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In mid-fifteenth-century Paris, impoverished poet Pierre Gringoire watches a crowd of hecklers ridicule his play and then leave, without paying, to attend the Feast of Fools, where gypsy Esmerelda is performing an enticing dance. Alchemist Claude Frollo, who resides in the nearby Notre Dame cathedral, orders his hunchbacked servant and bell ringer, Quasimodo, to disperse the raucous crowd by destroying their pagan altar. Soon after, the Court of Miracles, a group of the city's beggars and thieves, crown Quasimodo the King of Fools, the ugliest man in Paris, and parade him through the cobblestone streets. Mistaking their mockery for real friendship, Quasimodo enjoys the proceedings. Quasimodo's exaltation is abruptly ended, however, when Claude orders him home and, once there, insists that Quasimodo abduct Esmerelda, with whom he is infatuated. When Quasimodo questions the order, Claude states that "we're brothers, your face and my soul," explaining that his heart is ugly with the sin of lust. As Quasimodo kidnaps Esmerelda, soldiers arrest him, and their captain, Phoebus de Chaleauper, takes Esmerelda to an inn where he hopes to seduce her. Impetuous Esmerelda, although intrigued, pulls out a knife and flees while laughing at the bewildered man. Meanwhile, Gringoire searches for free lodging until he comes to the Court of Miracles, where he is soon sentenced to hang. A thief explains that the court's code of justice demands that when King Louis XI hangs a thief in the public square, as he did the previous week, the Court of Miracles hangs an innocent man. After taunting Gringoire mercilessly, the thieves announce that, according to an old gypsy law, he would be saved if one woman would willingly marry him. After recitations of his poetry bring only more contempt, Esmerelda marries Gringoire to save his life. Later that evening at Esmerelda's apartment, Gringoire asks to sleep with her, but Esmerelda tells him his only husbandly duties are to care for her goat Charlie. She then professes her love for Phoebus. The next day, when Quasimodo begs a taunting crowd for water as he is flogged for the attempted kidnapping, Esmerelda is the only one among them to give him water. Later, as Esmerelda has Charlie spell out Phoebus' name as part of a street act, Claude, realizing Esmerelda loves the captain, accuses her of witchery. Meanwhile, Phoebus flirts with his betrothed, debutante Fleur de Lys, who, sensing his interest in the gypsy, demands that he chase Esmerelda from the square. Phoebus complies but makes plans to meet Esmerelda at the inn that night. Claude learns of the rendezvous and watches from below the inn's balcony as the couple embraces. When Phoebus throws Esmerelda's knife out the window, signaling Esmerelda's decision to give Phoebus her virginity, Claude, filled with jealous rage, grabs the weapon and stabs Phoebus in the back. Alerted by Esmerelda's screams, the innkeeper and her dwarf servant bear witness to the scene. At the trial, they accuse Esmerelda of attempted murder, but the dwarf alludes to a dark figure who loomed outside the window during the crime. Despite learning that the wounded Phoebus has given no statement in her defense, Esmerelda declares her love for him and denies committing the crime. However, under torture, Esmerelda later confesses to the stabbing and is subsequently sentenced to death. As Esmerelda kneels before the monks to receive her last blessing on the day of her hanging, Quasimodo swings down from the cathedral, grabs her and carries her into the church. Although they know nothing of Quasimodo's motivation, the monks remind the crowd that the church is a "house of God where man's justice does not exist," thus extending protection to Esmerelda. Later, when Esmerelda screams at the sight of him, Quasimodo humbly apologizes for his ugliness, offers her his room and gives her a whistle with which to call him. That night Claude, unaware of his servant's heroic deed, is surprised to see Esmerelda on one of Notre Dame's highest parapets. Recognizing Claude as both a member of the court and the "man in black" from the scene of the crime, she whistles for Quasimodo. When Claude grabs her, Quasimodo, now distrustful of his master, saves Esmerelda and tells her that Claude ordered the earlier kidnapping. The next morning, when Quasimodo awakens Esmerelda, she once again screams in shock, prompting Quasimodo to flee to the bell tower and mourn his frightening effect on her. After Esmerelda asks his forgiveness and distracts him with a song and dance, Quasimodo answers with his own dance upon the huge bells, swinging them with his weight until they toll. As Quasimodo openly wishes for her to stay with him forever under the church's protection, Esmerelda sees Phoebus riding down below and calls to him. When she receives no reply, she asks Quasimodo to send Phoebus to her, but the cowardly captain refuses the request. Knowing she will be hurt by the rejection, Quasimodo returns with a bouquet, claiming the flowers are from Phoebus, but Esmerelda sees through his kind-hearted lie. Meanwhile, Louis XI, concerned that the public will revolt if Esmerelda is forcibly removed from the church, seeks the help of an imprisoned scholar, who tells him that there is historic precedence for the crown to break the church's right of sanctuary. When the thieves and beggars learn that the king's men will invade the church that day, they protest outside the cathedral doors, demanding Esmerelda's release. Mistaking Esmerelda's friends for the king's soldiers, Quasimodo casts stones to crush the men, but the crowd is undeterred and rushes the doors. Esmerelda begs him to stop, but Quasimodo is so consumed with protecting her that he dumps molten wax into the church's sewer system, sending the scorching liquid out of the gargoyles' mouths, burning the crowd below. Esmerelda rushes to the cathedral entrance, where the crowd bursts through the doors and Clopin Trouillefou, the King of Thieves, carries her out. The king's archers then shoot and kill Esmerelda and Clopin, as well as most of the crowd. Seeing the soldiers dragging Esmerelda's lifeless body away, Quasimodo becomes so enraged by Claude's betrayal and his part in Esmerelda's demise that he throws Claude over the edge of the cathedral wall to his death. Days later, a heartbroken Quasimodo finds Esmerelda's body in the city's vault, where he lies down beside her to await his own death among the skeletons.