Doctor Coppélius is putting the finishing touches to his doll, Coppélia, after setting her out to dry on the balcony of his house. Coppélia appears to be reading a book. She seems so real that Doctor Coppélius is, himself, almost unaware that she is only a doll. In his loneliness, the fanatical doll maker has created Coppélia to be his companion and secretly dreams of discovering a way of bringing her to life.
As the town awakens, the flower sellers, the villagers and their children go about their morning business. Swanilde arrives and greets her friends who are off to work in the cornfields. Franz, Swanilde’s boyfriend, sees Coppélia and is infatuated by the beautiful doll. Franz dances to attract her attention and wonders why the reading figure does not respond. Saddened by Franz’s actions, Swanilde runs to her friends in the cornfields for advice.
The legend of the corn harvest, tells the story of a stalk of corn, which when shaken will tell who is to be married. Only Swanilde hears the prediction of the corn, but since she is angry with Franz, she pretends to hear nothing.
Returning to the village, something shining brightly in the dust catches Swanilde’s eye. It is Dr. Coppélius’ lost house key. In returning the key, Swanilde enters Doctor Coppélius’ house. Swanilde investigates the puzzling contents of the workshop. Discovering Coppélia, she realizes that she is only one of several dolls – all quite human in appearance – which she uncovers and sets in motion.
Doctor Coppélius returns; Swanilde, unable to escape, hides in a toy cupboard with Coppélia, where she swaps clothes with the doll and assumes her identity. Doctor Coppélius attempts to bring life to the inanimate doll. He sprinkles her with a mixture, whereupon she suddenly becomes quite genuinely alive for him. Overcome with joy at his success, Doctor Coppélius has the “living” Coppélia entertain him by dancing.
Swanilde escapes the house leaving a confused Doctor Coppélius behind and returns to the village. She meets with Franz who is still seeking Coppélia, with whom he has fallen in love.
As she explains to him how she changed places with the doll, he now understands what has transpired, Franz is aware of his own stupidity. Through a foolish mistake he has become infatuated with nothing more than a doll; he knows now that it is Swanilde whom he has truly loved all along.
Franz proposes to Swanilde and the pair return to the marketplace where they celebrate their betrothal and the corn harvest with their friends.