Dido, queen of Carthage, cannot bring herself to admit her love for the Trojan prince Aeneas, a guest at her court; he is soon to resume his journey in search of a site for a new city to replace Troy. Her confidante Belinda and her courtiers persuade Dido to speak her love and the act ends with general rejoicing.
A sorceress and her witches plot the downfall of Dido and Carthage. Their plan is to "conjure up a storm" and force the lovers to take refuge in a cave, where an elf, disguised as Mercury, will remind Aeneas of his duties. Meanwhile, Dido and Aeneas, having spent the night together, are being entertained in a grove by Belinda and a courtier. A storm arises and the lovers are separated; Aeneas enters the witches' cave and is commanded by the false Mercury to leave Carthage.
At the quayside Aeneas's men are preparing to leave. The witches gloat over their victory and sing of their delight. Back at court, Dido has been informed of her lover's planned departure and seeks Belinda's counsel. The queen confronts Aeneas, silences his excuses and dismisses him. After her lament, Dido kills herself. Cupids mourn her, scattering roses on her tomb.