In the play, King Oedipus has died, leaving his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, to battle over the throne. When both Eteocles and Polynices die in combat, Creon becomes the king of Thebes. As king of Thebes, Creon orders his soldiers to give Eteocles a military burial because he 'died as a man should die, fighting for his country.' Meanwhile, Polynices' corpse is to be left to the scavenging birds and dogs, because he dared to raise his sword against his older brother and his country.
Antigone, sister to both Eteocles and Polynices, resolves to bury Polynices despite the royal edict against this. She tries to engage the help of her sister, Ismene, but Ismene is too afraid to go against King Creon's wishes. She argues that the law is made 'for the public good' and that 'impossible things should not be tried at all.' Despite her sister's protestations, Antigone resolves to bury the brother she loves. The first 'burial' involves a light cover of dust, 'just enough for the ghost's peace,' reports a sentry to King Creon.
When the enraged king orders his soldiers to bring him the man responsible for such unmitigated gall, the soldiers lie in wait near Polynices' corpse. Eventually, Antigone approaches, and when she discovers that the light covering of dust has been removed from her brother's corpse, she proceeds to cover her brother's body a second time with dust.
Just so, when this girl
Found the bare corpse, and all her love’s work wasted,
She wept, and cried on heaven to damn the hands
That had done this thing
And then she brought more dust
And sprinkled wine three times for her brother’s ghost.
We ran and took her at once. She was not afraid,
Not even when we charged her with what she had done.
She denied nothing.
Antigone is arrested and brought before Creon to answer for her actions. When Creon haughtily demands an explanation for her actions, Antigone answers that she must do as her conscience bids her. She maintains that she will suffer greatly if she lets her brother's corpse lie in dishonor on the plains; additionally, the laws of the gods must be obeyed above that of man.
Your edict, King, was strong,
But all your strength is weakness itself against
The immortal unrecorded laws of God.
They are not merely now: they were, and shall be,
Operative for ever, beyond man utterly.
Essentially, Polynices buries her brother a second time because she is determined to fulfill the dictates of her conscience and to maintain her allegiance to the laws of the gods. For her loyalty to her brother and to her conscience, Antigone is eventually sentenced to be immured in a cave. However, she does not wait to die but hangs herself with a noose made from her 'fine linen veil.'