Pelléas et Mélisande
Scene 1: A forest
Golaud, grandson of Arkel, King of Allemonde, has lost his way while out hunting. At the edge of a spring, he happens upon a young woman who is weeping. She evades all his questions with mysterious half-answers. When Golaud notices her crown in the water and offers to retrieve it, she flies into a blind panic and threatens to throw herself into the water in its place. The girl eventually gives him her name: Mélisande. Golaud is enchanted by her beauty and persuades her to leave with him. She asks him where they are going. “I don’t know,” replies Golaud. “I am lost as well.”
Scene 2: A room in the castle
Geneviève, Golaud’s mother, is reading out a letter to Arkel, her aged father-in-law. The letter was written by Golaud to his half-brother Pelléas, and tells how he met and subsequently married Mélisande. Golaud would like to bring Mélisande back with him to live in the family castle, but is afraid of what Arkel may think of the union. If the family will accept her, then Pelléas is to light a lantern in the castle tower on the third day after receiving the letter; Golaud will see it from his ship in the harbour. If the lantern is not lit, he will sail away, never to return. Arkel tells Geneviève that they must accept his decision: after Golaud’s first wife died, Arkel had hoped he would marry into another powerful family. Nevertheless, Arkel bows to fate: “We only ever see the underside of Destiny, and that too of our own destiny.” Pelléas enters, and tells Arkel he would like to travel to see a friend on his deathbed. This is not permitted because Pelléas’s own father is seriously ill within the castle walls. Geneviève instructs Pelléas to light the lamp as a signal to Golaud.
Scene 3: In front of the castle
Mélisande tells Geneviève that she finds the park and castle gloomy and Geneviève does her best to comfort her. Pelléas joins them, and together they gaze at the sea, shrouded in darkness and mist. They see the ship that brought Mélisande leave the harbour as night falls, though a storm is gathering. Geneviève tells Pelléas to escort Mélisande back to the castle. Pelléas tells Mélisande he is to leave the following day. Crestfallen, she wants to know why.
Scene 1: A fountain in the park
Pelléas takes Mélisande to the “Fountain of the Blind”, an old well in the castle park. Mélisande leans over into the water and her long hair tumbles in. While Pelléas asks her about her first encounter with Golaud, which was also by a fountain, she plays with her wedding ring. Against Pelléas’s advice, she throws it higher and higher, and it drops into the well, just as the clock strikes midday. Mélisande is horrified, not knowing what to tell Golaud. “The truth,” says Pelléas, “the truth.”
Scene 2: A room in the castle
From his bed, an injured Golaud tells Mélisande what happened just as the clock struck midday: he was hunting in the forest when his horse suddenly bolted and ran into a tree, throwing him off and crushing him. He refuses the comfort Mélisande offers him, assuring her he only needs to sleep. She begins to weep and admits that she feels unhappy in the gloomy castle. Golaud tries to reassure her, gently mocking her childlike desire to see the sun. He notices she is not wearing the wedding ring he gave her. She stutters that she thinks she lost it down in a cave at the beach, and had to run away before the sea came in. Golaud is furious, and dispatches her into the night, telling her go with Pelléas to find the ring: “I would rather have you lose everything than lose that ring, you don’t know from whence it came!”
Scene 3: Outside a cave
Pelléas has brought Mélisande to the cave by the sea where she told Golaud she’d lost his ring, so she can describe it properly if he asks her. All at once the clouds part and the cave glitters in the moonlight. Three paupers are revealed, asleep in the cave. Mélisande and Pelléas leave, distinctly uneasy about what they have seen.
Scene 1: One of the castle towers
Mélisande stands by her window, singing while she arranges her hair. Pelléas appears on the path below. He tells her to lean down and give him her hand. He is leaving the next day. She leans out, and her hair tumbles down and envelopes him. He ecstatically winds it around himself and the branches of a willow tree. Mélisande senses Golaud nearby; he steps out from the shadows and chides them for their childish behaviour.
Scene 2: The castle vaults
Golaud leads Pelléas down into the vaults and asks him if he can smell the scent of death rising up from the darkness. Pelléas feels suffocated, and they exit.
Scene 3: A terrace at the entrance to the vaults
Golaud warns Pelléas against repetitions of incidents like that of the day before; he has noticed something between Pelléas and his wife. Mélisande is expecting a child and has to avoid any sort of stress; Pelléas is to avoid her as much as possible without appearing unfriendly.
Scene 4: In front of the castle
Golaud sits under Mélisande’s window with Yniold, his son by his first wife, and interrogates him about Pelléas and Mélisande. The vague answers only heighten his suspicions. A light goes on in Mélisande’s room and Golaud lifts the boy up to look through the window, telling him to describe what he sees. Yniold tells him that Pelléas is sitting with Mélisande and they are both motionless, staring at the light. The boy, suddenly overcome by fear, has to be let down by the furious Golaud, who drags him away.
Scene 1: A room in the castle
Pelléas tells Mélisande that as his father is now better, he is to leave. He asks to have one last meeting that evening, by the well in the park.
Scene 2: A room in the castle
Arkel is happy that Pelléas’s father has recovered, and tells Mélisande that she will be the cornerstone of the new era of light and love within the old castle. Golaud storms in, agitated, and announces that Pelléas will leave that evening. He demands to see his sword. When Mélisande gives it to him, he bursts into a fit of rage, telling her to shut her wide eyes: “I am nearer to the secrets of the other world than to the smallest secret of those eyes!” When she tries to flee, he grabs her by the hair and drags her across the room. Arkel is dismayed: “If I were God, I would have pity on the hearts of men.”
Scene 3: A fountain in the park
Yniold is trying to retrieve his golden ball from underneath a large stone, which he complains, is “heavier than the whole world”. A herd of sheep passes by. Suddenly, they fall silent. Yniold asks the shepherd, why they are silent. “Because this is not the way to their stable,” he replies.
Scene 4: A fountain in the park
Pelléas bids goodbye to Mélisande and tell her that he loves her; she quickly responds, “I love you too.” Throughout Pelléas’s impassioned declaration, she is nervous and hesitant. The great castle doors swing shut. Clasping each other in an embrace, they realise that Golaud has been watching them. Pelléas urges Mélisande to flee; she refuses, and as Golaud rushes forward and kills Pelléas, the lovers lock in a final embrace. Mélisande is dragged off by Golaud.
A room in the castle
Arkel, Golaud and a doctor are gathered around Mélisande’s bed. The doctor reassures Golaud that the small wound he inflicted is not the cause of her weak state. Golaud bitterly repents what he has done. When Mélisande regains consciousness, he asks to be left alone with her. He asks forgiveness and demands she admit she had been unfaithful to him with Pelléas. Golaud is again frustrated by her elliptical answers: “I do not understand each thing I say, do you see… I do not know what I have said… I do not know what I know… I say no longer what I would…”
Arkel re-enters and accuses Golaud of driving Mélisande to her death. Mélisande is shown her little premature baby. The castle servant women inexplicably enter the room, and at the moment of Mélisande’s death, they drop to their knees. She dies, mutely, leaving Golaud racked with despair. Arkel tries to comfort him, saying that Fate alone decides everything on earth; Mélisande’s child will take her place on earth. “It’s now the turn of the poor little one.”
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