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The conflict in this tragic play stems from Antigone's rebellion. While Sophocles' Antigone may focus on Creon as the tragic protagonist, in the modern version, it is Antigone's tragic decision to defy Creon's law that precipitates the tragedy.
Antigone, the second daughter of King Oedipus, is the protagonist of the play. Creon, her uncle, ascends the throne of Thebes at the deaths of Oedipus' two sons, Polynices and Eteocles. Because Polynices attempts to destroy the state, he is declared a traitor. After the two brothers have killed each other, Creon issues an edict that no one shall bury Polynices, whereas Eteocles is given a state funeral. Antigone's defiance of this law is due to her great devotion to religious law and to the fact that she has promised her brother a decent burial. Antigone insists that she owes her allegiance to the dead. In her calm defiance of Creon, she is the symbol of the rebel. The conflict between human law and divine law causes the tragedy.
Creon, the King of Thebes and Antigone's uncle, is pitted against her in spirit. Earlier (during the rule of Oedipus), Creon had loved music and was an art patron. But in ascending the throne of Thebes, he has to take on serious duties. Making decisions is a lonely task. In issuing the edict forbidding the burial of Polynices, Creon, feels he has done the right thing. He is stunned at Antigone's youthful courage in violating the law of the land. He envies her youthful determination but is forced to stand by his decision. Creon bears the burden of age, wisdom, and public responsibility, while Antigone is young, idealistic, rebellious and non-conformist.
The crisis in Antigone occurs when Antigone disobeys Creon's edict. The conflict begins with Antigone stealing out in the misty morning to perform the ritual of sprinkling mud on the corpse of her brother, Polynices. Antigone is captured by the guards and brought in to face Creon. The conflict mounts in the dialogue that takes place between Creon and Antigone, uncle and niece. In this verbal duel, Antigone refuses to see Creon's point of view and chooses death over the compromise of her ideals. In the battle of the individual's will against the law of the state, Antigone would rather be killed than surrender her freedom.
The play climaxes in a series of tragic deaths triggered by Antigone's suicide in the Cave of Hades, outside the southeast gate of Thebes. Haemon fails to convince his father, Creon, not to "immure" Antigone (bury her alive), the penalty for her offense. Haemon discovers her dead body in the cave after she has hanged herself. When Creon arrives at the cave, Haemon attacks him. Creon is wounded, but Haemon kills himself. Eurydice, the queen, upon hearing of her son's death, calmly slits her throat to end her life. The horror of multiple deaths in Creon's family makes him a tragic figure in the end.
The Anti-climax comes in the solitary state of Creon, who rouses himself to perform his daily duties as king. The Chorus ironically comments on the peace that results after the many deaths caused by one girl's act of rebellion. The play ends with the three guards back at their card game, as they were in the opening scene. They give the impression that nothing has happened to them.
The tragedy closes after the series of deaths. They are all the result of Antigone's exercise of free will. Antigone's rebellion and exercise of individual liberty merit praise, not in a religious context, but in the twentieth-century political framework of Western Europe's revolt against despotism.