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At the end of Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus has passed away. Antigone, knowing that her brothers are waging war against each other in a battle for the throne of Thebes, decides to return to Thebes in order to prevent them from killing each other.
When Antigone arrives in Thebes, she and her sister Ismene talk outside the palace gate, where we learn that their brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, have indeed killed each other.
Antigone is disturbed because Creon, who is now ruling, has ordered that Eteocles be buried with the formal rites, but that Polyneices be left unburied and unmourned.
Anyone who buries Polyneices will be punished by death. That’s what we call a "deterrent."
Antigone intends to defy the law to bury her brother according to the wishes of the gods. She asks if Ismene will help her.
Ismene says she can’t bring herself to do it. She feels that her family’s consistently terrible luck and the fact that she’s a woman are quite inhibiting.
Antigone says she’s willing to do it alone, and wouldn’t mind dying in order to secure Polyneices's rightful burial.
Ismene warns Antigone against fighting The Man. She thinks it’s a losing battle.
The Chorus explains the battle that transpired between Polyneices and Eteocles, with lots of useless details like who stuck whose sword where.
Creon arrives and announces to a gathering that, whereas Eteocles behaved honorably in defending the city, Polyneices was a dishonorable exile. He offers this as an explanation for why Eteocles gets buried but Polyneices is left out for the birds.
A sentry arrives. He’s scared out of his mind at being the messenger of bad news, because sometimes these royal types can get quite aggressive.
He still does his job and reveals to Creon that Polyneices’s body has been ritually prepared.
The Chorus chimes in that perhaps the burial was the will of the gods.
Creon angrily responds that Polyneices spited the gods with his actions. Creon suspects that someone got paid off to break the law this way.
Creon demands that the sentry discover who did it. He then threatens the poor sentry with death if he can’t figure it out. Now we understand why the messenger was so scared about five minutes ago.
The Chorus remarks on the strength and resilience of mankind. Really? Because we were remarking on how unfair the sentry’s lot in life is.
The sentry returns with Antigone in tow and announces that she was discovered burying Polyneices.
Antigone does not deny that she committed the crime. (Go principles!) She explains that while she knew it was against Creon’s edict, her actions were in line with her obligations to justice and the gods.
The Chorus accuses Antigone of being inclined to trouble—just like her father.
Creon says that he resents Antigone’s moralizing and then vows to execute her. He summons Ismene, who he assumes is also involved.
Creon attempts to shame Antigone for what he sees as her radical views. However, she remains determined and unshaken (also like her father).
Antigone’s general stubbornness forces Creon into an argument over whether Polyneices deserved the same burial as his brother.
Ismene enters the room. She is questioned and says that she is guilty of having aided Antigone in the burial. (Go principles, again. Well, maybe.)
Antigone insists that her sister not confess to a crime she didn’t do. Ismene counters that she could not go on living without Antigone. (Go sisters.)
It is revealed that Antigone is engaged to marry Creon’s son, Haemon. Haemon apparently has some back up future wives in the wings or, as Creon says, he has "other fields to plow" (!). In short, his bed won’t be lonely if Antigone dies.
The Chorus laments life’s sufferings. Okay, now we’re on the same page.
Haemon arrives. He informs his father Creon that he will honor and obey whatever Creon decides about Antigone, which is either honorable (for respecting his father) or despicable (for letting his fiancée die).
Creon lectures Haemon about the critical importance of the law and obedience. Haemon is like, "Come on, Dad."
Creon feels it’s particularly important not to be beaten by a person of the female persuasion.
Haemon responds that while he does not question his father’s wisdom, he sees the city mourning Antigone’s suffering, not to mention living in terror of Creon’s wrath (think about the sentry). Haemon advises Creon to pay attention to popular sentiment and to be open to the advice of others.
As the argument escalates, Haemon tells Creon he’s insane and Creon tells Haemon he’s a woman’s slave. Ouch.
Since there’s no one around to put them in the time-out corner, they end things themselves.
Haemon storms out, and Creon goes back to thinking about how to punish Antigone.
The Chorus, apparently having given up on Antigone, tries to dissuade Creon from punishing Ismene, who clearly did not participate in Polyneices's burial.
Antigone utters a cryptic line about marrying death. Yikes.
As the Chorus muses, Teiresias (the blind prophet) arrives to speak with Creon.
Teiresias advises Creon not to leave Polyneices unburied or to kill Antigone. Good old Teiresias.
Creon scoffs at his advice and accuses Teiresias of seeking personal profit. This is sounding mighty familiar.
Teiresias remarks that no one seems able to listen and hear good advice.
Teiresias warns that Creon’s unwillingness to bury Polyneices and permit Antigone to live will anger the gods and be reciprocated by his own death. Uh-oh.
Teiresias leaves and the Chorus reminds Creon that he is never wrong. That is, Teiresias is never wrong. Creon is wrong all the time.
Creon grapples with his choices. At the Chorus’s urging, he decides to release Antigone (yay) and see to Polyneices’s burial (yay again).
A messenger arrives and announces that Haemon has killed himself out of anger and despair at his father.
Creon’s wife, Eurydice, arrives and asks what’s going on.
The messenger recounts the series of events. Antigone hanged herself, and finding her there dead, Haemon attempted to strike his father with his sword. He missed, and then took his own life.
Creon arrives, desperately regretting his mistake.
A second messenger enters and informs the royal gang that more tragedy has struck.
Eurydice, in despair over her lost son and enraged with Creon, took her own life.
In despair and fear of his own death, Creon asks… to be killed? No. For pins to gouge out his eyes? No, not that either. He asks to be led off stage. Not really what we were expecting from the last in a super-tragic trilogy, but okay.