(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Golaud, Arkël’s grandson, gets lost while hunting, and as he wanders through the forest he comes upon Mélisande weeping beside a spring. She, too, is lost, her beautiful clothes torn by the briars and her golden crown fallen into the spring. She is like a little girl when she weeps. Golaud tries to comfort her. Although she will not let him touch her or reach for her crown, which he could have retrieved easily, she follows him out of the forest.

Afraid of Arkël, who wants his grandson to marry the daughter of an enemy to bring peace to the land, Golaud writes his half brother Pelléas that he has married Mélisande and wishes to bring her home if Arkël will forgive him. He will wait near the castle for Pelléas to signal that he and Mélisande could enter. Their mother, Geneviève, persuades Arkël, who is now too old to resist, to give his permission. Pelléas wants to visit a dying friend before Mélisande arrives, but Arkël persuades him to stay for the sake of his own sick father.

When Pelléas takes Mélisande to see Blind Man’s Spring, a delightfully cool place on a stifling day, he realizes that Golaud had already found Mélisande beside a spring. As Pelléas asks her about that meeting, Mélisande, playing with her wedding ring, lets it fall into the water. As the ring falls, the clock in the castle grounds strikes twelve.

At this time as well, Golaud is hunting. When the clock strikes twelve, his horse bolts and runs into a tree, throwing Golaud. He is recovering from his accident when Mélisande comes to tell him that she wants to go away because the castle is too gloomy. He notices that her ring is gone. She says that she had lost it in the grotto by the sea while picking up shells for Little Yniold. Golaud sends her back immediately to find the ring before the tide comes in. Pelléas takes Mélisande to the grotto so that she can describe the place where she claims to have lost Golaud’s wedding ring.

Whenever Golaud is away, Pelléas spends as much time as he can with Mélisande. Usually, Little Yniold is with them. Once, when the little boy was unable to sleep because he said Mélisande would go away, Pelléas takes him to the window to see the swans chasing the dogs. Little Yniold sees his father crossing the courtyard and runs downstairs to meet him. Returning to the room, Little Yniold notices that both Pelléas and Mélisande had been crying.

One night, Mélisande leans from a tower while she combs her beautiful long hair. Pelléas, coming into the courtyard below, entwines his hands in her hair and praises her beauty. When Golaud comes by shortly afterward, Pelléas cannot let go of Mélisande’s hair. Golaud scolds them for playing at night like children.

On some days, the castle has a smell of death. Golaud, convinced that an underground lake in one of the crypts beneath the castle is responsible for the smell, leads Pelléas down into the crypts the next morning to see the lake and smell the overpowering scent of death there. Golaud swings the lantern...

(The entire section is 1250 words.)