Pelléas & Mélisande Synopsis


In the forest: Prince Golaud of Allemonde has been out hunting but is now lost. He notices a young girl by a pool. Golaud gradually learns that she too is lost, having fled an unknown place, and that her name is Mélisande. Golaud persuades her to leave the forest with him.

Act I

Scene 1—in the castle: Geneviève, mother to both Golaud and his half-brother Pelléas, reads a letter to Arkel, King of Allemonde. It has been written by Golaud to Pelléas and relates how Golaud has married Mélisande but knows as little about her now as when they met in the forest. Pelléas enters. He wants to visit a dying friend, Marcellus, but Arkel reminds him that his own father is very ill too and that he must stay at home. Geneviève tells Pelléas he must light the lamp in the tower for Golaud.

Scene 2—in the castle: Geneviève and Mélisande encounter Pelléas. They watch a ship put out to sea. Mélisande recognizes it as the one that brought her. After Geneviève has left to look after Yniold, Golaud’s son from his first marriage, Pelléas offers Mélisande his hand to guide her. He says that he may have to go away the next morning.

Act II 

Scene 1—near the water: Pelléas brings Mélisande to a shaded well. She plays with the ring Golaud gave her, and it falls into the well.

Scene 2—in the castle: Mélisande sits beside Golaud, who is injured. He was thrown from his horse as the clock chimed noon, the same time Mélisande lost the ring in the well. Mélisande says she is unhappy in the castle and wants to leave. As Golaud seeks to comfort her, he notices her wedding ring is missing. Mélisande says she must have lost it in a cave by the sea. Golaud demands that she find the ring, and that she take Pelléas to help her.

Scene 3—a grotto: At night, Pelléas accompanies Mélisande to the cave. The moon casts light inside, revealing three beggars.

Act III 

Scene 1—near a tower: Mélisande combs her long hair at a high window. Pelléas appears. He intends to leave the following day and would like to kiss her hand. As Mélisande leans out, her hair falls, and he kisses that instead. Golaud suddenly arrives. He angrily tells the pair to stop behaving like children and leads Pelléas away.

Scene 2—the castle vaults: Golaud forces a fearful Pelléas to look into a stagnant well.

Scene 3—outside the castle vaults: Golaud warns Pelléas not to continue his childish games with Mélisande. She may be pregnant and must not have any unexpected shocks.

Scene 4—near a tower: Golaud questions Yniold as to what he knows about Pelléas and Mélisande. Golaud lifts him up, so that he can see into Mélisande’s room. She is there with Pelléas. Yniold reports that they are looking at the light.



Act IV

Scene 1—in the castle: Pelléas tells Mélisande that his father has urged him to leave on his travels. Pelléas and Mélisande arrange to meet for a final time.

Scene 2—in the castle: Arkel tells Mélisande that he felt deeply sorry for her when she first arrived with Golaud. Golaud storms in, bleeding. Mocking her innocent demeanor, he grabs his wife by her hair and drags her across the floor. With her husband out of the room, Mélisande tells Arkel that Golaud doesn’t love her anymore.

Scene 3—near the water: Pelléas is joined by Mélisande. They finally declare their love for each other. They hear the castle doors being locked and are resigned to their fate. As they kiss, Golaud emerges from the shadows. He kills Pelléas. Mélisande flees, pursued by Golaud.

Act V

In the castle: Mélisande has given birth to a baby girl. A doctor is bewildered as to why she is fading away. Golaud asks for Mélisande’s forgiveness. Mélisande maintains her innocence, though Golaud continues to press her for the truth. Mélisande dies.


Return to Pelléas & Mélisande production page >