Act I, Scene 1
The young, wealthy Bridegroom lives alone with his Mother. He has recently bought a vineyard and is planning to get married soon. As the play opens, the Bridegroom announces he is going out to check on the vineyard, but Mother bombards him with questions about his safety. When he brings a knife with him to cut some grapes to eat, she launches into a fit of hysterics, for she believes that knives are responsible for the murder of her husband and the Bridegroom’s brother several years before.
The Bridegroom changes the subject to his fiancée, a young woman who lives on a very remote farm with her father. Mother is suspicious of the girl, but the Bridegroom brushes off her concerns. Eventually he is able to cheer Mother up, and she promises to give him money for engagement presents. The Bridegroom leaves, and a Neighbour comes to visit Mother. The Neighbour reveals that the Bride’s mother had a bad reputation in town for not loving her husband, and worse, that Leonardo Felix was in love with the Bride as a child and a teenager. The Bridegroom’s family has had a long-standing feud with the Felixes, but Mother resolves not to tell her son about this new development, for fear of ruining his happiness. Anyway, Leonardo Felix ended up marrying the Bride’s cousin and the whole thing happened a long time ago.
Act I, Scene 2
Leonardo Felix comes home from work to find his Wife and his Mother-in-Law caring for his son. He chats with his Wife, who excitedly reveals to him that the Bride is about to marry the Bridegroom. She also mentions that Leonardo was spotted riding on the outskirts of town, near the Bride’s farmhouse. She asks him what he was doing there, but Leonardo demurs, saying there must have been a mistake because he wasn’t riding anywhere near there.
One of the girls that work in the clothing store rushes in to gossip with Leonardo’s Mother-in-Law about the lavish wedding presents that the Bridegroom has bought for his fiancée. Leonardo, who has been experiencing financial difficulties, listens resentfully and sends her away rudely. His Wife observes that he has been out of sorts lately, but Leonardo refuses to explain why.
Act I, Scene 3
The Bridegroom and his Mother go to visit the Bride at her home. The Bride’s Father and the Bridegroom’s Mother get along well, discussing land purchases and the virtues of their respective children. Finally, the Bride enters and meets Mother for the first time. Mother reminds her that, as a wife, her duty will be to give the Bridegroom many children. The Bridegroom and Mother leave, and the Bride is left alone in the house. Presently, her faithful Servant enters, hoping to sneak a peek at the wedding presents. The Bride snaps at the Servant to go away, confiding that she is apprehensive about the marriage and wishes she were a man so she could have more options in life.
The Servant mentions that she saw Leonardo Felix riding outside the Bride’s farmhouse the previous night. The Bride does not believe it, but the Servant is proven correct when they see Leonardo riding outside the window.
Act II, Scene 1
Early on the day of the wedding, the Servant combs the Bride’s hair. The Bride continues to be nervous about the marriage, believing that weddings only result in “endless bitterness,” but she resolves to go through with it because the guests have already committed to attend. Leonardo arrives before all of the other guests, insinuating that the groom will be a bad husband and talking about his bitterness at being pressured to marry the Bride’s cousin. The Bride angrily orders him to leave, but after he has gone, she suggests that hearing his voice brings back old feelings.
The Bridegroom and the other guests arrive, and everyone leaves for the church. Leonardo’s Wife notices that he is acting increasingly distant, and worries that he no longer loves her.
Act II, Scene 2
The wedding party returns to the Bride’s house for a reception. The Bridegroom’s Mother becomes increasingly agitated at the presence of Leonardo Felix, believing that he has bad blood in his veins and will only cause sorrow. Many characters wish the Bride well, but she remains melancholy and even rebuffs her husband’s embraces. Claiming that she has a headache, she goes to lie down, but only minutes later, she has disappeared from the house. Leonardo’s Wife announces that the Bride and Leonardo have left together on his horse. The Bridegroom and several of the youths attending the wedding leave to pursue the couple.
Act III, Scene 1
In the forest, three woodcutters discuss the events of the night’s party. They believe that once the moon comes out from behind the clouds, Leonardo and the Bride will be unable to hide any longer and will be caught. However, they worry that the Bridegroom will get himself killed by confronting Leonardo.
The Moon, personified as a young woodcutter with a white face, comes out. He sings a lyric about how he is lonely and hopes that blood will be spilled to warm his cheeks. An old Beggar Woman, representing death, enters and predicts to the Moon that “they” will die violently in the woods. The Bridegroom and a youth enter, and the Beggar Woman directs them to the Bride and Leonardo.
Meanwhile, the Bride asks Leonardo to either leave her or help her commit suicide, since she does not actually want to be in a relationship with him. He insists on staying with her, though, and the couple pledges their love.
Act III, Scene 2
In a white room, two girls sit weaving. They have a vision in the wool of the Groom and Leonardo lying dead by a riverbank. Leonardo’s Wife and Mother-in-Law enter. Neither will tell the girls what happened, but the Mother-in-Law bids her daughter to go into mourning. The Beggar Woman then arrives and tells them that the two men have died and the Bride is alive but covered in blood.
Everyone leaves, and the Bridegroom’s Mother enters with the Neighbour. The Bride arrives shortly thereafter. Mother attacks her and calls her a viper, but the Bride says she doesn’t care because she is ready to die. She adds that she could not control her decision to abandon the Bridegroom, because she was possessed by her attraction to Leonardo. Mother seems to understand, if not to forgive, and returns to mourning her son. The townspeople gather around her in mourning, while the Bride is told to go mourn by the door alone. Mother recites a violent poem explaining how the Bridegroom and Leonardo stabbed each other with the same knife.