Maeterlinck, Maurice. Pelléas and Mélisande and Other Plays. Trans. Richard Hovey. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1915.
by Kristine Perez, Eduardo Guzman, Colby Levin
The play opens with maidservants asking for the gates of the castle to be opened. A celebration is bound to happen, so they have been tasked with cleaning the sills, the gate, and the threshold. Complaining of the perceived impossibility of the task, the women set out to work. The porter lets them in; they begin to clean.
One day, Prince Golaud finds himself lost in the forest while hunting. He wanders until he hears weeping. He follows the weeping and comes across Mélisande, a beautiful young girl, crying by a pool of water. Golaud approaches her and attempts to comfort her, only to be met with hostility and a threat to end her own life. He calms her down and begins to ask her questions about who she is. She reveals her name is Mélisande and that she has fled her home, a home far away from Allemonde. While consoling her, Golaud points out a shiny object in the depths of the water. Mélisande explains that it was her golden crown that fell when she bent her head over while crying. The sun begins to set and Golaud knows he must begin walking home, so he asks Mélisande to come with him since it can be dangerous out here by herself. At first, she refuses but later agrees to go with him.
The scene brings us back to the castle where Genevieve, Golaud and Pelléas’s mother, reads King Arkël a letter that Golaud sent to his brother Pelléas. In the letter, he tells the story of how he met Mélisande and why he ran away from home. Golaud also asks King Arkël to forgive him for his decision to marry Mélisande instead of the princess chosen by the King for political purposes. Surprisingly enough, Arkël accepts Golaud’s marriage. The King tells Pelléas to light the lamp, to let Golaud know he can return. Pelléas enters weeping because he has gotten a letter from his friend, Marcellus, saying that he is dying. King Arkël tells him that his friend may sound sicker than he really is and to wait for his brother to return with his wife.
The next scene fast forwards to the initial meeting of Geneviève and Mélisande. She has just arrived to Allemonde. They stand on a part of the castle overlooking the forest on one side and the vast ocean on the other. Genevieve is showing Mélisande the grounds of the castle. Mélisande comments how gloomy the place is. Pelléas enters and tells the women about a ship that is leaving the port, the ship that brought Mélisande to the castle. Pelléas greets them and offers to hold Mélisande’s hand to walk, but she refuses because she is carrying flowers. There is an obvious attraction between Mélisande and Pelléas as they talk about the sea. The scene ends with Pelléas telling Mélisande he will be going away.
The next act begins with Mélisande and Pelléas by a spring. Pelléas informs her that it is known as the “Blind Man’s Spring” with powers to heal blindness. But after the King’s sight started failing and could not be healed by the spring, people stopped believing in it. They both talk and goof around for a while. Against Pelléas’s warning, Mélisande leans over into the water too far and the ring that Golaud had given her falls off. They both try to retrieve the ring but it is too deep. They decide to come back another day. Mélisande is terrified of what Golaud will think, but Pelléas tells her to simply tell the truth.
The story then transitions to an injured Golaud on a bed. He was thrown off his horse. Mélisande offers to stay the night and take care of him, but he refuses. Mélisande informs him of her own illness. Alarmed that someone may have done great harm to Mélisande, Golaud questions her. Confessing to Golaud about her unhappiness, Mélisande proposes they leave. She can’t explain why she feels this pain, but the only way to stop it is for her to go away. Golaud tries to console her and takes her hands. He realizes her wedding ring is gone. When he asks her where it is, she claims to have lost it by a cave while looking for tiny shells for Yniold—Golaud’s son from a previous marriage—to play with. He requires her to go look for it at once and to take Pelléas with her.
Following Golaud’s orders, Pelléas and Mélisande return to the grotto to look for the ring. As they walk, Mélisande spots three beggars sleeping soundly. Pelléas mentions a famine happening in the kingdom, wondering why the three beggars would sleep in the cave. Frightened by the beggars, Mélisande suggests they go back. They decide to leave and come back another day.
Arkël gives a long speech to try to dissuade Pelléas from leaving. It is revealed that Pelléas’s friend Marcellus has indeed passed away. King Arkël continues to remind Pelléas of his duty to his father and to his kingdom. In the end, Pelléas decides to wait a little bit longer before he leaves.
