Fugard, Kani, Ntshona’s The Island: Antigone as South African Drama


Robert Gordon


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Despite the many features that ground Antigone in the particular political ideology of fifth-century Athens, Sophocles’ Antigone has “spoken more to the modern imagination than any other Greek tragedy except perhaps his Oedipus the King."1 It may not therefore seem surprising that of all Greek plays Antigone is the most often revived, revised or rewritten for performance in African and Caribbean countries.2 Clearly the play exposes the nexus of the personal and the political as a fault line, calling into question the conventional verity that places loyalty to the state above family relationships and private conscience.3 The Island represents a new intercultural approach to writing South African performance, finding common ground between indigenous African modes of storytelling and ritual performance and European approaches to postdramatic performance, in a hybrid theater piece that inscribes Sophocles’ text within a South African context.


1 Andre Lardinois, “Beyond Hegel and Schlegel: an Ambiguous Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone.” lecture at Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies, Richard Stockton College, New Jersey, 1994.

2 Kamau Braithwaite, Odale’s Choice (1967), Sylvain Bemba, Black Wedding Candles for Blessed Antigone (1988), Femi Osofisan, Tegonni: an African Antigone (1999), the Serpent Players production in 1965 with John Kani as Haemon.

3 E.M. Forster: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” (‘What I Believe’ [INSTEAD Living Philosophies-1: Two Cheers for Democacy], first published in The Nation, 16 July1938), 66.

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