Based on the Corneille play 'Saint Polyeuctus', which had previously inspired Donizetti, it tells a tragic story of Christian martyrdom in defiance of the all-powerful powerful Roman Empire. Polyeucte, an Armenian prince, has married Pauline, the daughter of the Proconsul of Armenia. Pauline was once in love with the Roman general Severe, whose war against Christendom's new converts is swiftly picking up pace. When Severe returns to Armenia, he finds his beloved Pauline married to a man who has passionately taken up the new creed. Although Severe's love for Pauline is greater than his desire for revenge, the long-reaching arm of Roman power hangs over them all. In this tale of love vs duty and obligation, it is the pious and good who are ultimately defeated, but of course, find their way to heaven.