Mélisande is sewing in the dark when Pelléas comes to check on her with Yniold. Pelléas tells Yniold his father will not be back from his hunt tonight, and he should go to bed. Yniold starts to cry, saying that his father and Mélisande are going to leave him alone. When asked why he thinks that, Yniold tells Mélisande it’s because he has seen her talk to uncle Pelléas and thinks they are going away. Mélisande comforts the crying child by singing a song and distracting him with the images of the dog chasing the swans. Then as Yniold is looking out the window, he sees his father Golaud return from his hunt. Yniold rushes to meet him and brings him back. Golaud and Yniold enter the room with the child excitedly showing Mélisande his lamp. Bringing the lamp towards Mélisande’s face, Yniold discovers evidences of her and Pelléas crying and asks why.
Mélisande is seen in a tower combing her hair like Rapunzel. Pelléas calls out to her from the bottom of the tower. Pelléas comes under her window, proclaiming words of admiration for her. He informs her of his impending journey once again and asks for her hand, so he might kiss it. Mélisande leans out the window and covers Pelléas with her hair. Golaud enters and finds the two in this precarious position. He scolds Mélisande to not lean out the window like so or she will fall out.
Going down to the depths of the castle, the next scene has Golaud and Pelléas going through the vaults below. Golaud takes Pelléas through the crypts to show him a little underground lake. As they go through the vaults, the smell of death is everywhere. To see the depths of the water, Golaud offers to hold Pelléas’ arm. There is a tense moment when both brothers realize that Pelléas could die very easily if Golaud let go of him. They decide to retreat.
The brothers return above ground. As they refresh themselves in the air out of the crypt, Golaud takes the moment to confront Pelléas about Mélisande. Golaud, once again, warns Pelléas to stop meeting and flirting with his wife in secret. He knows what happened in the tower the other night and tells Pelléas to back off because Mélisande is believed to be pregnant and is very impressionable.
Golaud is starting to suspect that something must be going on between his brother and his wife. Sitting under Mélisande’s window, he questions his young child about his stepmother and his uncle. Yniold reveals that they kissed once on the lips. Upon noticing that the lamp has been lit in his stepmother’s room, Yniold proposes that they leave the shadows and go to where the light is. Golaud decides to lift Yniold to Mélisande’s window to spy. Yniold sees Mélisande with Pellèas but they do not speak or go close to each other. Yniold starts to cry and Golaud brings him down and decides to act on what he has just witnessed.
Pelléas tells Mélisande that he is leaving the castle. There is nothing holding him there anymore; his father is pronounced saved by the physician. Pelléas has had a premonition that today will not end well. His father had told him to travel and so he plans to follow his father’s wishes and leave tonight. The lovers plan to meet one last time at the spring before Pelléas goes off.
Arkël speaks with Mélisande, confessing to her that he has noticed that she is unhappy. She denies this. He says that things will get better because the King will live and the gloom will leave the castle. A hysterical Golaud enters with blood on his forehead asking for his sword. He is disgusted by Mélisande and pulls her around by her hair. Golaud threatens her and Mélisande is left crying and confessing that yes, she is unhappy.
Yniold is found by himself trying to retrieve his golden ball from under a stone. He then notices a herd of sheep who are leaving. The shepherd tells Yniold that they have learned of a different route.
The play then cuts to Pelléas by the spring, waiting for Mélisande. When she arrives, they confess their love for each other and kiss. Then they hear chains and armor nearby in the shadows. They discover it’s Golaud and kiss one last time before Golaud kills Pelléas and chases after Mélisande into the forest.
The final act opens with the servants talking about what has recently transpired. It has a similar atmosphere as the first scene of the play. One servant retells his story of finding Mélisande and Golaud at the gates that morning. Mélisande was injured and Golaud was drunk. Through their conversation, we learn Mélisande prematurely gave birth to a tiny daughter, resulting in her life dwindling. Golaud is sobering up.
In the final scene of the play, we find Mélisande on her bed while a physician checks on her. The doctor notes how even though the wound she has is not big enough to kill a bird, she seems to be dying, probably from unhappiness. Golaud, seeking a moment alone with his wife, asks to be left alone with her. While alone, Mélisande forgives him for what he has done. The dying woman admits to loving Pelléas but does not understand what could be wrong about it. The others come back in as well as a group of maidservants from the first scene. They apparently have a premonition that Mélisande is about to die. As they go to their knees, the doctor feels her body and confirms she has died quickly and silently.