The peasants of a Rhineland village are celebrating the vintage festival. A young nobleman, prince Albrecht, disguised under the name of Loys, pays court to a girl named Giselle, who accepts. But the gamekeeper Hilarion, who suspects Loys’ true identity and is jealous of him, awaits the propitious moment to get his revenge.
Giselle is happy and pays no heed to the advice and warnings of her mother, who puts her on her guard by telling her the story of the Willi, the maidens who died before marriage and who, transformed into spirits, lure the men whom they encounter by night and compel them to dance to death. Meanwhile a procession of nobles who have been hunting arrives at the village, in attendance upon the duke of Courland and his daughter Bathilde, who is engaged to Albrecht.
Giselle confides to the young lady that she has fallen in love. She receives a wedding present, but Hilarion chooses this moment to appear, revealing that Albrecht and Loys are the same person. The prince cannot deny it. Giselle, who feels betrayed in her most cherished and pure sentiment, goes out of her mind. In a wild dance, she tries to kill herself with Albrecht’s sword, then she goes mad and dies of a broken heart.
Some time has passed, and Albrecht, seized with remorse, returns to the village. Here the magic spell is cast by the Willi maidens, who, led by their imperious queen Myrtha, come out of their tombs by night. Albrecht finds Giselle again, but is condemned to dance until he dies, as is the gamekeeper Hilarion.
In vain the prince begs Myrtha to forgive him: the law of the Willi maidens is inflexible. Giselle herself, however, saves him by helping him to resist and dancing with him until the sun rises. When the spell comes to an end, Albrecht finds himself in the village, alone with his remorse.