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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Plot Summary

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University explains the plot summary of Sophocles's play Antigone.

Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Antigone opens not long after the invasion of Thebes by Argos's armies. During the battle two of Oedipus's sons died fighting on opposite sides: Eteocles for Thebes and Polyneices for Argos. The next in line to the throne is their uncle, Creon, who emerges as the new leader of Thebes. With that backdrop the play opens with Oedipus's two daughters, Antigone and Ismene, discussing the deaths of their brothers. Antigone is enraged because Creon has issued a proclamation that Polyneices is not to receive a burial or funeral rites while Eteocles is to be given an honorable funeral. Creon has also decreed that anyone who interferes with this law will be publicly stoned to death for supporting a traitor.

Antigone claims that Creon's law is unjust, since the gods decree that every mortal must be given a proper funeral out of respect to the gods and to the dead. She tells Ismene that she plans to bury their brother's body and give him his funeral rites, even if she is punished. She asks Ismene to help her, but Ismene refuses, fearing the punishment that Creon has promised. She reminds Antigone that their family has suffered enough tragedy, and her actions will only intensify the family's sorrows. Antigone disagrees and tells Ismene that she doesn't care if she is punished for her actions—that she would welcome the cost of death in exchange for standing up for her beliefs.

Guards catch Antigone when she revisits the grave she has prepared for her brother, and they bring her before Creon to explain herself. She freely admits what she has done, and she says that she welcomes punishment. She defends her actions by claiming that she has honored the gods, whose laws are more important than the laws of mortals. Creon is enraged at her defiance, and he says he will still sentence her to death even though she is engaged to his son, Haemon. Ismene lies to Creon, telling him that she was an accomplice in the hope of sparing her sister. Creon says he will have them both killed, but Antigone refutes Ismene's story.

Haemon visits his father, Creon, and tells him that although he loves him he disagrees with his punishment of Antigone for burying her brother—as do most of the citizens of Thebes, who now view Antigone as a hero and martyr. Creon is furious that Haemon doesn't support him, and their argument grows heated. Haemon disowns his father and warns him that Antigone's death will result in another death. Antigone is brought before Creon and the Chorus, and even though she remains defiant, she laments the fact that she will never wed and that she will die alone, friendless, and without any help. Creon has her led away to be entombed alive in a cave.

The blind prophet Teiresias arrives and warns Creon that he saw in a prophecy involving birds that the gods are furious with him for leaving Polyneices's body unburied. He urges Creon to fix the situation while he has time and also to free Antigone. Creon is furious with Teiresias's advice, accusing him of taking a bribe to deliver this warning. In retaliation Teiresias tells him now it is too late, anyway—and that Creon will ultimately be punished by having his son taken away from him. Creon realizes that Teiresias is serious and acts quickly to do as he advised.

A messenger arrives at the palace and announces that Haemon has died, having killed himself after he found Antigone hanging from a noose in her tomb. Creon had arrived at the tomb just in time to witness his son's suicide, and he is inconsolable. Creon's wife, Eurydice, emerges from the palace to hear the messenger's story and, after, returns to the palace without saying a word. Creon arrives back at the palace, carrying Haemon's corpse. He is distraught at the fact that he has driven his son to suicide. The messenger emerges from the palace and tells Creon that Eurydice has been found dead, also from suicide. Creon is miserable, finally understanding that he has brought all this tragedy on himself. The Chorus sings a final ode about the importance of obeying the gods and staying humble in order to gain wisdom.

Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Polyneices and Eteocles are killed in battle.

Rising Action

2 Creon decrees that Polyneices remain unburied.

3 Antigone defies Creon; sentenced to live burial.

4 Antigone commits suicide.


5 Haemon and Eurydice commit suicide.

Falling Action

6 Creon laments his decisions.


7 The Chorus warns against pride and arrogance.

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