In 1878 it was adapted into an opera by Charles Gounod, with the assistance of the librettist Jules Barbier. Other works based on the play include a ballet by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1679), the opera Poliuto (1838) by Donizetti (adapted with Scribe as Les martyrs), an overture by Paul Dukas (1891) and a composition by Edgar Tinel.
The drama is set in Armenia during a time when Christians were persecuted there under the Roman Empire. Polyeucte, an Armenian nobleman, converts to Christianity to the great despair of his wife, Pauline, and of his father-in-law, Felix. Despite them, Polyeucte becomes a martyr, causing Pauline and Felix to finally convert as well.
There is also a romantic subplot: the Roman Severus is in love with Pauline and hopes she will be his after the conversion of Polyeucte. However, she chooses to stay at the side of her husband. Before dying, Polyeucte entrusts Severus with Pauline.
Polyeucte is one of the last 17th-century French dramas with a religious subject—Corneille did also write Théodore in 1646 and Racine wrote Esther (1689) and Athalie (1691), but these were not meant for public display. Later plays were not as willing to mix religious and worldly themes.