Everyday, the people of Paris are accustomed to waking to the bells of Notre Dame. Today, the 6th of January, was different though. It is to be a hectic and eventful for the ambassadors of Flanders would arrive to discuss the marriage of the price to Margaret of Flanders.
Coincidentally that same day was the Epiphany and the well-renowned Festival of Fools. As the citizens of Paris awoke, they assembled in the great hall with different expectations. Many came to watch the crowning of the Pope of Fools; others are anxiously awaiting the start of a melodrama. Astoundingly, the great hall is filled beyond capacity when tensions break and the crowd orders that the promised play to begin at once. It is here where we meet an important plot developer, Gringoire the poet, who has drafted the play and as any good playwright would, is tremendously happy about his masterpiece. However, to his arrant horror everyone present in the great mass of Parisians losses interest in his production when the ambassadors and other dignitaries arrive with the archbishop. Determined to have his piece performed, Gringoire pressures the four actors to continue. Unfortunately, his attempts are vain. Some time afterwards a crowd rallies together and begins the election of the Pope of Fools. The crowd becomes boisterous, even his own actors are drawn to the election. Soon Gringoire is left alone. His hopes and expectations vanquished, the story?s playwright departs into the streets as the rest of the city parades its newfound Pope of Fools, the opprobrious, grotesque, Quasimodo. As people of all ages presented their hideous grimaces in hopes of being elected Pope, the notorious hunchback of Notre Dame Cathedral was spotted amongst the assemblage and crowned the most hideous creature on earth. Afterwards, Quasimodo is raised above the crowd and is ridiculed. However, he perceives the crowd is paying homage to his crown. Penniless, without shelter, food and nowhere to turn, Gringoire continues to gape the streets wondering where he will get his next meal and cursing the people of Paris and their Festival of Fools. As he roams, he finds an interesting distraction, that of La Esmeralda?s show. The most beautiful of gypsies, this charming, slender young woman was perceived as a witch and sorceress because of her exotic show and well-trained goat. In actuality La Esmeralda was simply an extremely keen and generous person whose generosity and kindness left everyone she came in contact with entranced. Among the thunderstruck by her charms and resplendent beauty were the newly elected Pope, a distraught poet and a sinister and twisted priest. From atop the shoulders of the masses, Quasimodo has an excellent view of the glowing Esmeralda as she performs her dances. Her astounding beauty immediately attracts Quasimodo. He is awakened from his reverie only when his transport comes to a sudden stop at the orders of a stern and feeble priest. Suddenly the massive Pope lowers from his thrown and hurls his powerful body at the feet of the slender old priest. Astonished by the humility of their Pope, the crowd fails to realize that they have lost their entertainment for the night.
Some time afterwards, we find Gringoire following La Esmeralda in hope that he might find some source of support. He is thwarted however when a tall, shadowy figure assaults the gypsy princess; and he is confronted by the powerful fists of Quasimodo. Like all damsels in distress, Esmeralda requires the help of a knight in shining armor, she finds her hero in the form of Captain Phoebus de Chateaup?rs. Meanwhile, Gringoire continues on his way meeting several beggars. He fails to recognize his location in a very dangerous part of Paris. He is attacked and kidnapped by the same beggars. He is taken to the dreaded Court of Miracles where the blind can see, and the lame run. There he is told that the only escape from death was that he joins them as a member of slang, or a woman can choose to marry him. He fails the tests miserly but is saved when La Esmeralda is touched with pity as the noose is placed around his neck. She offers to marry the poet pitifully.
After captured by Phoebus and his archers, Quasimodo was arrested. Now, on the morrow of the festivities, he stood trial on charges of nocturnal disturbance, assault, disloyalty and resisting arrest. It was by no means a just trial. However, the judge and Quasimodo are both completely deaf. Evidently, this presents a major problem; Quasimodo is not only convicted but because of miscommunications is given a heavier sentence. Quasimodo was scourged for two hours, tidied on the pillory and finally fined. These edicts were carried out immediately. Worst of all, Quasimodo does not know his fate. Sure enough, the sentence is carried out with great promptitude. Quasimodo was flogged and later placed on the pillory where he is mocked and molested by the public and even his master, that sinister priest, Frollo du Murillo who awaited the public execution for hours. Countless stones and pieces of pottery were hurled alongside with insults at the tortured beast as he pleaded for a drink of water. No other emotion other than abomination reigned in that place where just the day before Quasimodo had been named Pope. Then, like a single star peering through a menacing storm, there appeared La Esmeralda wrapped in her white robe. At first Quasimodo feared she would seek revenge. Instead he found his pleas for water answered as she approached him with a gourd of water and placed it to his lips; just as a single tear rolled down his face. The time of his punishment expired, Quasimodo was finally released and the mob dispersed.
