Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Antigone’s brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, had fought a battle for the throne of Thebes. At the beginning of the play, they are both dead, having killed each other in combat. Creon, the new monarch, has decided to honor the memory of the younger brother, Eteocles, by giving him a state funeral. During his lifetime Eteocles had broken his pact with Polynices, according to which the two brothers had agreed to take turns at ruling Thebes. This enraged Polynices, who brought an army of Argives to fight against Eteocles and the Thebans. Creon had supported Eteocles in this dispute. After the civil war has ended, Creon brands Polynices a “traitor” and proclaims that anyone who attempts to bury Polynices’ body will have to face death.
Antigone resolves to defy Creon’s edict, and in the opening scene (or Prologus) she asks her sister, Ismene, to join her in the act of burying Polynices. Ismene refuses to help Antigone because she does not wish to violate Creon’s order.
Antigone’s strong respect for family bonds and divine laws prompt her to conduct funeral rites for her brother. She is caught by Creon’s watchman and brought before the enraged king. At her trial, Antigone pleads that her defiant act is in accordance with the overriding laws of the gods.
Creon is reluctant to accept this justification and is unrelenting in his harsh stance as he condemns Antigone to be immured (buried alive) in a cave. Ismene comes forward to claim a share in Antigone’s guilt and in the penalty that goes with the crime. Creon dismisses her pleas as he considers her present behavior to be a temporary mental abnormality, although he had earlier accused her of being Antigone’s partner in crime.
Then Creon’s son, Haemon, pleads vainly with his father to forgive Antigone. The blind prophet, Tiresias, also threatens Creon with the catastrophic consequences of defying all divine laws in refusing burial to Polynices. Finally, the Chorus begs Creon to relent and release Antigone.
At last Creon is moved, and he goes to the cave to find Haemon clasping the dead Antigone, who has hanged herself. In blind fury, Haemon charges with his sword towards his father, but misses him and then kills himself. Filled with remorse, Creon returns to his palace to find that his wife, Eurydice, has already received the tragic news of the two deaths from a messenger. In deep despair, Eurydice takes her own life, leaving Creon to grieve alone.