A Rhineland village. Early morning. Hilarion, the gamekeeper, returning from attending his traps, expresses his love for Giselle. The villagers awaken to the final day of the wine festival. Count Albrecht emerges from a rented cottage where he is pursuing his disguise as the peasant Loys because of his passion for Giselle, the daughter of the deceased head gamekeeper. The villagers ask Loys to join their work, but he declines for the moment. When the scene is clear, Loys persuades Giselle to spend the morning with him. Hilarion interrupts and a lovers’ quarrel ensues which ends with Hilarion vowing revenge.
The villagers return after their morning’s work and proceed to celebrate the end of the harvest. Giselle’s mother, Berthe, interrupts and relates the old superstition that it is evil to dance and those who do, will die. She insists that Giselle return home. Loys, continuing his disguise, goes with the men for their afternoon work.
A hunting horn announces the proximity of the Prince of Courland’s hunt. The hunters enter the village, tired and thirsty. The Squire asks hospitality from the villagers, which they are more than happy to provide for their overlord at this festive time. They arrange an entertainment for them. The Princess takes a special interest in Giselle and asks her heart’s desire. She replies she is betrothed to a wonderful young man whom she soon hopes to marry. The Princess responds that she too is in love with a truly noble man. To signify her visit to the Village, and in anticipation of their coming marriages, she presents Giselle with a precious medallion as a dowry.
The hunting party is asked to rest in the villagers’ cottages. Hilarion, overcome with jealousy and suspicion of the so-called Loys, decides to break into his cottage. He discovers to his great satisfaction the clothes and sword of a nobleman. Hoping to recapture the heart of his great love, he sounds the alarm and exposes Loys as an imposter. Giselle is unable to believe this until Princess Bathilde steps forward and declares that this is indeed the man she intends to marry. The shock is too great for Giselle’s frail constitution. It unhinges her mind and she dies of a broken heart, her love having been unrequited.
A clearing in the woods near Giselle’s grave. A group of revelers are gambling and drinking in the clearing. Hilarion, in his grief, stumbles across them and chastises them for their lack of respect to the memory of his loved one. As Hilarion grieves by Giselle’s grave, the clock strikes the hour of midnight. Wilis emerge and Hilarion is trapped and driven to his death. This is the night of the initiation of Giselle as a Wili. The rite is being conducted by Myrtha, the Queen, when Albrecht, in his torment, arrives at the grave. He is trapped and commanded to dance until he dies. Giselle, in her love for him, resolves to protect him. In so doing, she saves him as the clock strikes four and dawn appears. Through her foregiveness, her soul is released from remaining a Wili forever.