The timeline of the story now shifts several weeks as we encounter the courageous Phoebus attending a small party together with several women. As they converse atop a balcony, Esmeralda performs her dance below, catching the attention of the girls. Esmeralda is asked to join them. However, when she has her goat Djali engage in a performance where he spells out P-h-o-e-b-u-s. The ladies, because her of sorcery, are petrified. Nevertheless, Phoebus remains interested in the beautiful Egyptian girl.
During the Hunchback?s tribulation, Gringoire meets Claude Frollo. Frollo discovers that unlike the rumors perfused, he has not slept with Esmeralda and that her real interest was in one named Phoebus.
Later, Frollo discovers who this Phoebus is and persuades him to allow him to observe his scheduled meeting with La Esmeralda. Phoebus, not being the extravagant type, embraces some money and assents to the deal. Phoebus has made a tragic mistake. As soon as his doubts are answered, and Frollo is certain that Phoebus? love is La Esmeralda, Frollo stabs the soldier in the back and leaves him for dead. When news gets out about Phoebus? attack, it is whispered that Esmeralda had stabbed him herself. The insinuations soon get out of hand and she is taken to prison. Esmeralda is sentenced to a public hanging after her penance is performed at Notre Dame. As she is taken to the porch of Notre Dame Cathedral, she spots Phoebus riding in the distance. He had not been killed. It was quite the opposite; the stab simply wounded him. Immediately, Esmeralda called out but it was hopeless, the assembled crowd awaiting execution was too loud. Consequently, she was cursed. What appeared most devastating was that Phoebus was alive during the trial but had said nothing, he did not wish to involve himself with such a trial.
Upon arrival at the porch of the Cathedral, the gypsy was placed before Frollo to perform penance. He instead offered her a proposition. She would receive her freedom if she would be Frollo?s lustful mistress. She refused to sign her soul over. Then as she was led to the gallows, her savior, Quasimodo, appeared. In a great show of strength, Quasimodo swings down from a rope on the Cathedral and swoops her off her feet. In a single bound, Quasimodo returns to the confines of the cathedral declaring sanctuary.
Despite the daring deed of Quasimodo and the safety measure he took to protect Esmeralda, Frollo would still find her. Using a master key, he entered Quasimodo?s cell and found Esmeralda. Upon discovering Frollo, the hunchback seized him and dragged him out ordering his master to leave. Though Frollo had been dealt with the vagabonds, he desired the sorceress to be placed under their protection. However, unable to hear, the hunchback perceived the mob wanted her execution. Quasimodo took immediate precautions. He had bolted down the door, and now defended his home with downpours of rocks and molten lead, and pushed over ladders. Likewise, the vagabonds perceived the onslaught as the church?s denial to their request and took equal precautions. The mighty hunchback killed hundreds below. Although the gypsy within her cell seemed unattainable, Quasimodo, upon his return to the room, found that she was gone.
Frollo, manipulating the dim-whited Gringoire through his debt, had given him the key. Frollo sent him in to convince Esmeralda that it was necessary that she disappear. The perfidious fiend led her to none other than Frollo de Murillo. Frollo gave his obsession a final chance. She would either die, or become his. But the brave Esmeralda valiantly escaped his clutches. Unfortunately she fell into the hands of the soldiers sent to quell the situation.
The following morning, as Quasimodo continued to search desperately for his beloved, he came upon Frollo laughing at the scene below. Inquisitive, Quasimodo looked down to find Esmeralda, just as she was hanged. In a rage Quasimodo lifts Frollo and sends his former master hurtling through the air to the street below.
After the death of his master and his beloved, Quasimodo was never seen again. Years later, the vault where several bodies were interred was opened and a woman?s skeleton was found together with that of a deformed male. The woman had a silk pouch around her neck, analogous to Esmeralda?s!