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t an inquest for the death at sea of fisherman Peter Grimes's apprentice, Coroner Swallow rules that the boy drowned accidentally. The townspeople clearly dislike the work-obsessed Grimes, though Ellen Orford is sympathetic to him. Grimes gets another apprentice, and Ellen later sees that the boy has bruises. Peter is an ambitious man, but full of anger because he knows society will never accept him. As a crowd assembles to confront Grimes, he rushes out of his clifftop hut, driving the apprentice before him; the apprentice accidentally falls to his death. The townspeople assume it was murder. Ellen hopes to save him, but Captain Balstrode suggests that Grimes take his own life. In the last scene we learn that a boat has been seen sinking out at sea.

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