Antigone Play Summary

Updated: Mar 31

Characters and Setting


Antigone meets Ismene to question her regarding, the new law which is about to be put forward by Creon. Ismene does not know of it, all she knows is that her two brothers are now dead on the battlefield and the Argive army withdrew last night. Antigone informs her that Creon, the present ruler of Thebes has buried Eteocle's body whereas he made Polyneices’ body rot in the ground. It is left to be in the fields as food to the predatory birds and animals. He swore that no one can bury him; if anybody tries to do it, they will be punished by death in public. Ismene gets worried by the news. Antigone now asks for Ismene’s help to bury her brother’s body. Ismene hesitates. She recalls the death fate of her father, mother (who was their father’s mother and wife), and her brothers. Now she is worried about the decision of Creon if Antigone breaks his law. Antigone confronts her again about whether she will help her to do the ritual or not. Ismene says that the impossible things have to be left untried. This provokes Antigone and she leaves the place towards her goal (which is to bury her brother with proper rituals).

The chorus appears and describes the war that happened and the dawn of the next day. They cover the story of the two brothers Eteocles and Polyneices who were dead in each others’ hands after long combat. Their death has made Creon, the son of Menoikeus the King of Thebes. Creon comes as the new King and the Chorus is a group of Old wise men in the Thebes court who were made to come for an announcement. Creon states his principles which are the most important is that he cares about his friends whereas his enemies will be treated with what they deserve. He relates it with the dead brothers, sons of Oedipus. Eteocles remained in Thebes and fought for Thebes and so he was a friend whose burial was done with all the military rituals whereas Polyneices, just to become the King he sold out his own citizens to a strange country and he fought against his own native to see his own people’s blood. Thus, his body is left in the plain without any reverence and his payback will be gained through the treatment of animals and birds towards his body. Creon asks the Chorus to support him to do this. They agree to it. Creon also requests them to promise that they will not help the sinner (the one who breaks the law) in the future. They also agree to it.

One of the sentries comes there to visit Creon as a messenger. He speaks too much to explain why he is here out of fear. Somebody broke the law. There is a ritual (a few amounts of sand is seen above the body, good enough to cover it but not exactly a burial) that has been done to Polyneices’ dead body and the guards do not know who the culprit is. After a long argument and a dice roll, this messenger was chosen to give this news. The chorus suspects the Gods but Creon becomes outrageous, denies it, and says if the sentry did not find the culprit, soon he will be hanged to death. Creon is also so sure that somebody in the guards has done it for money. The sentry tries to clear the ideas that Creon has but it does not end well. The sentry finally says that he will never come back here to meet him even if he brings the culprit and leaves.

The chorus speaks of how it is the actions of God to make such things happen. While they say, the sentry brings Antigone to the court. They get taken aback by the fact that she is the culprit. Creon comes there and sees. Sentry says that though he thought of never coming back, he did joyfully come back as he caught the lawbreaker. Creon asks for details as she is the Princess of Thebes. Sentry says that they, the guards cleaned all the dust from the body and stayed closer. When it was noon all of a sudden there was a heavy wind that blew for a long time. When it stopped they watched Antigone cursing the one who did this to Polyneices and she was dropping wine three times to the ghost and again started to spread dust on the body. They caught her at once, she was fearless and denied none, he says. Creon questions her whether she is guilty of the charge and Antigone accepts it. Sentry is made to go.

Creon is upset. He asks whether she has done it unknowingly. Antigone denies it. She says, his notice was public and she knew it already. Creon becomes a lot angrier and questions how did she dare to break a king’s law. To which she replies that she does not care about the law or death all she cares about is the underworld law, the law of Gods. Antigone fiercely says that she is right and all the others present here are with her but they keep silent as they fear. Creon with his most anger says that she has to be punished for what she has done. She is guilty of two, one is that she has broken the law and the second is that she is boasting that she is right. The chorus comments that she has to learn to be flexible if she remains this stiff soon she will be broken. Creon now calls upon the guards to arrest Ismene, he finds her equally treacherous.

Ismene appears, she admits that she has known Antigone’s intentions from the beginning and so she is guilty too. Antigone requests her not to help her in this stage. She even smiles at her folly but this smile is an unhappy smile. Looking at their helpless situation the chorus tries to stop Creon but he accuses both severely guilty. Ismene reminds him of his son's engagement (Haimon) with Antigone. Creon expresses deliberately that he doesn’t want such an insane woman to be his son’s wife.

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