Count Albrecht, in love with the peasant girl Giselle, keeps his noble status a secret from her. Giselle’s other admirer Hans, a woodsman, tries to warn her that Albrecht is not who he claims to be, but Giselle doesn’t want to hear him. Left alone, Hans enters the hunter’s cottage and removes Albrecht’s sword with bears his noble coat of arms.
The sounds of a horn announce the arrival of a hunting party, amongst whom the Count’s betrothed – Bathilde and her father. They stop to seek rest in the village. The Count’s fiancée, charmed by Giselle’s innocence and beauty, gives the girl an expensive necklace.
The hunting party retires and the peasants begin a celebration of their own to mark the harvest. At the height of the festivities Hans appears. He accuses Albrecht of lying and shows the Count’s sword as proof. Giselle refuses to believe it. Then Hans blows the hunting horn and before the embarrassed Count his fiancée appears. Giselle is in despair. She loses her reason and dies.
It is midnight. Hans has come to Giselle’s grave. The Wilis appear – the ghosts of brides who died before their weddings – and frighten him. They emerge from their graves with a passion to dance the way they could not when still alive and anyone who happens to be in the graveyard at the time must dance till they drop dead. Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, summons Giselle’s soul from her tomb and initiates her into their order.
Count Albrecht comes to his beloved’s grave. His grief and despair touch Giselle. She forgives Albrecht.
The Wilis force Hans to dance until he is exhausted and, spinning round, throw him into the lake. The same fate awaits Albrecht. Myrtha forces him to dance. Giselle begs Myrtha to set Albrecht free but Myrtha is unmoved.
Dawn breaks. With the rise of the sun the Wilis lose their power. Albrecht is saved. Giselle bids farewell to her beloved – this time forever...