Taking place in the mythical empire of the Southeastern Islands, the Empress is unable to bear children. With the help of her nurse, using magical powers & deceit, she tries to use the Dyer's wife to gain child bearing abilities. The story primarily involves five principal characters: the Emperor, the Empress, her Nurse, Barak, a lowly dyer, and the Dyer's Wife. A sixth character, Keikobad, King of the Spirit Realm and father to the Empress, sets the plot in motion, but never appears on stage. The Empress is not human: she was captured by the Emperor in the form of a gazelle. She assumed human shape and he married her, but she has no shadow. This symbolizes her inability to bear children. Keikobad has decreed that unless the Empress gains a shadow before the end of the twelfth moon, she will be reclaimed by her father, Keikobad, and the Emperor will turn to stone.