ACT I. 1860’s. At merchant Ismailov’s house. The father-in-law, Boris, is being acerbic to Katerina. Her husband Zinovy introduces Sergei, the new farm hand. Sergei and his comrades tease the servant, Aksinya, and she screams. Katerina confronts Sergei and they wrestle. Sergei sneaks into Katerina’s room later; she lightly scoffs at Boris’s voice outside, and then falls into bed with Sergei.
ACT II. In the yard. Boris, who pays amorous attention to his daughter-in-law, sees Sergei climbing out of Katerina’s window. Boris catches him and whips him. Katerina then poisons Boris’s food, and this kills him. Zinovy returns and questions his wife about his father’s death, and then he hits her. Together Katerina and Sergei kill Zinovy.
ACT III. Katerina marries Sergei. A peasant finds Zinovy’s body in the cellar and goes to the police. The police arrive during the wedding party and Katerina and Sergei are arrested.
ACT IV. A temporary convict camp near a bridge. Katerina manages a meeting with Sergei but he is busy seducing Sonyetka, another female convict. Sonyetka demands a pair of stockings, so Sergei tricks Katerina into giving him hers, whereupon he gives them to Sonyetka. Katerina, in despair, pushes Sonyetka into the river and jumps in herself. They are swept away and the convicts move on.