The story begins during a town festival. The town is celebrating a new town bell that is due to arrive in the coming days. Anyone who wants to be married on that day will be awarded with a special gift of money. Swanilda is engaged to Franz and plans to marry during the festival. Swanilda asks Franz if he loves her and he answers yes, but she doesnt feel it is heartfelt. She becomes unhappy with Franz because he seems to be paying more attention to a girl named Coppélia who sits on Dr. Coppeliuss (a toymaker) balcony. She spends all of her time reading and gives no one her attention. Franz is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to get her attention. Swanilda is deeply hurt by his distractions and feels he does not love her. Despite him saying he loves her, she no longer trusts his words. Instead she will hold up an ear of wheat to her ear and if it rattles when she shakes it, then she will know that he loves her. When she does this however, it does not rattle. When Franz does the same thing he tells her it does rattle. She does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.
When Dr. Coppelius leaves his house, he is heckled by a group of small boys. After running them off he finally goes on his way not knowing that he dropped his keys in the process. Swanilda finds his keys and is determined to find out more of Coppélia. She and her friends decide to go inside Dr. Coppeliuss house. Meanwhile, Franz develops his own plan to meet Coppélia. He climbs up a ladder to Coppélia's balcony.