Peter Grimes Synopsis

Inside the Moot Hall
An inquest is conducted by the lawyer Mr Swallow into the death of Peter Grimes' apprentice. Swallow accepts Grimes's account of how the boy died at sea when they ran out of water, bringing in a verdict of "accidental circumstances," but warns Grimes not to get another apprentice. Grimes protests that he must have an apprentice and complains that the people of the Borough will blame him, despite the verdict. The widowed schoolteacher Ellen Orford tries to comfort him and they leave together.

SCENE 1: A street by the sea; the Moot Hall and the Boar both visible
The people of the village are going about their business. Grimes comes back from fishing but no one is willing to give him a hand to pull his boat ashore until Captain Balstrode and Ned Keene help him. Keene tells Grimes that he has found another workhouse boy to be his apprentice, but Hobson the carter only agrees to pick up the boy when Ellen offers to go with him.
Mrs Sedley is anxious about her supply of laudanum and accepts with ill grace Keene's instructions to meet him in the Boar, where he will hand over the drug when Hobson brings it. A storm is rising and Bob Boles, who has turned Methodist, calls on all to repent.
Balstrode asks why Grimes does not try his luck elsewhere, but, outcast though he is, he is too rooted to the Borough to leave. He intends to make money - the only thing the Borough understands - and then marry Ellen. He is too proud to take up Balstrode's suggestion that he marry her now. As the storm begins to rage he wonders if life holds any peace for him.

SCENE 2: Inside the Boar
The raging storm is apparent every time someone opens the door. Mrs Sedley is ill at ease as she waits for her laudanum. Boles, who is drunk, accosts one of Auntie's "Nieces," and has to be restrained by Balstrode, who enunciates the basic rule of pub conversation: "We live and let live, and look, we keep our hands to ourselves."
Grimes comes in and sits lost in contemplation, unaware of the hostile reaction of the company. When Boles starts to harangue Grimes, Balstrode calls for a song. Everyone strikes up a round, Old Joe has gone Fishing, but Peter, joining in with disjointed recollections of the death of his apprentice, thows it out of kilter.
The carter arrives with Ellen and the boy, cold and wet, and Grimes drags the boy away without even a warm drink, to the disapproval of everyone.

SCENE 1: As Act I, Scene 1; a sunny Sunday morning, some weeks later
The church service proceeds as Ellen and the boy sit by the quay. He does not reply to her questions and she is horrified to discover a bruise on his neck. Grimes comes to take the boy fishing, brushing aside Ellen's request for his day of rest to be respected, and says that he got the bruise "out of the hurly-burly." Unable to sway him, Ellen cries out: "We have failed," and he strikes her, answering roughly: "So be it! And God have mercy upon me!"
As Peter and the boy leave, Auntie, Keene and Boles, who have been watching from various windows, approach Ellen, expressing little sympathy, on the grounds that she has brought it on herself. The service over, the church-goers join in, ignoring Balstrode's protests.
Ellen explains how she and Peter had planned for a new life and how she had ried to care for the apprentice, but feeling against Grimes mounts. At the rector's suggestion a vigilante party sets off, to the accompaniment of a drum, to visit Grimes in his hut.

SCENE 2: Grimes' hut
Grimes, rough but not brutal, orders the boy to take off his Sunday clothes and get ready for fishing. He still clings, though less hopefully, to his dream of catching enough fish to become rich , marry Ellen and silence the gossips.
Hearing the approaching procession he accuses the boy of telling tales, and orders him to climb down the cliff at the back of the hut, their usual way to the boat. Despite Grimes' warning to be careful, as the storm had washed away some of the cliff, the boy falls with a cry. Grimes follows quickly and the people find the hut empty, but tidy. Swallow urges less interference in people's private lives.

SCENE 1. As in Act I, Scene 1; a summer evening
There is a dance in the Moot Hall and the Boar is also doing good business. Somewhat the worse for drink, Swallow makes a pass at one of the Nieces, while Keene chases the other. They escape and Mrs Sedley accosts Keene, accusing Grimes of murdering his apprentice, as neither has been seen for some days.
He does not believe her, saying that her wits are addled by laudanum, so she hides near a boat and overhears a converstion between Ellen and Balstrode, who reports that Grimes's boat is back but there is no sign of the boy. Ellen shows him the boy's jersey which she has found washed up on the shore. Armed with this knowledge, Mrs Sedley renews her accusation, this time to Swallow, and a posse is organised to search for Grimes.

SCENE 2: As in Scene 1; some hours later
Demented, Grimes broods on the deaths of the apprentices and his blighted dreams. As the voices of the searchers are heard, he echoes their shouts of "Peter Grimes." Ellen and Balstrode come to him and Balstrode advises him to take his boat out of sight of land and sink it. He helps Grimes push the boat out and leads Ellen away.

Dawn breaks and the searchers return to the Borough, which resumes its daily round. The reported sight of a boat sinking far out to sea arouses little interest.