to do. At this time everyone had to have a proper burial to join the gods; Antigone was not going to allow her brother such dishonor. 

        Teiresias also warns Creon of the crime he is committing and of the harm it will eventually bring him. “Dead, denied the grave. This is your crime...” (Ode 4. Scene 5. Line 81). Near the end, even Creon himself realizes his mistake, in essence he pleads guilty. He tells Choragos about freeing Antigone: “But I will do it: I will not fight with destiny...” (Ode 4. Scene 5. Line 110). Creon with persuasion from Teiresias and Choragos, sees his error in denying Polyneices his afterlife.

        Although Creon starts to doubt his choice it was too late, Antigone killed herself due to Creon's foolishness. Furthermore, Creon was ready to set his actions right, but he had to pay his debt with the death of Haimon and Eurydice (both suicides) due to Antigone's death. Creon truly is guilty.

The Cultured People and the Qing law

The Qing Code followed the Confucian admonition that “Li is not applicable to the common people, punishment is not applicable to the ta-fu (officials).”As a general rule, the nobles and officials were beyond the reach of the law. Thus the Qing law provided that when an official committed an offense the emperor must be informed. Officials could not be interrogated or punished without the prior approval of the emperor. Officials under investigation also have a power to complain to the emperor about abusive and oppressive investigative process.  It was also possible for the officials to redeem the punishment with money payment or rank reduction. Thus when an official committed a private offense punishable with 10 strokes of the light bamboo he could be fined two month’s salary instead. When an official committed a public offense punishable with 10 strokes of light bamboo he could redeem himself with one month’s fine.

The privilege against corporal punishment also extended to the scholars: chin-shih, chu-jen, kung-sheng, chien-shien, and sheng yuan. Kung-sheng, chien-shien, and sheng yuan were not under the jurisdiction of the local officials. In minor cases, the magistrate would request the presence of the chia kuna (the director of studies) to chastise the scholar. In cases of serious crimes, he has to report the case to the governor-general, the governor, or the provincial director of studies to seek permission to have the guilty person deprived of his degree or title, before proceeding to investigation. 

The law operated in favor of the officials in disputes between officials and commoners. The higher the officials the more legal protection was affored them. Thus when a commoner beat a third rank official he was punished with two years of imprisonment if there were no injuries and three years if there were. For serious injuries the punishment was banishment of three thousand li. If the beaten official was of the fourth and fifth rank, the punishment was reduced by two degrees. If the official being beaten was sixth rank and below, the punishment was mandated at two degree above beatings of ordinary people.

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