Scene 1: Katerina's room
Katerina is unhappily
married to Zinovy, a provincial flour-merchant. She complains to herself of her
loneliness. Her father-in-law Boris, angered at her attitude in response to his
saying that mushrooms are his favourite dish, says it is her fault for not
producing an heir. She replies that Zinovy cannot give her a child - which Boris
disdains; he then threatens her if she decides to seduce some youthful lover.
Zinovy is called away on business, and Boris - against his son's inclinations -
makes Katerina swear to be faithful. A servant, Aksinya, tells Katerina about
the womanising new clerk, Sergei.
Scene 2: The Ismailovs' yard
Sergei and his comrades are sexually harassing Aksinya. Katerina intervenes.
She berates him for his machismo and asserts that women are as brave and capable
as men. Sergei is willing to prove her wrong and they wrestle; she is thrown
down and Sergei falls on top of her. Boris appears. She says that she tripped
and Sergei in trying to help her, fell down also. The other peasants back her
up. Boris however is suspicious and roars at the peasants, telling them to get
back to work before ordering Katerina to fry some mushrooms for him and
threatening to tell Zinovy all about her behaviour.
Scene 3: Katerina's room
Katerina prepares to go to bed. Sergei knocks on her door with the excuse
that he wants to borrow a book because he cannot sleep, but Katerina has none;
she cannot read. As she is about to close the door he continues attempting to
seduce her by remembering their wrestling match earlier that day. He gets into
the room and tries to force himself on her. She does not offer much resistance,
and they make love. Boris knocks on the door and confirms that Katerina is in
bed and locks her in. Sergei is trapped in the room, and the two resume their
Scene 4: The yard
One night a week later. Boris,
unable to sleep due to unease about thieves being on the prowl, is walking in
the courtyard in the pre-dawn darkness. He, remembering his own youthful days as
a rake and knowing Zinovy's low libido, is considering seducing Katerina himself
to fulfill his son's marital duties. He spots Sergei climbing out of Katerina's
window. He catches him and publicly whips him as a burglar, then has him locked
up. Katerina witnesses this but cannot stop him because she remains locked in
her room. When finally she manages to climb down the eavestrough-drainpipe the
other servants restrain her on Boris' order. After being exhausted by beating
Sergei, Boris demands some dinner, saying that he will whip Sergei again the
next day and dispatches a servant to call Zinovy back, saying that Zinovy to be
told that there's trouble at home. Katerina adds rat-poison to some mushrooms
and gives them to him. As he is dying, calling for a priest, she retrieves the
keys to free Sergei. The priest, called by the arriving morning shift of workers
who find Boris in agony, arrives: Boris vainly tries to tell him that he was
poisoned and falls back dead pointing at Katerina. Katerina, weeping crocodile
tears, convinces him that Boris has accidentally eaten poisonous mushrooms and
he says a prayer over Boris' body.
Scene 5: Katerina's room
Katerina and Sergei are together. Sergei querulously says that their affair
will have to end due to Zinovy's impending return and wishes he and Katerina
could marry - Katerina assures him that they'll marry but refuses to tell him
how she'll arrange it. Sergei then falls asleep; Katerina is then tormented by
Boris' ghost and cannot sleep. Later she hears Zinovy returning. He has been
called back by one of the servants with the news of his father's death. Although
Sergei hides, Zinovy sees Sergei's trousers and belt and guesses the truth. As
he and Katerina quarrel, he whips her with the belt. On Katerina's cry about
being beaten, Sergei emerges and confronts Zinovy, who then tries to escape and
call the servants. Katerina stops Zinovy: she and Sergei then proceed to
strangle Zinovy, who's finally finished off by Sergei with a blow on the head
with a heavy candlestick. The lovers hide the corpse in the wine-cellar.
Scene 6: Near the cellar
Following Zinovy's disappearance he has been presumed dead. Katerina and
Sergei prepare to get married, but she is tormented by the fact that Zinovy's
corpse is hidden in the wine cellar. Sergei reassures her and they leave for the
wedding ceremony. A drunken peasant breaks into the cellar, finds Zinovy's body
and goes to fetch the police.
Scene 7: The police station
The police are complaining about not being invited to the wedding and vainly
try to distract themselves by tormenting a "nihilist" schoolteacher when the
peasant arrives and gives them the opportunity for revenge.
Scene 8: The Ismailov garden
Everyone is drunk at the wedding. Katerina sees that the cellar door is open,
but the police arrive as she and Sergei are trying to escape.
Scene 9. A temporary convict camp near a bridge
On the way to Siberia, Katerina bribes a guard to allow her to meet Sergei.
He blames her for everything. After she leaves, Sergei tries to seduce another
convict, Sonyetka. She demands a pair of stockings as her price. Sergei tricks
Katerina into giving him hers, whereupon he gives them to Sonyetka. Sonyetka and
the other convicts taunt Katerina, who pushes Sonyetka into an icy river falling
in herself. They are swept away and the convict train moves on.