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 and that he has been brought up by Joad in the Jewish religion.) She asked Joad to bring the child and she invites him to come to live with her at the palace.
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 the child 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".