by Martin Villiagra Riquelme '20
For this year’s fall productions, the Thespian Society presented two plays: Enemy of the People, written by Henrik Ibsen, and Antigone, written by Sophocles. The two plays were combined by condensing them into two “acts,” with Enemy of the People being Act 1, and Antigone Act 2. Although the combination of a more contemporary play and a Greek tragedy might seem strange, the two are united under one main theme: the will of the individual.
Enemy of the People is set in a small Norwegian town that is becoming renowned for the medicinal baths it has developed over the past few years, but the medical officer of the newly opened baths (Dr. Stockmann) notices a problem with the baths: the water is contaminated and poses a serious health risk. The play follows Dr. Stockmann’s desire to save his hometown from itself in his conflicts with his brother, who is the leader of the bath project and mayor of the town. The mayor denounces Dr. Stockmann’s findings as “mere speculation,” turns the local newspaper (ironically named The People’s Messenger) against Dr. Stockmann as he was about to publish his findings, and manipulates the townspeople themselves, who declare Dr. Stockmann an “Enemy of the People.” Even with the entire town against him, Dr. Stockmann is still determined to stop the baths for their potential to hurt people, and declares that “the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”
Set in Thebes, Antigone follows the conflict between the main character Antigone, whose goal is to bury her dead brother Polynices, and the newly crowned King Creon, who sees Polynices as a traitor to the state. In a large power vacuum, Antigone’s brothers — Eteocles and Polynices — killed each other in battle when Polynices marched into Thebes with a foreign army after having been banished in a power grab by his brother; Creon takes the crown after the battle. Creon’s first declaration as king is that, because Polynices betrayed Thebes, he shall not be buried, and that anyone who defies this order will be killed. Antigone knows that not being buried meant eternal anguish in the afterlife, that burial os an act of decency and an “unalterable law” of the gods,” and chooses to defy Creon’s order, regardless of the punishment. The tragedy has a bittersweet ending: although Polynices is buried, Antigone dies for defying the state in doing so. As punishment from the gods, Creon loses his wife and only son. Antigone and Creon held to their beliefs, but at what cost?
In a deeply divided political climate, these two plays remind us of the problems with absolute power in the hands of those capable of abusing it to suit their own interests.