Ismene enters, and Creon accuses her of being a conspirator in Polyneices' burial. Ismene confesses and says that she and Antigone were partners in the crime. Antigone, however, refuses Ismene's confession and says that she will not allow the penalty to fall on her sister. Indeed, she says she has witnesses from the gods of who did the work, and that she will not accept a friend who is only a friend in words. Ismene is devastated, and tells Antigone not to despise her. She says that they should die together so that they can sanctify their dead.
Ismene asks Creon whether he really would kill the bride of his son - since Creon's son Haemon is meant to marry Antigone. Creon says that there other women Haemon may find, and death will put a stop to the marriage. The guards take the two sisters inside. The Chorus mourns the tragedies of the house of Labdacus - the house that spawned Oedipus' doomed lineage. They say that madness stalks the family without fail, creating disaster for many generations like a great salt wave. They see grief falling from the beginning of the Labdacus history and that the gods continue to batter them without relief. Even the saving light of Antigone will now go out, doomed by foolish words and impulsive actions. They see madness as a product of mortals who are great, and all the members of the Labdacus family are subject to this curse.
Haemon enters, and at first seems willing to submit to his father's judgment. Creon embarks on a long diatribe, saying that a son must always be loyal to his father, disdain any wife who is hostile or criminal, look down upon all disobedience and treachery to law, and most of all ensure that they are not defeated by a woman. The Chorus is dazzled by Creon's speech, and now fully sympathize with him. Haemon, however, tells his father that the people of Thebes sympathize with Antigone - and that even though he agrees with his father, the will of the people should be honored. Haemon says that even though he would never question his father's leadership and agrees with the philosophy of his rule, he should also be open to other points of view. The Chorus also agrees with Haemon, and declares that both men have spoken well.
Creon is angry once again, and asks the Chorus whether they should be taught by a boy who is as young as Creon. Haemon tells his father he would never urge him to show respect for a criminal, prompting Creon to ask whether he thinks Antigone has committed a crime. Haemon says that he thinks not - because the people of Thebes deny it. Creon asks whether the people should tell him what orders to give, and Haemon says a place for one man alone is not a city. Creon accuses Haemon of being a woman's slave, to which his son simply replies that Antigone will not die while he is near, and that Creon will never see his face again. He exits, and the Chorus warns of the impulsiveness of youth.
Creon says that both girls will now be killed, but the Chorus' prudent questions make Creon realize that Ismene should be spared. He does, however, say that Antigone will be buried alive underground with only as much food as religious law prescribes so that the city will not be cursed for homicide. Underground, Antigone can pray to Hades, since he is the only god that she respects. Maybe she'll arrange for him to save her life - and she'll learn that she's wasting her time showing respect for whatever lies in the underworld. Creon exits.
It is interesting to note that Antigone does not defend Ismene out of love or altruism, but rather because she pridefully claims the burial as her own work. If Antigone has a tragic flaw, it's she - not Creon - who is too prideful, even boastful. When Ismene says that she'll be her shipmate in suffering (540), Antigone refuses her complicity, saying that the gods below saw who did the work, and more damningly, that "I won't accept a friend who's only friends in words" (543). Antigone, then, is saying that Ismene's sudden desire to claim responsibility for the act is not courage, but rather cowardice - for she'd rather talk than act, and would rather claim the spiritual reward than actually muddy her hands and do the right thing. Ismene, ever the pragmatist, asks Antigone why she's scolding her before Creon, since it "won't help her."
Creon, most tellingly, calls Antigone a "bad woman" when asked about his breakup of the Antigone-Haemon engagement. Indeed, he believes that when Antigone dies, there will be plenty of other women for Haemon to choose from, giving us an even deeper hook into his misogyny. Indeed, Creon has a precise conception of woman, and Antigone does not fit it. The impending marriage between her and Haemon is not a detraction from Antigone's execution, but rather an even more urgent demand for it. He cannot bear to have his son marry a woman who thinks she can ignore a man's laws. In fact, Creon would more likely want his son with someone like Ismene - who, we recall, told her sister earlier in the play that women must never flout the laws of men, and instead must obey them without the slightest ripple of rebellion. Slowly, we begin to see that Antigone is a play about women's roles in society - in other words, a pre-feminist drama.
Haemon enters with a very simple plea: "give me good advice and I will follow it" (636). He is not the typical headstrong, impulsive, hot-blooded Romeo that modern readers might expect in their romantic male lead - and indeed, though the Chorus continually ascribes him this characterization, we're not convinced by it. Instead, Haemon seems like the most practical character in the play - a man of intense reason, open to all sides, but requires that his father offer wise counsel. We sense that his tragic flaw is obeisance to his father at all costs. Creon, meanwhile, delivers a thunderous diatribe on what makes a man, but concludes simply that "order must be maintained" and there must be "no surrender to a woman" (678) for no other reason than that a woman cannot be said to best a man. He even goes so far as to imply that if a man had buried Polynecies, clemency might be in order.
Haemon, however, is concerned that the entire city is grieving over Antigone, and that no woman has ever had a fate that's so unjust. Haemon argues that his father need not believe that he is surrendering to a woman by allowing Antigone to live, or even compromising his beliefs - instead, he would simply be ensuring true, proper rule, for it is what the people want. Creon, however, is again fooled by his own preconceptions and ideology. It seems he has listened to Haemon, even possibly agrees with what he says, but he cannot bear to listen to or be taught by a boy like him. In other words, for Creon, circumstances do not matter, and context does not matter. He sees actions as absolutes - if a woman betrays a man's orders, she must die; if a young man tries to preach to an elder, they must not be listened to, etc. Haemon says that Creon should "look at what I do, not my age," but Creon again sees this as a matter of breaking ranks. Ultimately, there is no reasoning with Creon - he made his law, and it will be followed regardless of the costs.
Creon also possesses a mighty ego, in that he perceives everything through the prism of his own qualifications for rule. When Haemon suggests that Antigone's death will destroy someone else, Creon believes immediately that it's a direct threat from his son instead of thinking through the consequences of the girl's death. Indeed, it's obvious that Antigone's death will upset Thebes and devastate his son, but Creon is interested in neither consequence, concerned only with showing the people of Thebes who is in charge. Thus we see that Creon also believes that effective leadership involves follow-through at all costs, rather than reasoned interaction with his council, with his people, or with purported criminals. When Haemon points this out, Creon simply says that he's a slave - a woman's toy - prompting his son to wonder whether his father will ever listen. Creon's response is to threaten to kill Antigone in front of him, again confirming that for this king, it is action that makes a man, and not the ability to determine the consequences of those actions.