Oedipus has left the throne, after finding out that he has committed incest and patricide, leaving two daughters and two sons behind. His two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, finally come of age, and they agree to rule Thebes taking turns every year. At the end of his first year of rule, however, Eteocles breaks the agreement and refuses to give the throne to his brother. Polynices then raises an army of traditional enemies of Thebes and leads them against his city. His army is defeated, but Eteocles and Polynices are both killed by each other's hand.
Creon, their uncle, who now assumes power in Thebes, declares that Eteocles' body will be properly buried, as he was the protector of the city, but Polynices will be left unburied on the battlefield, because he attacked his homeland.
Despite talking with her sister Ismini, who tries to persuade her to obey the law imposed by Creon, Antigone decides she must disobey, arguing that a human law which contradicts religious law is invalid. She goes where her brother's body is, and ceremonially sprinkles some dust over it. The king's guards take her into custody, and lead her to Creon.
Creon's decree is that she be executed as a traitor by being buried alive in a cave. But the king has a son: Haemon, who is betrothed to Antigone. Haemon desperately pleads with his father to cancel the sentence, at the same time making a wise speech on leadership. The king refuses to change his mind.
The blind prophet Tiresias comes and warns the king that the gods are angry with his pronouncement concerning Polynices. Creon finally forgives Antigone for disobeying, but it is too late. When the cave is opened to save her, she has already hung herself. This fact drives Haemon mad, and he kills himself. The messenger soon announces that Creon's wife, Eurydice, has killed herself too at the horrible news. At the end of the play, Creon discovers he has lost everything by being a stern ruler.
Antigone is a play which emphasizes the conflict that sometimes exists between the need for social order and the moral duty to obey a higher law. It is a great story of courage, exhibited by a woman, who stood higher than her tragic fate and inspired many adaptations of her story, especially in the 20th century.