The watchman

The bold messenger

The watchman is a secondary character in Sophocles’ play, Antigone. During their first encounter, the watchman delivers the news to Creon that someone has attempted to bury Polynices despite the king’s ban. The watchman is fully aware of his role as the bearer of bad news and throughout the scene is concerned with avoiding punishment. This is evident in his hesitation to reach the king: “I halted many times along the road so I could think, / And I almost turned around and marched right back. / My mind kept talking to me. It said, 'You poor guy, / Why are you going there? You’ll just get your ass kicked.'” (Act 1, Scene 3, ll. 225-228).

The watchman succeeds in pushing the message into the background by first talking about himself and thereby hoping to avert the blame from himself: “First, I want to tell you where I stand: / I didn’t do this thing, and I don’t know who did, / And it wouldn’t be fair if I got hurt.” (Act 1, Scene 3, ll. 238-240). As the conversation progresses, the watchman’s suspicion that Creon would get angry at the messenger is confirmed: “No one loves a man who brings bad news.” (Act 1, Scene 3, ll. 277).

At the king’s impatient urging: “Speak up! And then get lost” (Ac...

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