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This long episode is the heart of the tragedy. When Bernard Shaw said conflict is the soul of drama, he meant just this kind of clash of ideas. Creon and his kingly edict stand for the state and its power. Antigone stands for the individual, with the freedom to act according to divine will. She respects no earthly law.
Creon's first reaction upon realizing Antigone's crime is to cover it up, and so he asks the three guards to go back and keep quiet. He plans a story by which Antigone's movements will not be revealed. He is not a man of principle, but of compromise; Antigone hates him for it.
When Creon questions Antigone about the burial, she is clear in her explanation. It is her sacred duty to her brother and to the gods to give Polynices eternal rest through the ritual of a proper burial. She had made a promise to him, and she will not break it. When Creon points out that Polynices was a rebel and traitor, she is unaffected. In fact, none of Creon's cunning arguments change her mind.
Creon tells Antigone that as a subject of the king, she must obey the law of Thebes. He then reminds her that she belongs to the royal house, "a daughter of law-makers, a daughter of Kings," and must observe the kingly edicts. He then tells her that is she gives up and marries Haemon, she can have a wonderful life filled with love and happiness. Antigone scorns his descriptions of public and private loyalties, for she is driven by divine laws. She acknowledges that Creon must put her to death for her defiance, but she is not afraid. Antigone is a much stronger character than the weak, cowardly Creon.
Creon is enraged that Antigone is breaking his law. It is an insult to his ego, his kingdom, and his pride. He threatens to torture her, but Antigone stands firm. Creon is defeated; he knows that her heroic deed and subsequent death will mark him as the villain and make her a heroine and a martyr. As a result, he contemptuously calls her an insect and says that he is a fair man in love with justice. Antigone is outraged at his attitude of indifference. She calls him loathsome, but pities Creon for his weaknesses..
Creon makes a final desperate appeal to Antigone. He uses the metaphor of a ship that has sprung many leaks. Thebes is beset with troubles, and he has agreed to be the captain. He appeals to Antigone to cooperate on the treacherous voyage, but his pleas are in vain. He reminds Antigone that Polynices was selfish, pleasure-loving, unkind and unworthy of such a great sacrifice from her. Antigone, however, sentimentally remembers her tall, handsome brother giving her a paper flower. She stands firm in her decision; Creon envies her calm will.