After the bloody siege of Thebes by Polynices and his allies, the city stands unconquered. Polynices and his brother Eteocles, however, are both dead, killed by each other, according to the curse of Oedipus, their father.
Outside the city gates, Antigone tells Ismene that Creon has ordered that Eteocles, who died defending the city, is to be buried with full honors, while the body of Polynices, the invader, is left to rot. Furthermore, Creon has declared that anyone attempting to bury Polynices shall be publicly stoned to death. Outraged, Antigone reveals to Ismene a plan to bury Polynices in secret, despite Creon's order. When Ismene timidly refuses to defy the king, Antigone angrily rejects her and goes off alone to bury her brother.
Creon discovers that someone has attempted to offer a ritual burial to Polynices and demands that the guilty one be found and brought before him. When he discovers that Antigone, his niece, has defied his order, Creon is furious. Antigone makes an impassioned argument, declaring Creon's order to be against the laws of the gods themselves. Enraged by Antigone's refusal to submit to his authority, Creon declares that she and her sister will be put to death.
Haemon, Creon's son who was to marry Antigone, advises his father to reconsider his decision. The father and son argue, Haemon accusing Creon of arrogance, and Creon accusing Haemon of unmanly weakness in siding with a woman. Haemon leaves in anger, swearing never to return. Without admitting that Haemon may be right, Creon amends his pronouncement on the sisters: Ismene shall live, and Antigone will be sealed in a tomb to die of starvation, rather than stoned to death by the city.
The blind prophet Tiresias warns Creon that the gods disapprove of his leaving Polynices unburied and will punish the king's impiety with the death of his own son. After rejecting Tiresias angrily, Creon reconsiders and decides to bury Polynices and free Antigone.
But Creon's change of heart comes too late. Antigone has hanged herself and Haemon, in desperate agony, kills himself as well. On hearing the news of her son's death, Eurydice, the queen, also kills herself, cursing Creon.
Alone, in despair, Creon accepts responsibility for all the tragedy and prays for a quick death. The play ends with a somber warning from the chorus that pride will be punished by the blows of fate.