The Chorus introduces the characters and sets the stage for the narrative to come by explaining that a fight between Antigone’s brothers Eteocles and Polynices broke out over the issue of who would gain control of Thebes. The brothers were both killed, however, and Creon took control. His attempt to restore stability and impose order begins with a great funeral in celebration of Eteocles while the body of Polynices is allowed to rot in the open as a warning against rebellion.
Antigone is then seen sneaking into her home in the early morning hours by the nurse who makes inquiries that are answered merely with Antigone’s admission of having had a rendezvous. Ismene then approaches Antigone with warnings against attempting to buy her brother’s corpse. The penalty for buying Polynices, she reminds her, is death.
The warning comes too late, of course, but that is exactly what Antigone was doing and why she is coming home so late. Haemon arrives and after apologizing for a recent fight, Antigone informs him that she can never marry him. Haemon leaves in a state of shock.
Ismene continues in her attempt to provide guidance against upsetting Creon by reminding Antigone that Polynices was not exactly a paragon of virtue or brotherhood. She urges Antigone to leave this entire affair to Creon and finally Antigone confesses that the deed is already done.
When Creon hears from a guard that the corpse of Polynices has been buried against his direct order, the only evidence he can offer to the identity is a small shovel used as a toy by children. Creon orders the body to be exhumed and to keep this secret forever or face death.
Antigone is quickly caught and arrested and brought to face Creon. The guards are oblivious to her identity as they struggle among themselves over the issue of avoiding blame. When he finally learns who disobeyed his orders, Creon is shocked and attempts to influence her to renounce her actions. Antigone rejects this offer and insists she will die for her transgressions before ever doing so.
Creon then seeks to influence her by advising her to discover happiness and purpose through marriage to Haemon. When this fails, he lapses into despondency. Once Ismene arrives, Antigone begins provoking Creon. The final judgment will allow her to avoid death, but keep her confined inside a cave until she dies. Creon offers an explanation for this decision to the Chorus by suggesting that Polynices was really just a means to an end that was nothing other than end of her own life.
Haemon shows up to beg his father for mercy for Antigone, but Creon advises him it is time to forget about her. He also pleads his case for having done everything possible to help her out of the situation she put herself in. As Antigone is dragged away by guards, Creon reminds Haemon that the mob will be not be stifled.
Antigone engages a guard to write a letter to Haemon which she dictate and he will scrawl into his notebook to prevent the possibility of being discovered. The guard reluctantly agrees since he knows he will be court-martialed if caught and suggest. A messenger soon appears with news that as the cave entrance was being closed up, they heard a moan and wailing from inside, but the sound does not match Antigone’s voice. Creon instantly realizes what this means and desperately attempts to pry the rocks away, but eventually Haemon hanging onto Antigone’s dead body hanging from part of her own robe. When Creon finally begs his son to stand up, Haemon turns and strikes at Creon before stabbing himself.
Creon is buried deep in grief for the loss of his niece as well as his son. The Chorus informs him that things can always get worse, however. He then learns that his wife Eurydice has committed suicide. Creon distracts himself out of mourning by contemplating a cabinet meeting he has scheduled later that day. He exists and the guards continue with the card game they have been playing.