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In the beginning of the play, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes' civil war died fighting each other for the throne. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has decided that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices will be in public shame. The rebel brother's body will not be sanctified by holy rites, and will lie unburied on the battlefield, prey for carrion animals like worms and vultures, the harshest punishment at the time. Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead Polyneices and Eteocles. In the opening of the play, Antigone brings Ismene outside the palace gates late at night for a secret meeting: Antigone wants to bury Polyneices' body, in defiance of Creon's edict. Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, but she is unable to stop Antigone from going to bury her brother herself, causing Antigone to disown her out of anger.
Creon enters, along with the Chorus of Theban Elders. He seeks their support in the days to come, and in particular wants them to back his edict regarding the disposal of Polyneices' body. The Chorus of Elders pledges their support. A Sentry enters, fearfully reporting that the body has been given funeral rites and a symbolic burial with a thin covering of earth. A furious Creon orders the Sentry to find the culprit or face death himself. The Sentry leaves and the Chorus sings about honouring the gods, but after a short absence he returns, bringing Antigone with him. The Sentry explains that the watchmen uncovered Polyneices' body, and then caught Antigone as she returned to repeat the funeral rituals. Creon questions her after sending the Sentry away, and she does not deny what she has done. She argues unflinchingly with Creon about the morality of the edict and the morality of her actions. Creon becomes furious, and, thinking Ismene must have known of Antigone's plan, seeing her upset, summons the girl. Ismene tries to confess falsely to the crime, wishing to die alongside her sister, but Antigone will not have it. Creon orders that the two women be temporarily imprisoned.
Haemon, Creon's son, enters to pledge allegiance to his father, even though he is engaged to Antigone. He initially seems willing to forsake Antigone, but when Haemon gently tries to persuade his father to spare Antigone, claiming that 'under cover of darkness the city mourns for the girl', the discussion deteriorates and the two men are soon bitterly insulting each other. Haemon leaves, vowing never to see Creon again.
Creon decides to spare Ismene and to bury Antigone alive in a cave. She is brought out of the house, and she bewails her fate and defends her actions one last time. She is taken away to her living tomb, with the Chorus expressing great sorrow for what is going to happen to her.
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