William Tell lives with his wife and son Matthew Katrina in the town of Clermont. The ordinary governor Gessler feels increasing rebellion and wants to test if the people are still loyal to the emperor. This, however, is not an idea of the emperor himself. Gessler places a pile with the hat of the emperor in the village square.
He asks all residents to kneel before the hat in order to find out who is rebellious. Everyone kneels out of fear, except William Tell, Matthew and a monk from the village. Tell and his son are arrested and he is forced to entertain with a crossbow by shooting off an apple from the head of his son. When he refuses Gessler wants Matthew killed. So Tell is forced to shoot at the apple, but by doing this he could kill his own son.