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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Plot Summary

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All the actors are grouped on the stage. The "neutral setting" indicates neither the time nor the place. The play has no formal divisions of acts and scenes, but stage directions indicate changes in lighting, suggesting the sun's passage across the sky, and some natural divisions occur as players make their entrances and exits.

The Chorus, represented throughout the play by one actor, says he's here to tell us "who's who and what's what." He points out Antigone, a "thin little creature" who knows she must die because her name is Antigone. He introduces Antigone's sister, Ismene, and Haemon, the son of the new king. He says that everyone expected Ismene and Haemon to become engaged, but to their surprise, Haemon chose Antigone, and like her, he will die young.

Creon is introduced as a reluctant, newly crowned king, the brother-in-law of the late King Oedipus. After introducing minor characters—Eurydice, the messenger, and the three guards—the Chorus explains that Oedipus's sons Polynices and Eteocles, at war for control of the kingdom, have recently killed each other in battle. As king Creon has honored Eteocles a hero and branded Polynices a traitor. He has prohibited the burial of Polynices's body, on pain of death.

Now the action of the play begins. Antigone sneaks home at dawn past her nurse, who suspects she's returned from meeting a lover. Antigone tries to allay the nurse's concerns and convince her that she is still "pure." Her sister, Ismene, enters; she tells Antigone she doesn't dare help Antigone bury Polynices, and she tries to dissuade Antigone from doing so.

Ismene exits, and the nurse enters. Antigone makes the nurse promise to take care of her dog, Puff—or put the dog to sleep if it becomes too lonely. This discussion is interrupted by Haemon's arrival. She tells her fiancé she loves him, but she cannot marry him. Finally Ismene returns. Making one last appeal to Antigone not to defy Creon, she tells her sister that Polynices never cared about her.

Later that morning Private Jonas, one of the three guards, tells Creon that someone has tried to bury Polynices using a toy shovel. Creon, anxious to keep this quiet, tells the guards to uncover the body and keep a closer watch over it.

At mid-afternoon the Chorus appears onstage. He says the "spring is wound up tight" and "the tragedy is on." He goes on to point out the difference between a tragedy, like the one unfolding onstage, and a melodrama, in which chance could intervene to prevent disaster. He assures the audience they can relax because chance will not intervene here.

News comes that someone has buried the body—and Antigone defiantly confesses. Creon tries to cover up her involvement. He doesn't want to have to deal the death penalty to his niece, fearing that doing so will only intensify the rancor that fed the flames of civil war. He tries bullying and reasoning to dissuade her from her purpose. Finally he plays his ace card—giving Antigone evidence that her brothers were not worthy of her loyalty. She is almost ready to go along with Creon, but he pushes too far: he extols the virtues of leading a happy, peaceful life, and says Antigone should marry his son, Haemon, and have a family. Antigone reacts passionately, saying, "I spit on your happiness!"

Ismene comes in to declare that she will help Antigone after all, and Antigone tells Creon to call the guards. He has them take Antigone to prison.

The Chorus now pleads with Creon to have mercy on Antigone, and soon an incredulous Haemon does the same. The young man declares he will not live without Antigone. Creon stands firm.

In her cell Antigone asks Private Jonas to write Haemon a letter, which she then begins to dictate. In her dictation she admits that she doesn't know what she is dying for, but she immediately asks Jonas to scratch that part out. Moments later guards take Antigone to the cave where she will be walled up.

In late afternoon a messenger tells the Chorus he has news for the queen: Antigone hanged herself in her tomb, witnessed by Haemon; Haemon also killed himself in the tomb as his father watched.

Creon enters, and the messenger leaves. The Chorus tells Creon that Eurydice too has committed suicide. Creon wearily turns to his page and asks him what's next on the schedule. The two depart for a cabinet meeting.

The Chorus addresses the audience one last time, remarking that the survivors "won't remember who was who or which was which," adding Antigone "has played her part." The last scene reveals the three guards playing cards.

Antigone Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Chorus explains Creon's edict against Polynices's burial.

Rising Action

2 Antigone comes home at dawn; the nurse questions her.

3 Ismene pleads with Antigone not to defy Creon's edict.

4 Antigone tells Haemon she loves him but cannot marry him.

5 Ismene again pleads with Antigone.

6 Guards tell Creon someone has tried to bury Polynices.

7 The Chorus explains tragedy is now inevitable.

8 Antigone buries Polynices; guards bring her to Creon.

9 Creon nearly persuades Antigone to forget Polynices.

10 Finally Creon urges Antigone to marry Haemon and be happy.


11 Antigone rejects Creon's "happiness"; Creon condemns her.

Falling Action

12 The Chorus and Haemon rail against Creon's decision.

13 Antigone admits she doesn't know what she's dying for.

14 Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice all commit suicide offstage.


15 Creon goes to a meeting; the guards play a game of cards.

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