Sisterhood and the law in Thomas Watson’s Antigone

Elena Spinelli

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This article focuses on the portrayal of sisters Antigone and Ismene in Thomas Watson’s 1581 Latin translation of Antigone. In particular, I argue that Watson’s portrayal of Antigone is more complex than previously thought and that she is in fact acquitted to some degree. Indeed, the prefatory paratexts and Watson’s own legal commentary to the play (the Pomps and Themes) demonstrate that Watson’s aim in translating Antigone is likely to have been to produce a practice law-case. In this case, Watson’s translation would illustrate an example of the need for the legal principle of equity, whereby a culprit could be granted mercy if the punishment in turn proved harmful to the community. Furthermore, the relationship between sisters Antigone and Ismene is inscribed within Watson’s legal interpretation of the play. In particular, I argue, their portrayal in the play as being simultaneously of one blood and yet of opposite views is reprised in Watson’s commentary as he raises both characters to represent different approaches to virtuous citizenship.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRenaissance Studies
VolumeEarly View
Early online date2 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Nov 2021


  • Antigone
  • Neo-Latin tragedy
  • Thomas Watson


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