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The plot structure of the tragedy is linear and fairly simple. The scene opens in Thebes with all the characters on stage. The Chorus narrates the past and introduces the characters with suitable comments. Antigone is the thin, little creature about to defy her uncle, Creon, the king. Haemon, the son of Creon, is friendly with Antigone's beautiful sister, Ismene, but he chooses to marry Antigone. Creon is the sad and tired King of Thebes. The Chorus now retells the past tragic events of Thebes. Oedipus, the ancient King of Thebes, dies and leaves the kingdom to his two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, to rule in turns. They wage war and kill each other. Creon issues a decree that no one is to bury Polynices, a traitor to the state. Eteocles is accorded a grand burial.
In the gray dawn Antigone sneaks out of the palace to sprinkle mud on the corpse of Polynices, thus violating Creon's edict. She evades her old nurse's questions and pretends she went out to meet her lover. Her sister, Ismene, comes in and tries unsuccessfully to talk Antigone out of performing the burial ritual. Antigone has no choice but to execute the will of the gods and to grant her brother peace in death.
Haemon comes to see her next and the lovers share tender moments of intimacy as Antigone anticipates their sad parting and her inevitable death in the near future. Antigone loves Haemon and yearns to have a little boy by him. She cannot believe in the security of the present. After she makes Haemon swear his love to her, she sends him away.
Later in the morning, the guards report to Creon that during their night watch someone tried to bury Polynices. At noon the Chorus comments on the inevitable power of tragedy, so restful, clean, and flawless. They compare tragedy to a coiled spring that must uncoil itself. In the afternoon Antigone is caught by the guards and is brought handcuffed before Creon. The guards crudely talk of promotion and bonus for having caught a criminal in the act of defiance.
Antigone is led away before the shocked people of Thebes. Creon decrees that she should be buried alive in the Cave of Hades. Haemon fails to convince Creon to show Antigone mercy. Creon begs Haemon not to judge him. After Antigone's suicide in the cave, the powerful King Creon loses both his son and his wife.