The play opens in semi-darkness (the sun has not yet risen). Last night the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices killed each other - one defending, one leading the attack on the city of Thebes. Their sisters Antigone and Ismene are discovered oustside the palace, where Antigone tells Ismene the news that only Eteocles is to be buried properly. Polyneices is to be left out on the battlefield as food for the crows and dogs. Their uncle Creon (new ruler since the death of Eteocles) has decreed that anyone caught burying him will be put to death. Antigone says she will bury him anyway - Ismene refuses to help her sister, because she feels that it's not fitting for a girl to defy authority.
Antigone goes off defiantly to bury the body; Ismene slinks back into the palace. As the sun floods the stage, the Chorus - men who were too old to fight - march in, celebrating the great victory of the Thebans against the Seven who came to capture their city.
But they don't know that Eteocles, the king, and his brother Polyneices, leader of the Seven, have killed each other in a duel - and that the kingship has passed to Creon, the boys' uncle. Nor do they know of Creon's edict - that Eteocles' body is to be buried with full honours, while Polyneices is to be left out on the plain.
The Chorus, their victory song complete, notice Creon approach. We realise they are the king's counsellors, summoned to receive instructions from their new ruler. He begins to outline his philosophy of kingship. The ship of state has survived a fierce pounding. A king is like a father, and the state is like a family. He must have no favorites, and the safety of...