"Antigone" in 60 Seconds

A Speedy Plot Summary of This Famous Greek Play

A photo from a production of "Antigone". Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Antigone is a Greek Tragedy written by Sophocles. It was written in 441 B.C.

Setting of the Play: Ancient Greece

Antigone's Twisted Family Tree

A brave and proud young woman named Antigone is the product of a really messed up family.

Her father, Oedipus, was the King of Thebes. He unknowingly murdered his father and married his own mother, Queen Jocasta. With his wife/mother, Oedipus had two daughter/sisters and two brother/sons.

When Jocasta found out the truth of their incestuous relationship, she killed herself. Oedipus was pretty upset too. He plucked out his eyeballs. Then, he spent his remaining years wandering through Greece, being led by his loyal daughter Antigone.

After Oedipus died, his two sons (Eteocles and Polynices) battled for control of the kingdom. Eteocles fought to defend Thebes. Polynices and his men attacked the city. Both brothers died. Creon ( Antigone's uncle) became the official ruler of Thebes. (There's a lot of upward mobility in this city-state. That's what happens when your bosses kill each other.)

Divine Laws v. Man-made Laws

Creon buried Eteocles's body with honor. But because the other brother was perceived as a traitor, Polynices's body was left to rot, a tasty snack for vultures and vermin. However, leaving human remains unburied and exposed to the elements was an affront to the Greek Gods. So, at the play's beginning, Antigone decides to defy Creon's laws. She gives her brother a proper funeral.

Her sister Ismene warns that Creon will punish any who defy the law of the city. Antigone believes that the law of the gods supersedes a king's decree. Creon doesn't see things that way. He is very angry and sentences Antigone to death.

Ismene asks to be executed along with her sister. But Antigone doesn't want her by her side. She insists that she alone buried the brother, so she alone will receive punishment (and possible reward from the gods).

Creon Needs To Loosen Up

As if things weren't complicated enough, Antigone has a boyfriend: Haemon, the son of Creon. He tries to convince his father that mercy and patience are called for. But the more they debate, the more Creon's anger grows. Haemon leaves, threatening to do something rash.

At this point, the people of Thebes, represented by the Chorus, are uncertain as to who is right or wrong. It seems Creon is starting to feel a little bit worried because instead of executing Antigone, he orders her to be sealed inside a cave. (That way, if she dies, her death will be in the hands of the gods).

But after she is sent to her doom, a blind old wise man enters. He is Tiresias, a seer of the future, and he brings an important message: "Creon, you made a big stupid mistake!" (It sounds fancier in Greek.)

Suspecting the old man of treason, Creon becomes infuriated and refuses Tiresias' wisdom. The old man becomes very cranky and predicts bad things for Creon's near future.

Creon Changes His Mind (Too Late)

Finally scared, Creon rethinks his decisions. He dashes off to release Antigone. But he's too late. Antigone has already hanged herself. Haemon grieves beside her body. He attacks his father with a sword, misses completely, and then stabs himself, dying.

Mrs. Creon (Eurydice) hears of her son's death and kills herself. (I hope you weren't expecting a comedy.)

By the time Creon returns to Thebes, the Chorus tells Creon the bad news. They explain that "There is no escape from the doom we must endure." Creon realizes that his stubbornness has led to his family's ruin. The Chorus ends the play by offering a final message:

"The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate."

The End!

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Your Citation
Bradford, Wade. ""Antigone" in 60 Seconds." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/antigone-in-60-seconds-2713023. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 26). "Antigone" in 60 Seconds. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/antigone-in-60-seconds-2713023 Bradford, Wade. ""Antigone" in 60 Seconds." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/antigone-in-60-seconds-2713023 (accessed March 20, 2023).