Athalie is a 1691 play, the final tragedy of Jean Racine, and has been described as the masterpiece of "one of the greatest literary artists known" and the "ripest work" of Racine's genius. Voltaire considered the play the greatest triumph of the human mind, while Flaubert referred to it as the masterpiece of the French stage in Madame Bovary, and Sainte-Beuve deemed it comparable to Oedipus Rex in beauty, with "the true God added." August Wilhelm Schlegel thought Athalie to be "animated by divine breath"; other critics have regarded the poetics of drama in the play to be superior to those of Aristotle.
Athalie, widow of the king of Judah, rules the country and believes she has eliminated all the rest of the royal family. She has abandoned the Jewish religion for the worship of Baal. However, the late king's grandson Joash was rescued by the wife of the high priest.
- Act 1 - Joad, the Jewish high priest, assures Abner, a military officer, that he would support a possible descendant of the king of Judah if he appeared. Then he agrees with his wife Jehoshebath to reveal the existence of Joash and dethrone Athalie, thus bringing the country back to the true religion.
- Act 2 - Athalie goes into the Jewish temple and finds a baby she has seen in a dream. She does not know that this child is Joash. She asked Joad to bring the child and she invites him to come to live with her at the palace (She does not know that Joash has been brought up by Joad in the Jewish religion).
- Act 3 - Fearing a plot by Joad, Athalie wants Joash sent as a hostage. The high priest is preparing to proclaim Joash as king to hasten things.
- Act 4 - Joash reveals he is the descendant and successor of the kings of Judah. The priests barricade the Temple.
- Act 5 - Athalie prepares to dislodge the rebels from the Temple. She comes to claim the child. Joad tells her that he is Joash. Outside, the attackers panic and flee. Joad executes Athalie.
Athalie was the victim of opposition from moralists at its creation. Represented on the public scene after the death of Madame de Maintenon, it was never part of the most popular plays of Racine, though Voltaire saw it as "perhaps the masterpiece of mankind" and Flaubert as the most "immortal masterpiece of the French stage".
- ""ATHALIE" PLAYED AT HARVARD; Racine's Masterpiece Produced Before a Brilliant Audience in Sander's Theatre -- Gov. Wolcott Present". The New York Times. 7 December 1897.
- Racine's Biblical Masterpieces, Esther and Athalie by Jean Racine; James Bruner. JSTOR 379685. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- Is French Literature Passee?. JSTOR 1489410. Retrieved 29 June 2013.