The scene is in Rhineland at vintage time. Giselle, a peasant maid, is loved by Albrecht, the handsome possessor of the neighboring castle, whom she knows only in his disguise as the villager, Loys. Hilarion, a gamekeeper, rejected by Giselle, jealously swears vengeance on the lovers.
Giselle dances at the vintage fete despite her mother’s remonstrances until the cortege of the Duke of Courland arrives. Bathilde, his daughter betrothed to Albrecht, is charmed with Giselle’s innocence. Hilarion takes this moment to unmask Loys. Smarting under the shame, Giselle is distracted and her mind gives way. She seeks relief from her agony in a frenzied dance, and, mortally wounding herself with Albrecht’s sword, falls dead.
The tomb of Giselle amid lonely spectral cypresses. Soon begin the witching-hour dances of the Willis – affianced maidens who died before their wedding day, in whose pulseless hearts and dead feet lingers an unsatisfied passion to dance. Convened by their Queen, they gather to admit Giselle to their mystic sorority.
Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave to beg forgiveness for his deception. The gentle maid is touched by his grief, but the Queen of the Willis orders her to draw Albrecht into a dance which becomes faster and faster. Giselle attempts to save him by signing him to cling to the cross over her grave. The seductiveness of the dance, however, lures him again and he is seized with the fatal dance-madness. The clock strikes and dawn breaks. The Willis vanish, Giselle is drawn into her grave, and Albrecht, who vainly tries to retain her, falls prostrate over her tomb.